We all need a sleep aid from time to time. Since we can’t all tap into a trio of maidens stroking us gently to sleep in a warm bath, we have to improvise with something almost as good!
I’m talking about a sleep draft.
But hot toddies (whisky, honey and lemon) are not really so healthy. I was thinking instead of something like melatonin or valerian.
Everyone knows melatonin as a sleep draft. It’s sometimes called the “sleep hormone”. The trouble is, despite its reputation, melatonin isn’t my first choice. If you take a lot, to be sure of its effect, it leaves you very grumpy and groggy next day. So 3 mg is the typical choice—a compromise. That amount doesn’t work for everybody but it has little side-effects.
But there is yet another problem with melatonin: it puts you to sleep maybe, but then you may wake up after a few hours. It isn’t guaranteed to KEEP you asleep the whole night long. Some people claim to have solved this problem with a 2-stage release tablet—the quick acting and then a slow-release phase.
I’m not convinced.
Better by far is the herb valerian. It’s been around since Ancient Greek and Roman times, and it definitely works.
Hippocrates (circa 460-377) mentions valerian and and Dioscorides (1st century BC) also prescribed it as a sleep aid. Galen (circa 130-200 CE), physician to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, prescribed it for insomnia.1
In England during World War II, valerian was used to relieve the stress caused by air raids.2
Animal studies testing valerian on rats have shown anxiolytic (dissolving of anxiety, agitation, and tension) effects.3
In the United States, valerian is used extensively as a dietary supplement in the form of alcoholic tinctures, infusions (teas), and as a crude-root, powdered and dried extract in capsules and tablets. Often, valerian is combined with other herbs traditionally known to promote sleep such as hops, passion flower and lemon balm.4
The US Pharmacopeia (USP) provides dietary supplement quality standards monographs for valerian root, powdered valerian root extract, and valerian tablets that contain powdered valerian root extract. 5
Valerian standards were formerly published in the national pharmacopeias of Austria, France, Great Britain, Hungary, and Russia, among others. Most of these databases have been superseded by the European Pharmacopoeia (2008), which provides pharmaceutical product quality standards for this herb.6
We use the root extract.
A growing number of clinical trials have shown various types of valerian preparations can be useful in reducing anxiety, as well as for improving sleep quality and decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. In 2 clinical trials, valerian (taken the evening before) did not significantly influence alertness, reaction time, concentration, driving, or operating of heavy machinery during the following day.7
I have chosen a dose of 350 mg, which works well with the other ingredients of my sleep formula.
Now comes a real star!
I love theanine and its effects. That maybe my British upbringing: theanine is one of the main calming and soothing amino acids in a cup of tea!
It may not have a sedative effect (which is sometimes a benefit) but it does enhance sleep quality, and calms brain activity.
What’s really cool about L-theanine is that it stimulates alpha and theta brainwaves. Alpha is the frequency of calm and relation. Theta is the brainwave state just before we fall asleep; the sort of dreaming and trance state of mind!8
Theta brainwaves (3 - 8 cycles per second) are not just about sleep (which is delta frequency anyway) but about deep relaxation. I found a paper where it said L-theanine enhanced golf performance! Well it would, if it brought about a calmer state!
L-theanine elevates levels of GABA, as well as serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters, and they work in the brain to regulate emotions, mood, concentration, alertness, and sleep, as well as appetite, energy, and other cognitive skills. Increasing levels of these calming brain chemicals promotes relaxation and can help with sleep.
It lowers levels of “excitatory” brain chemicals and increases chemicals that promote feelings of calm. This may also be a way that L-theanine can protect brain cells against stress and age-related damage, while at the same time enhancing attention, focus, memory, and learning.
Under stress, the body increases the production of certain hormones, including dangerous cortisol. These hormone changes inhibit some brain activity, including memory formation and spatial learning. L-theanine helps to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and avoid interference with memory and learning.9
Despite all this, L-theanine has remarkably low toxicity, with one rodent safety study unable to detect any toxic effects at 4,000 mg per kg of body weight daily for 13 weeks. Additional animal studies have reported similar results with no observed toxicity at remarkably high doses, and L-theanine seems to be equally well-tolerated in humans, with no known reports of adverse effects or toxicity.10
5-Hydroxytryptophan (also known as oxitriptan) is a naturally occurring amino acid and chemical precursor in the biosynthesis of the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. It is manufactured from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia.
5-HTP dietary supplements help raise serotonin levels in the brain. Since serotonin helps regulate mood and behavior, 5-HTP may have a positive effect on sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and pain sensation. 5-HTP is not found in the foods we eat, although tryptophan is found in certain foods (meats, for example).
In one study, people who took 5-HTP went to sleep quicker and slept more deeply than those who took a placebo, but it may take 6 to 12 weeks to be fully effective.
According to an article published in Nutrition Review, “Serotonin nerve circuits promote feelings of well-being, calmness, personal security, relaxation, confidence and concentration.” That does NOT mean SSRI anti-depressants are safe, or effective.
Serotonin circuits also help counterbalance the tendency of two other major neurotransmitters in the brain – dopamine and noradrenaline – to encourage overarousal, fear, anger, tension, aggression, violence, obsessive-compulsive actions, overeating, anxiety and sleep disturbances.11
While research regarding its effectiveness has been mixed overall, 5-HTP benefits may include helping reduce overeating and weight gain, sleep-related issues, anxiety, chronic pain and more.
5-HTP may not make you sleepy? It doesn’t work like sleep-inducing medications, which can make you feel very drowsy, but it may help you to feel more relaxed — which allows you to sleep more easily.
It’s been found that it works especially well for combating insomnia when taken with GABA and valerian root, which also have calming effects, so this works well with my other sleep formula ingredients. Taken together, they decrease the time needed to fall asleep.
A note on eosinophilic myalgia syndrome (EMS). Fake science and a strong FDA desire to hurt supplement sales has given rise to the persistent myth that 5-HTP can cause EMS, a potentially fatal disorder that affects the skin, blood, muscles, and organs. This claim is NONSENSE. In 1989, the presence of a contaminant in the fermentation process called Peak X was found in a specific tryptophan supplement from Japan. Peak X is the cause of EMS and not tryptophan or its derivatives. Notwithstanding, the FDA pulled all tryptophan supplements off the market in a ridiculous over-reaction.
In any case, 5-hydroxytryptophan is safe, allowed and is made from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, not a fermentation process.
WARNING: don’t take 5-HTP if you are currently taking SSRIs or other so-called anti-depressants. Consider instead asking your doctor to stop the SSRIs. But be warned: they are designed to be viciously addictive and very difficult to stop. Nice Pharma marketing ploy, huh?
So Let’s Assemble It!
We’re ready now to assemble my formula. This is my THREE-MAIDENS-AND-A-WARM-SOOTHING-BATH concoction, just for you!
Notice how the parts interlock: 5-hydroxytryptophan works well in conjunction with GABA, which is produced additionally by L-theanine… and 5-HTP and GABA complement valerian very well.
It’s a winning formula!
Dr. Keith’ Own Sleep Defender