Some people pass out the moment their head hits the pillow and wake up the next morning feeling rejuvenated. For others, that may feel like a pipe dream. Sleeping disorders aren’t uncommon. In fact, the CDC reports that nationwide 35.2% of all adults get less than seven hours of sleep (yes, that is considered a short sleep duration).1 In addition, adults who sleep less than seven hours over a 24-hour period are more likely to report chronic health conditions than those who sleep at least seven hours. The National Sleep Foundation states that sleep disorders include sleepwalking, cardiac rhythm disorders, narcolepsy, and insomnia to name a few.2 Sleep disorders can be serious, and you should always discuss treatment options with your doctor. You should also discuss drug-nutrient interactions, especially if you are on anti-depressants, psychiatric medications, or sedatives. Here are our “Top Three Supplements to Help You Sleep Better.”
Since the second century Valerian has been used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness. It has been a popular herb for sleep support and is on the FDA’s “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) list.3 Scientist aren’t sure exactly how valerian works, although they speculate it may work in the same was as Xanax and Valium. These drugs increase a chemical in the brain called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which results in feelings of peacefulness. Valerian might be a better alternative to prescriptions drugs because it may have fewer side effects. Data is conflicting, although some researchers now think that the effects of valerian may not be noticeable for a few weeks.3
Traditionally used in the Americas and Europe, Passionflower has been utilized for its calming effects to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria.4 Similarly to Valerian, scientist believe passionflower also increases GABA in the brain, lowering the activity of some brain cells and inducing feelings of relaxation. In comparison to valerian, passionflower seems to have a milder effect. It isn’t uncommon to find valerian and passionflower together in herbal mixes. Unfortunately for passionflower, its effects are difficult to determine individually because it is often mixed with other attention-hogging herbs such as valerian or kava. Passionflower has been shown to be just as effective as the drug oxazepam (Serax) for generalized anxiety disorder.4 This herb may be especially beneficial if your sleep is impacted by anxiety.
L-tryptophan is an amino acid that can be found in both plant and animal proteins. Our body cannot make L-tryptophan by itself and therefore must be acquired through food. This amino acid has been used for insomnia, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, and smoking cessation.5 Research has indicated that taking one gram of L-tryptophan can cause sleepiness and delay wake times, possibly effective for those who struggle with sleeping disorders.6 L-tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, the “happy” chemical. Since this amino acid interferes with serotonin production, it should be avoided if you currently take another medication that works in the same way.
Sleep is important for basically all body functions and shouldn’t be neglected. A rested brain is a happy brain! Don’t forget to take care of your body so that you can enjoy a productive night’s sleep and improve your health.
- Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html. Updated May 2, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Sleep Disorders. National Sleep Foundation. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Ehrlich S. Valerian. University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/valerian. Reviewed January 2, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/passionflower. Reviewed January 1, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- L-Tryptophan. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/326.html. Reviewed December 30, 2015. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Ehrlich S. Insomnia. University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/insomnia. Reviewed February 4, 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.