An estimated 64 million Americans suffer from insomnia each year.
by Maureen Williams, ND
Passionflower Herb Extract
Lemon Balm Leaf Extract
Hops Strobile Extract
California Poppy Herb Extract
Valerian officinalis Root Extract
Lavender Essential Oil
Insomnia is a symptom of a sleep disorder and is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking too early in the morning, and not feeling refreshed upon waking. An estimated 64 million Americans suffer from insomnia each year. The chronic sleep deprivation experienced by people with insomnia can lead to a cumulative deterioration of cognitive alertness and ability to function in the daytime. Some of the more common conditions associated with insomnia include anxiety, depression, stress reaction, pain, sleep apnea, and hormonal changes including those occurring with premenstrual syndrome and menopause. In addition, caffeine and alcohol can contribute to insomnia, and some medications have sleep-disruptive side effects.
Behavioral therapies and relaxation techniques often help people with insomnia to improve the amount and quality of their sleep. In addition, some herbal and nutritional supplements have been found to promote relaxation of mind and body.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a popular herbal remedy for anxiety and insomnia with a long history of use in North America. Two studies have demonstrated its efficacy in treating anxiety, and in one it was found to be as effective as benzodiazepine medications. i In a controlled trial, passionflower extract effectively alleviated anxiety in pre-surgical patients, a circumstance in which benzodiazepine medications are typically used. ii Animal studies have suggested that chrysin, an active constituent from passionflower, might act similarly to benzodiazepines by affecting GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. iii iv Unlike benzodiazepines, however, regular use of passionflower extract does not appear to lead to dependence, and in one animal study it was helpful in treating benzodiazepine dependence. v
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a medicinal plant in the mint family with mild sedative properties. Lemon balm has traditionally been used for its calming effects on both the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Extracts have been shown to bind to both nicotinic and muscarinic acetylcholine receptor sites in human brain tissue, enhancing parasympathetic activity. vi A combination of lemon balm and three other medicinal herbs (lavender oil, hops, and oat) was found to alter electrical activity in the brains of healthy adults, reflecting its ability to induce a relaxed state. vii In other research, lemon balm improved self-rated mood, increased calmness, and improved cognitive functioning in healthy people under ordinary circumstances viii ix and during performance of tasks designed to induce stress. x
Hop strobile, commonly known as hops, is the flower cone of the hop plant (Humulus lupulus) and is most familiar for its use in flavoring beer. Its most common medicinal use, as a treatment for insomnia and anxiety, as well as hops’ other traditional uses, as a digestive aid, antibacterial, and antifungal agent, have been supported by animal and in vitro studies. xi xii xiii Results from several studies suggest that hops extract quiets the central nervous system by increasing GABA activity xiv xv and by activating melatonin receptors. xvi Hops have also been used to treat symptoms of menopause, including sleep disturbance, and researchers have identified at least one strong phytoestrogenic constituent. xvii xviii Menopausal women in a controlled trial had a reduction in menopausal symptoms when treated with hops extract. xix
California poppy (Eschscholtzia californicum) is a flowering plant in the poppy family. Although milder than the opium poppy, it is known for its sedative effects and has been used historically for insomnia and nervous tension. Its ability to influence the metabolism of several neurotransmitters has been documented. xx xxi An extract of California poppy was found to inhibit monoamine oxidase,xxii an action that could raise acetylcholine levels and contribute to its sedating effect. Other research suggests that a California poppy extract affects serotonin activity. xxiii In a controlled trial, a combination of California poppy and hawthorn plus magnesium was found to reduce symptoms in people with mild to moderate anxiety. xxiv
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a flowering perennial plant that is well known for its ability to ease nervousness and promote sleep. Findings from several studies suggest that a variety of valerian constituents, including terpenoids and flavonoids, might be involved in its anxiolytic and sedative properties and might work by affecting GABA and GABA receptors. xxv xxvi xxvii xxviii xxix Some studies comparing valerian extract to benzodiazepines have found them similarly effective, xxx xxxi and one study found valerian extract to be helpful in people withdrawing from benzodiazepine therapy for insomnia. xxxii The long-used combination of valerian and hops has also been studied and results suggest its effectiveness in relieving insomnia, xxxiii xxxiv xxxv xxxvi and its similarity in effect to a benzodiazepine drug. xxxvii Despite a broad range of studies that appear to support valerian’s mild sedating effect, researchers have reached conflicting conclusions: in three recent reviews of clinical trials using valerian in the treatment of sleep disorders, one meta-analysis concluded that it was effective, xxxviii one concluded that it was not, xxxix and the third found the evidence inconclusive. xl
L-theanine (N-ethyl-L-glutamine) is an amino acid present in green tea. In animal research, L-theanine was found to increase the release of serotonin and the inhibitory neurotransmitters GABA, dopamine, and glycine, and block the binding of the stimulatory neurotransmitter L-glutamate. xli xlii In humans, L-theanine supplementation increased alpha brainwave activity, indicating movement toward a calmer mind. xliii It also reduced physiologic signs of stress in people given stress-inducing tasks in the laboratory. xliv These findings suggest that L-theanine might help promote sleep by reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender (Lavendula angustafolia) is a perennial flowering shrub with a distinctive fragrance. The aroma is widely believed to ease tension and enhance relaxation, and the essential oil responsible for its smell is often used as a topical agent and in aromatherapy modalities. Aromatherapy with lavender oil has had relaxing to sedating effects in a number of studies, xlv xlvi xlvii xlviii xlix but in a few it has not. l
li Inhaling lavender oil during sleep increased deep, slow-wave sleep, decreased rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, and increased reported sense of vigor upon morning waking in one study, lii and a
preliminary study found that aromatherapy with lavender oil improved sleep in people with insomnia. liii Lavender oil has been shown to help relieve anxiety and improve mood when combined with massage, liv lv lvi and it has demonstrated pain-relieving effects when combined with acupressure. lvii One study found that a lozenge containing lavender oil and extracts from hops, lemon balm, and oat altered brain activity in healthy people in a way that indicated they experienced a relaxing effect. lviii The effect of ingesting lavender essential oil needs further research.
Melatonin is a hormone that participates in regulating the sleep/wake biorhythm. It is secreted by the pituitary gland and its release is strongly affected by ambient light, with levels normally dropping during daylight hours and rising at night. Melatonin levels are low in people with insomnia, lix and supplemental melatonin has been found to be an effective treatment for insomnia in controlled trials. lx lxi lxii It has also demonstrated effectiveness in treating insomnia associated with medical illness in general lxiii and specific chronic conditions including schizophrenia, lxiv lxv chronic fatigue syndrome, lxvi mental retardation, lxvii and bipolar disorder. lxviii Melatonin appears to help shift the sleep phase in some circumstances, and studies have suggested that it can improve sleep in shift workers lxix lxx lxxi and people with jet lag. lxxii lxxiii People using benzodiazepine medicines for sleep disorders have found melatonin helpful during medication reduction and discontinuation. lxxiv lxxv
Recommended Dosage Before Bed:
Passionflower Herb Extract 150mg-450mg
Lemon Balm Leaf Extract 100mg-300mg
Hops Strobile Extract 100mg-300mg
California Poppy Herb Extract 75mg-225mg
Valerian officinalis Root Extract 75mg-225mg
Lavender (Flowering Tops) Essential Oil 20mg-60mg
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