If you were to Google the term 'sleeping problems', you’d get over 160 million results. About a third to a half of all Americans suffer from sleep difficulties. Getting better sleep is often a challenge and many of us turn to prescription drugs for relief. But those drugs are expensive, habit forming, and have many nasty side effects, such as: constipation, dizziness, daytime drowsiness, gas, headache, heartburn, mental slowing or problems with attention or memory, and unusual dreams, to name a few. There’s a better, safer way with natural remedies for sleep that have passed the test of time and science. Here are some of the most popular.
Vitamin B-6, or pyridoxine, plays a variety of important roles in your body. Similar to the other B-vitamins, vitamin B-6 helps the human body convert food energy into glucose, metabolize fats and proteins, and ensure proper function of the nervous system. Because of these many important effects, low levels of vitamin B-6 might cause or contribute to sleeping difficulties, or insomnia. Studies have shown that maintaining sufficient levels of vitamin B-6, as well as vitamins B-3, B-5, B-9, and B-12 help in achieving good sleep.
Magnesium is vital for the optimal functioning of GABA receptors (a class of receptors that respond to the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid), which exist across all areas of the brain and nervous system. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that the brain requires to switch off; without it, we remain tense, our thoughts race and we lie in bed staring at the ceiling. Whether the brain is active or at rest is a very complex area, and can also be affected by chemicals like noradrenaline, serotonin and histamine. However, on a more simple level, the most crucial balance is that of GABA versus glutamate. Whereas GABA calms, glutamate fires the brain into higher states of activity. The human body needs glutamate for critical thinking, but needs GABA to prevail in order to go to sleep.
Zinc is an essential trace element because very small amounts of zinc are necessary for human health. In the human body, there are more than 300 different enzymes that require zinc to function normally. Researchers believe that 3,000 proteins out of the approximately 100,000 in the body consist predominantly of zinc. Zinc plays a key role in many biological functions such as reproduction, diabetes control, stress level modulation, immune resistance, smell and taste, physical growth, appetite and digestion. When looking for better sleep, zinc should be in the mix.
Ashwagandha, also known as Winter Cherry or Indian Ginseng, is an outstanding herb for insomnia. Its Latin name, Withania somnifera, actually means sleep inducing. It is an adaptogen, enhancing our ability to adapt positively to stress. A number of published studies showed the positive impact Ashwagandha has on the brain. Research on mental patients confirmed that the herb has potent activity in any stressful condition manifested as neurosis, depression, panic attacks and other mood disorders. Psychiatrists found the Ashwagandha herb useful for reducing manic depression, alcoholic paranoia and schizophrenia. The herb has a tranquilizing effect that relieves anxiety, reduces tension and irritability as well as relaxes muscles. Published research indicated that extracts of Ashwagandha behaved like a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA. Look for an Ashwagandha that is well purified and standardized with high levels of the key bioactive constituent, withanolide glycosides.
Hops Flower Extract (Humulus lupulus)
Many years ago in Europe, workers who were picking hops for beer making were falling asleep in the fields. Hops thus became a traditional medicine for sleeping problems. More recently, scientific investigators confirmed the calming, sedating, and hypnotic (sleep inducing) effects of hops flower extract.
The science led the Commission E, Germany's equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to give its approval for using hops in cases of anxiety, restlessness, and fighting sleepless nights. Hops are natural and safe, helping with insomnia.
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland, a small gland in the brain, which helps control sleep and wake cycles. The human body has its own internal clock that controls its natural cycle of sleeping and waking hours. This body clock controls how much melatonin the body makes. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours. Light affects how much melatonin the body produces. During short winter days, the body might produce melatonin either earlier or later in the day than usual. This change can lead to symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or winter depression. Natural melatonin levels slowly drop with age. Some older adults make very small amounts of it or none at all. Which is why many of us suffer from more frequent sleep problems as we get older