Herbs for a better sleep: 5 plants with the best documented effects.

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Do herbs for better sleep really help?

First, I must mention that not all plants have the same effect on sleep. For example, one plant may have a calming effect and help you fall asleep faster, while another plant will deepen or prolong your sleep. It is worth adapting the plant's mode of action to your problem to increase the effectiveness of natural therapy.

Secondly, the action of the plants depends on the state of our brain, that is, which signaling substances dominate in us, how sensitive we are to particular receptors, if we take any medications or if we use psychoactive substances. It is also important what other ailments we have in the nervous system - regardless of whether we suffer from depression, neurosis or personality disorders. All of this can affect both sleep and the effects of plants or supplements. Therefore, if someone says that a certain remedy does not work for them, it does not necessarily mean that it will not work for us. It's always worth a try.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha comes from India, and it is usually the root that is used. It takes a long time for ashwagandha to start working, so it is worth using it even 2-3 hours before bedtime. The plant stabilizes mood and reduces stress, so the herb not only temporarily supports sleep, but can also help at the source. It is worth remembering that ashwagandha taken in the morning does not have a sleep-inducing effect and may even stimulate you somewhat.

One of the hitherto known mechanisms behind the sleep-inducing effect of ashwagandha is the effect of its active substances on the GABA-A receptor. The GABA-A receptor is one of three receptors affected by GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) - an inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for processes that lead to calmness and sleep. It is worth mentioning here that the above effect is achieved by taking the root, preferably in ground form or in an extract. Alcohol extract, i.e. ashwagandha tincture (1).

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata)

This is another fairly well-known plant in the field of sleep, also valued for its mood-enhancing effect. It comes from North America. Studies have shown that the plant calms down, relieves tension and prolongs the duration of deep sleep, that is, the third stage of non-REM sleep. Passion flower stimulates the main receptors of the GABA system, i.e. GABA-A and GABA-B, as well as opioid receptors, which also indirectly affect sleep (2). I would like to emphasize that passion flower extract has the best sleep-inducing effect. The herb should be used approximately one hour before bedtime in a dose of 500-600 mg (for 5% extract). This extract tastes amazing and you can make a delicious evening tea out of it.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

I don't really need to introduce this plant. It is probably one of the most popular herbs for sleep disorders. Is it right? It depends on. Lemon balm has documented calming properties and it is the essential oil that is responsible for its effect.

First, the essential oil does not dissolve in water, and second, it evaporates when the herb is ground. This means that you absolutely do not get the soothing effect of lemon balm by brewing tea from a bag. However, we will benefit from lemon balm when using an alcohol extract, an extract, or an essential oil (orally) (3).

Active compounds found in lemon balm inhibit the breakdown of the neurotransmitter GABA. Replenishment of that substance in the brain means a better handling of stress, increased feelings of calm and significant improvement in sleep quality, as shown in a study involving volunteers suffering from mild anxiety disorders and sleep problems (4). These properties of lemon balm have also been confirmed by animal studies. In both of the above studies, lemon balm extract was used (5).

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Next to lemon balm, lavender is equally well known as a popular relaxing herb. It is mainly used in the form of an essential oil and rightly so because it contains the most valuable active compounds. In addition, lavender in the infusion is very bitter, which does not suit everyone.

Studies involving patients suffering from sleep disorders have confirmed that lavender oil effectively supports falling asleep and improves sleep quality, as well as reduces stress and lowers the level of tension.

It is necessary to emphasize that lemon balm and lavender show strong synergy, which is almost equivalent to the sum of the effects of both plants (6). Therefore, it is worth using them in combination, especially before going to bed (a few drops of each oil orally after dissolving in milk or inhalation).

References:

1.  Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8462692/

2.  Effect of a medicinal plant (Passiflora incarnata L.) on sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699852/

3.  Dlaczego melisa rzadko działa uspokajająco? https://rozanski.li/3821/dlaczego-melisa-rzadko-dziala-uspokajajaco/

4.  Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230760/

5.  Hypnotic effect of Coriandrum sativum, Ziziphus jujuba, Lavandula angustifolia and Melissa officinalis extracts in mice.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4698858/

6.  Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4505755/

7.  Aromatherapy: The Effect of Lavender on Anxiety and Sleep Quality in Patients Treated With Chemotherapy.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29547610/

8.  A single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula augustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16131287/

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