It’s no surprise that 70% of Americans are affected by poor sleep. In fact, some studies suggest that up to 30% of adults in the United States get less than six hours of sleep each night. With our eyes constantly fixated on our phones, computer screens, and tablets, our brain waves are continuously stimulated and deceived into increasing wakefulness. 2 out of every 3 adults also report feelings of stress and anxiety, with 33% reporting extreme or chronic conditions, which is also a leading cause of insomnia and suboptimal sleep quality. Studies have shown natural sleep aids, promote a sense of calmness, relaxation, and exhibit anxiolytic effects, helping to induce sleep and improve sleep quality. We’re going to talk about the best sleep aids, that will assist you in getting the sleep you need to improve your well-being.
How Do Sleep Aids Work?
Although the exact mechanisms are not clear, electroencephalograph (EEG) studies and researchers believe that sleep aids work a few different ways, to achieve relaxation and better sleep quality.
1. Decrease Anxiety
Sleep aids such as theanine, magnesium glycinate, valerian root, and ashwagandha produce anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. Your body and mind need to be in a relaxed and calm state in order to fall asleep and stay asleep.
2. Increase GABA
Studies indicate, sleep aids also naturally increase levels of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain as well as serotonin and dopamine. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, blocking signals such as fear, stress, and anxiety experienced from excitatory neurons, contributing to a calming effect in the body. Excessive excitation can lead to, insomnia and anxiety, whereas excessive inhibition can lead to sedation and a calm mood state. GABA essentially pumps the brakes to achieve a state of emotional/mental homeostasis. With increased levels of GABA and serotonin, the body also increases the hormone melatonin, resulting in more efficient sleep cycles.
3. Increase Alpha Waves
Sleep aids can help attribute to better quality sleep, sleep latency, reducing wakening frequency, and improving sleep duration. The anxiolytic effects of sleep aids, can produce a calming effect, efficiently increasing alpha brain waves and GABA stimulating melatonin and resulting in high quality Zzzs.
4. Improve Sleep Cycle
Some sleep aids such as theanine, tryptophan, and GABA increase levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin signals the brain when it's time to go to sleep and when it's time to wake up, thus improving overall sleep cycle and sleep quality.
What Are The Best Natural Sleep Aids?
Ashwagandha is a powerful and potent adaptogen, native to India, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Research shows that ashwagandha may even be powerful enough as a proposed alternative to recommended present treatments for insomnia. Constant exposure to blue light, work deadlines, and stress can keep us up at night, disrupting sleep schedules and patterns, leading to adverse effects, irritability, and sub-optimal productivity.
A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, evaluated the pharmacological effects of ashwagandha on sleep. 80 healthy participants were assessed on sleep parameters, such as sleep efficiency, sleep duration, wakefulness, and sleep onset.
In both healthy and insomnia groups, ashwagandha produced a significant improvement in all studied sleep parameters, proving to help sleep quality and manage insomnia [R].
RELATED ARTICLE What Is Ashwagandha?
L-theanine is a non-protein amino acid naturally found in tea leaves most notably green tea; non-protein meaning it has the same structure as an amino acid yet is not considered a building block of proteins. Research indicates that Theanine has anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects, which is the precursor to high-quality sleep.
Evidence from human electroencephalograph (EEG) studies show that it has a direct effect on brain activity increasing alpha wave frequency which relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness and typical side effects often found with other sleep aids. Anxiolytic properties are also found to produce a soothing and calm effect, which improves sleep latency and duration.
A study published in the Journal Nutrients, examined the effects of theanine supplementation on stress and cognitive function. 30 healthy participants were administered 200mg per day for four weeks. Study results showed that scores for sleep latency (time to fall asleep), sleep disturbance, and use of sleep medications all reduced after L-theanine administration, compared to the placebo administration [R].
Another study showed that the combination of GABA and l-theanine had an even greater improvement in time taken to fall asleep, fewer sleep disturbances and an increase in sleep duration than with theanine or GABA alone [R].
RELATED ARTICLE The Science Behind L-Theanine For Sleep
Magnesium is a common and abundant mineral, essential for overall human health involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is an essential cofactor for many enzymatic reactions especially those that are involved in energy metabolism, and neurotransmitter synthesis.
Studies have shown that magnesium supplements have been linked to numerous health benefits, including the ability to fight inflammation, improving immunity health, relieving constipation, improving sleep quality, and lowering blood pressure.
Magnesium has an essential role in the neural transmission both in the pre and post synaptic membrane, as a natural agonist of NMDA and GABA which play a crucial role in sleep regulation [R].
Magnesium also plays a role in activating the para-sympathetic nervous system, which is the system to help you calm down and relax. In order to fall asleep and stay asleep, your body and mind need to be relaxed. Studies also indicate that magnesium regulates the hormone melatonin, helping guide your sleep cycle [R].
The combination of magnesium with glycine, is where things get interesting. Magnesium glycinate is a combination of magnesium and the non-essential sleep-inducing amino acid, glycine. Glycine like GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and acts as an excitatory modulator of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype of ionotropic glutamate receptors. As one of the best absorbing forms of magnesium, studies have shown that glycine improves sleep quality and promotes healthy sleep patterns and REM cycles [R]. Without question, magnesium glycinate is one of the best natural sleep aids.
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Often referred to as the “sleep-hormone”, Melatonin is the hormone that signals your brain that it’s time to go to bed. Melatonin works directly with your body’s circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your internal clock. Your circadian rhythm signals your body when its time to go to sleep, wake up, and eat.
A meta-analysis found in the Journal PLOS ONE, investigated melatonin for the primary treatment in sleep disorders. The review identified 19 studies, examining a total of 1683 patients.
The results indicated that Melatonin supplementation demonstrated significant in reducing sleep latency, increasing sleep duration, and improving overall quality of sleep [R].
Clinical research suggests that a dose between 2-5 milligrams is required to produce efficacious sleep, increased sleep duration, and improved sleep quality.
RELATED ARTICLE 3 Proven Benefits Of Melatonin To Help You Fall Asleep Faster
GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in your brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which blocks or inhibits certain brain signals in your central nervous system. GABA inhibits excitatory neurons, promoting a sense of calmness, relaxation, and anxiolytic effects. When GABA receptors are activated, it also promotes sleep. Studies suggest that GABA can benefit and improve mood state, sleep quality, reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure.
Studies show that sleep inducing minerals and compounds, such as theanine, ashwagandha, valerian root, and magnesium have direct mechanisms through the stimulation of GABA. GABA significantly increases alpha waves and decreases beta waves, inducing relaxation and exhibiting anti-anxiety effects [R]. In order to derive better quality sleep, your mind and body must be in a relaxed and calm state.
A systematic review identified a large body of evidence, that shows GABA can improve sleep latency, sleep quality, sleep efficiency, wakening frequency, and sleep duration. Evidence suggests that the sleep stage-related benefits of GABA consumption could be associated with GABA's stress reduction and anti-anxiety properties, rather than direct sleep inducing and/or maintaining benefits [R].
RELATED ARTICLE 3 Amazing Benefits Of Gaba
Valerian, also known as Valeriana officinalis, is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. Researchers believe that valerian root naturally increases levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, blocking signals such as fear, and anxiety experienced from excitatory neurons, contributing to a calming effect in the body.
Valerian root has long been considered one of the best natural sleep aids. A systematic review published in the American Journal of Medicine, investigating the effects of valerian root on sleep quality and sleep duration, identified a total of 370 articles, 16 of those being randomized controlled trials, examining 1093 patients. The most commonly reported outcome reported that, the use of valerian root was found to nearly double sleep latency and sleep quality as compared to placebo groups.
RELATED ARTICLE 3 Amazing Benefits of Valerian Root You Never Knew
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, that is necessary in producing several important molecules to signal sleep. Tryptophan can be converted into a molecule called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which is used to make serotonin and melatonin [R].
Once serotonin is produced, it can be converted into melatonin, to produce better sleep-wake cycles. Several studies have shown the impact tryptophan has directly improving sleep by increasing melatonin, improving sleep-wake cycle signaling you went to go to sleep and wake up [R].
RELATED ARTICLE The Science Of Tryptophan For Sleep
Natural Sleep Aids: Takeaway
Poor sleep can deplete your energy, lower your productivity, increase your irritability, and increase the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. If you are experiencing symptoms of poor sleep, sleep quality, and high anxiety and stress, adding a high quality clinically dosed sleep formula can support and improve quality of life.
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