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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Top 5 Herbs & Supplements for Sleep and Relaxation

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If you're having trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep at night then you definitely should not go the pharmaceutical way as those drugs develop tolerance quickly and you can even get physically addicted to them. The pharmaceutical drugs are for short-term use only. Long-term use of those drugs will have negative consequences on your body's ability to sleep. For example, the drug Zolpidem, or Ambien, is a popular option for treating insomnia.

Zolpidem is actually not a very good choice for improving sleep quality. This drug is great for initiating sleep, but is poor at maintaining sleep as its half-life is only 2 to 3 hours. Taking this drug continuously for a month may result in a tolerance build up and a horrible withdrawal. The effects of withdrawal from this particular drug may include insomnia, seizures, benzodiazepine-like withdrawal symptoms, and others.

Aside from Zolpidem, there are many pharmaceutical drugs intended to treat insomnia, like Benzodiazepines, Non-benzodiazepines, Alcohol, Opioids, Antidepressants, and Antihistamines, however none of these are intended for long-term use and some, like Alcohol and Opioids, actually harm sleep quality.

Herbs and supplements, on the other hand, are great for long-term use and many of the herbs do not develop tolerance or develop very little. They are also not physically addictive, unless of course you abuse them and take an absurd amount.

So without further ado, here are my top 5 herbs and supplements for relaxing and falling asleep.

5) Melatonin

Melatonin for Sleep
Melatonin is the hormone responsible for telling our bodies that it's time for sleep. With the invention of light bulbs and other artificial sources of light came a problem; melatonin secretion was stopped. You see, Humans follow a circadian rhythm where they sleep at night and awake in the morning, however, the way the body knows when it is night time or not is by judging the amount of light in the environment; when it's dark, it's nighttime, when it's bright, it's morning. Light bulbs hindered this by causing the environment to always be bright and effectively stopping Melatonin secretion; without Melatonin, the body does not know when it's time for it to sleep. It is easy to develop insomnia by having insufficient Melatonin secretion at night.

Aside from sleep, some of Melatonin's other benefits include:
  • Antioxidant properties
  • Stimulating the Immune system
  • Helping prevent cancer
You can supplement with two different versions of melatonin, instant-release and timed-release. Generally, timed-release is better than the instant-release because melatonin has a short half-life of 35 to 50 minutes. Timed-release melatonin offers a smoother, longer-lasting effect.

Do not take more than 6 mg of Melatonin at a time otherwise you may wake up feeling not well rested and fatigued.

4) L-Theanine

Green tea theanineFound in green tea and black tea, this amino acid is great for relaxation, focus and stress reduction. When taken together with caffeine this combo will provide heightened alertness without the jittery feel of caffeine. Taken in low doses, this compound will reduce stress while simultaneously improving mood and cognition in a synergistic manner with caffeine.

Taken in high doses, however, it becomes a great sleeping aid by increasing GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety.

L-Theanine works best when taken with melatonin as L-Theanine itself does not induce sleep.

You can also take L-Theanine in the morning with your coffee. It will work in a synergistic manner with caffeine to reduce stress, improve mood as well as cognition.

I personally found Doctor's Best Suntheanine L-Theanine to have the most noticable effect on me. It contains 150 mg of a patented form of L-Theanine, Suntheanine. I must admit the effects of Suntheanine were much more noticable than the regular L-Theanine.. It felt like someone had taken a weight off of my head. Stressful situations were much more manageable. My social anxiety as well as my general anxiety was significantly reduced.

3) Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha for Sleep
I actually did a review on Ashwagandha here. The most noticable effect from this herb was the sedation and relaxation it had on me. About 30 minutes after taking it I became very tired and sleepy. It usually takes me 30 to 60 minutes to fall asleep, but with Ashwagandha I can fall asleep in less than 10 minutes.

Before I started taking Ashwaganadha I would wake up 1-3 times during sleep and what this means is that I was not getting quality sleep. If you wake up a lot during sleep then what happens is you don't get the proper rest you need and you actually end up sleeping longer. Deep sleep is what we all need in order to get rested as well as get one very important hormone released into our body, human growth hormone. This hormone is very important in building muscle, stimulating the immune system, but more importantly losing weight. Yes, HGH does in fact make you lose fat weight and put on muscle simultaneously.

So, Ashwagandha can in fact help you lose weight indirectly by allowing you to get the deep sleep your body requires. Furthermore, Ashwagandha also regulates thyroid function. The thyroid gland is what controls your body's metabolism rate. A higher metabolism rate results in more fat loss. Therefore, Ashwagandha not only helps you lose weight by indirectly stimulating more HGH release, but it also regulates thyroid function which maintains a healthy metabolism necessary for fat loss. Ashwagandha has many other benefits, some of which include:
  • Increased Libido
  • Increased energy
  • Improved memory
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced stress
There are many Ashwagandha products out there, but the one I used was Jarrow Formulas Sensoril extract. Jarrow Formulas has a high percentage of Withanolides extract, a minimum of 8%. Withanolides are one of the active compounds found in Ashwagandha and so the higher the amount of Withanolides, the more likely the product will work. And this goes for the majority of herbs out there; the higher the amount of the active compounds, the more likely the herb is going to have an effect on you.

Now Foods also sells Ashwagandha extract with a minimum of 4.5% Withanolides. The difference between the two is not big, but Now Foods offers 450 mg of Ashwagandha root-only extract in one capsule whereas Jarrow Formulas offers 225 mg of roots and leaves extract. Remember though, Jarrow has a minimum of 8% Withanolides so it contains 18 mg of Withanolides whereas Now Foods has a minimum of 4.5% which would entail 20.25 mg of Withanolides.

I recommend getting the Jarrow Formulas Ashwagandha if and only if you are looking for enhanced sleep quality. If you are looking for enhanced sleep quality as well possibly getting some other benefits from Ashwagandha then I recommend getting Now Foods Ashwagandha extract.

2) Bacopa monnieri

Bacopa for Sleep and relaxation
My absolutely favorite herb. This herb is just amazing. The amount of benefits this herb gives is unreal. Here are just some of the many benefits this herb provides:
  • Enhanced sleep quality
  • Enhanced memory
  • Enhanced concentration
  • Enhanced cognitive function
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced depression
  • Reduced stress
  • Antioxidant properties
Many of us have trouble remembering simple everyday things, like where we put the keys, if we turned off the stove or not, or did I take my pill(s) today? Bacopa not only enhances short-term and long-term memory, but it also enhances working memory.

The night I took Bacopa was the best sleep I have ever gotten in the past 4 years. Bacopa just took me out. I was able to reduce my sleep hours from 10 hours to only 8 hours of sleep. Also, my dreams were very intense and vivid and upon waking up I could actually remember what happened in my dreams.

I only took one caplet of Himalaya Herbal Healthcare bacopa, which contains 66.5 mg of the known active ingredients. I can only wonder what would have happened if I took a more potent source, like Planetary Herbals, which contains 90 mg of the active ingredients.

Bacopa, for me at least, was very potent. I only recommend you use this product if you are really having trouble falling asleep or getting some quality sleep because this herb will make you sleep like a baby. I do not recommend taking this herb if you have work or school in the morning or anything that you have to be at before a certain time because you might just sleep through your alarm clock. However, when you wake up you'll feel very well rested and energized and ready to get on with your day.

1) Valeriana officinalis

Valerian Root Sleep
Valeriana officinalis is one of the most potent herbs for treating insomnia and enhancing overall sleep quality. Aside from its positive effects on sleep, Valeriana provides many other benefits including:

  • Reduced Anxiety
  • Reduced Tension
  • Reduced Excitability
  • Reduced Stress

Not only that, it also sedates agitated individuals while stimulating fatigued individuals. It is thought that this herb brings a balance to the system.

Valeriana is very useful for people who have trouble falling asleep and is also very useful to those who wake up during sleep. Waking up during sleep reduces the amount of deep sleep your body gets which means you don't get the adequate rest you need so you wake up feeling fatigued and sleepy.

Several of my friends and family members swear by Valeriana for enhancing sleep quality. I personally find Valeriana to have the most effect on my sleep out of all the above mentioned herbs and supplements, as do my friends and family.

I take Now Foods Valerian Root everyday and it doesn't seem to have lost any efficacy, in fact, I think the longer I took Valerian Root the better the effects were.

What's best about it is there are no dependence issues; if one day I do not want to take a capsule I'll be able to sleep just fine without it, but of course not as well as I would have had I taken it.

Bonus: All-In-One sleep formula

If you want to take all the above mentioned herbs and supplements, but don't want to take 5 pills at a time then I recommend getting Irwin Naturals Power to Sleep PM. Though it does not contain Bacopa, it provides all the mentioned herbs and supplements and more.
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