As the day goes on neurotransmitters (nerve signaling chemicals) control whether we are asleep or we are awake. These neurotransmitters act on different neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. Serotonin and Norenpinephrine are 2 chemicals that aid in keeping the brain awake and alert.
Adenosine begins to accumulate in the brain the longer we are awake. This compound gives us the feeling of tiredness that we start to experience as the day passes. So Adenosine and our body’s internal clock determine if we feel tired and when we are awake.
When we actually fall asleep the signals to keep us awake are turned off by the neurons and the Adenosine previously accumulated in our brain starts to break down.
Sleep makes it possible for our nervous system to function properly. Not enough sleep could leave us unable to concentrate as well as drowsy the next day. Impaired physical performance and memory may be caused by too little sleep. Prolonged sleep deprivation could cause mood swings as well as hallucinations.
Melatonin-A hormone released by the Pineal Gland, located in the brain, regulates the body’s internal clock and aids in regulation of other hormones. More melatonin is produced when the body is exposed to darkness. Melatonin is broken down by the body as a response to the exposure to light.
Many studies show supplemental melatonin is helpful for obtaining normal sleep.
Magnesium-This mineral is involved in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body. Some people who are deficient in magnesium may experience restless leg syndrome (RLS). Studies have also shown that magnesium supplementation may increase sleep efficiency, sleep time and melatonin levels significantly.
Tart Cherry Juice-Pilot studies show some beneficial sleep benefits in older adults who have insomnia and who consumed tart cherry juice for a 2 week period. Insomnia severity (minutes awake after having fallen asleep) was reduced significantly.
L-Theanine-This amino acid, found in green tea, supports the body in transmitting impulses to the brain. Studies point to this amino acid as having the ability to increase sleep efficiency with study participants recording higher sleep percentages when compared to a placebo group.
5HTP-Found in the herb Griffonia simplicifolla, this phytonutrient works to increase serotonin, a chemical that affects many behaviors including sleep. Studies show that 5HTP in combination with GABA reduced the time it took study participants to fall asleep while increasing the duration and quality of sleep.
Chamomile-This herb which contains many terpenoids and flavonoids has been used as a “mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer”. Studies show this herb may decrease the time it takes for a person to fall asleep.
Valerian-This plant has been used since the second century to reduce anxiety, stomach cramps and to ease insomnia. Scientists believe that this herb works by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain. GABA aids in the regulation of nerve cells and offers a calming effect on anxiety. Studies show valerian supplementation has a positive effect on sleep structure and perception when taken on a continuous basis. Valerian also may reduce “slow wave sleep latency” when compared to a placebo. Additional studies show a benefit for improving sleep disorders in women going through menopause when compared to a placebo.
Kava-A root found in the South Pacific, Kava has been used to improve sleep and support calmness. Studies show beneficial effects of Kava when used to treat general anxiety disorder.
Passion Flower- This plant is known for both its calming effect and its ability to support sleep. Sleep quality and short term subjective sleep benefits were seen in a 7 day study of adults who experienced mild fluctuations in sleep quality.
Lavender-Lavender is known to provide a soothing and calming effect when inhaled. Massages with essential oils, especially lavender, show improvements in sleep quality, reduced anxiety, increased concentration and improved mood stability. A 4 week study found improvements in insomnia severity, reductions in the length of time it takes to fall asleep and increased satisfaction with sleep after lavender exposure.
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