How to Get a Good Night's Sleep
Falling asleep seems simple enough: lay down in the dark, close your eyes and slip away to dreamland. But it’s actually a complicated biochemical process involving many stages. In addition, our hectic lifestyle can make us feel too anxious to sleep well. No wonder so many people have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of adults in America regularly do not get enough sleep. Chronic lack of sleep causes myriad health problems and, if it goes on long enough, it can even be fatal. Here are some suggestions to help you relax and get a good night’s sleep.
Many of us are familiar with the “sleep hormone” melatonin. It is responsible for maintaining our circadian (24-hour) rhythm, the body’s internal clock, and it can be useful for those doing shift-work or suffering from jet lag. Although we make melatonin in response to sunlight, it is released in response to darkness and helps us feel relaxed enough to fall asleep and stay asleep. It is especially useful for older people who generally have lower levels of melatonin.
Melatonin is not for everyone, however. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have depression, an autoimmune or seizure disorder, do not use melatonin. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure consult your health care provider first.
Recommended Dose: Start with 3 mg before going to bed, but it is available from 1 mg to 10 mg. Stress-Relax Melatonin from Natural Factors has 1 mg, 3 mg, 5 mg and 10 mg fast-acting chewables and we have a variety of sublingual, spray and liquid varieties as well.
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a metabolite of tryptophan, the amino acid in turkey (and other foods) that makes us feel sleepy. However, most tryptophan (90%) does not go through the metabolic pathway that creates serotonin and, further along, melatonin, so 5-HTP is a better choice for sleep because it increases REM and deep sleep stages.
Our brains use 5-HTP to synthesize serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, anxiety, appetite/digestion, libido and more. In addition, 5-HTP can be helpful for depression, migraine and tension headaches, fibromyalgia, obesity, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other conditions related to low serotonin levels. Some 5-HTP products also include Vitamin B6, a cofactor in the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin.
Recommended Dose: To enhance sleep, Dr. Michael Murray suggests 50-150 mg of 5-HTP 30-45 minutes before bedtime. He says, "start with the lower dose for at least three days before increasing it if necessary." (from Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia: What the Drug Companies Won't Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn't Know.)
The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is the source of another amino acid, L-theanine, that helps generate alpha waves enabling us to feel relaxed but alert. Our brains produce alpha waves when we meditate, daydream and just before falling asleep. Although theanine is not a sedative, per se, it does help improve sleep quality and it has a synergistic effect that promotes restful sleep when used with melatonin and 5-HTP. Theanine can also help with PMS and the negative effects of caffeine.
Recommended Dose: Again, from Dr. Murray, "L-theanine is effective in the range of 50-200 mg. If you have high levels of stress take at least 100-200 mg one to three times daily.... Take no more than 600 mg within a six-hour period and no more than 1,200 mg within a 24-hour period."
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a calming neurotransmitter that inhibits the excitability of neurons. Now that Kavinace is unavailable since the FDA pulled phenibut (4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid) from the market because it “does not meet the statutory definition of a dietary ingredient,” many people are looking for alternative ways to get a good night’s sleep.
PharmaGABA is a unique form of GABA because it is manufactured without harmful solvents by using the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus hilgardii in a fermentation process. It increases alpha waves, decreases beta waves and reduces markers for stress such as salivary cortisol levels. Unlike phenibut, which crosses the blood brain barrier, PharmaGABA’s method of action is believed to be via the parasympathetic nervous system, the body’s relaxing “rest and digest” mode. One interesting study showed how PharmaGABA can reduce anxiety. People with acrophobia (fear of heights) walked across a suspension bridge high above a canyon. Halfway across they stopped to have their secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA) levels checked. Normally, sIgA levels drop during times of stress which decreases immune defenses. On the other hand, subjects who took PharmaGABA not only maintained but actually increased their levels of this immune antibody.
Recommended Dose: Take 100-200 mg of PharmaGABA up to three times per day. Dr. Murray recommends "no more than 1,000 mg within a 4-hour period and no more than 3,000 mg within a 24-hour period."
There are also many herbs that can help you sleep well. Here are a few:
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has sedative effects on the brain and nervous system. Results from multiple studies indicate that valerian can reduce sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), improve sleep quality and help insomnia. However, valerian is not effective for everyone — some people, paradoxically, find it stimulating.
Recommended Dose: 1,000-2,000 mg (dried root) or 150-300 mg (standardized extract). For liquid extracts follow manufacturer's directions.
Aromatic lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is sedative and calming, so people find it useful for anxiety and restlessness as well as sleep problems.
Lemon balm may also be helpful for ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, Graves’ disease (autoimmune hyperthyroid), high blood pressure and even insect bites. In addition, it has some antiviral activity.
Recommended Dose: 1,500-4,500 mg (dried herb) or 160-200 mg (standardized extract). For liquid extracts follow manufacturer's directions.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It is an adaptogen that helps us cope with the effects of stress. The patented form, Sensoril, contains the highest levels of withanolides (10%) available plus research-proven amounts of other valuable compounds. Sensoril has been shown to reduce negative physiological stress responses, promote mental clarity/concentration, protect our cells from free radical damage and improve resistance to fatigue.
Recommended Dose: 6-12 grams (dried herb) or 1,000-1,500 mg (standardized extract). For liquid extracts follow manufacturer's directions.
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