We’re experiencing a worldwide lack of sleep. With people’s busy lives, sleep is not often a top priority and life can easily become overwhelming. Japan has the worst national average with just 5 hours and 59 minutes spent in bed. This statistic doesn’t take into account their propensity to take a quick “inemuri” in the middle of the day, however.
“Lack of Sleep Costs the United States over $411 Billion Annually”
Lack of sleep can lead to loss of productivity and chronic illness if prolonged. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that 40% of all patients suffering from sleeplessness have a coexisting psychiatric condition. In addition, a lack of enough good-quality sleep puts people at risk for a plethora of other health issues.
In this article, we’ll explore our top pick of four naturally-occurring herbs that are scientifically proven to calm the nervous system and promote healthy sleep. In all cases, efficacy is dependent upon the standards by which the herbs have been cultivated. Furthermore, if their potent phytochemicals or marker compounds are extracted to form a supplement then the process must meet stringent standards to ensure quality, strength and consistency.
#1 | Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) is a versatile aromatic herb from the mint family (Lamiaceae) that goes by many names such as balm, English balm, garden balm, balm mint, common balm, melissa, sweet balm and heart’s delight. This unassuming herbaceous perennial contains over 100 active phytochemicals and is high in flavonoids which have both antioxidant and neuroprotective effects.
The calming effects of lemon balm have long been established. It is common for some people to have an overactive brain that is operating at a high beta 3 oscillation, which is conducive to anxiety. In fact, if the brain remains at high beta 3 levels for too long this can result in neurodegenerative effects.
Note: There are three stages of “beta” brainwaves – beta1, beta2 and beta3.
Lemon balm calms the mind, uplifts mood and soothes the central nervous system. It has been proven to enhance cognitive abilities. The biologically active compounds in lemon balm include monoterpenoid aldehydes (including citronellal, neral and geranial), flavonoids and polyphenolic compounds such as rosmarinic acid and monoterpene glycosides. The absorption of rosmarinic acid has been shown to increase positive mood, and is thought to be responsible active for the uplifting effects of lemon balm. Lemon balm is approved by the German Commission E for supporting gastrointestinal health and sleep.
#2 | Passionflower
Passionflower is recognised around the world for its sedative and anxiolytic effects. Like lemon balm, passionflower is approved by Germany’s Commission E for neuroprotective and sleep support. One study showed that passiflora has beneficial effects for patients needing calm and relaxation.
In another animal study, the combined aqueous extract of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) and Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) was shown to reduce plasma corticosterone, the most important biomarker associated with stress.
#3 | Green/ Black Tea
Both green and black tea contain L-theanine, an amino acid that can help with focus, promote sleep and have soothing effects. L-theanine was discovered by Japanese scientists in 1949. Green and black teas contain different quantities of L-theanine. To strengthen the dose - brew the tea for longer.
A regular 200 ml cup of brewed black tea contains around 24.2 mg of L-theanine while the same amount of brewed green tea contains just 7.9 mg of L-theanine. L-theanine boosts GABA levels, lowers excitatory brain chemicals and enhances alpha brainwaves. Alpha brainwaves are the brainwaves associated with waking relaxation and slow wave, non-REM sleep.
Other than containing L-theanine, both green and black teas have additional health benefits due to being filled with antioxidants, polyphenols and flavonoids. One study found that black tea may also help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) is used to provide anxiolytic benefits and to promote better-quality sleep. Various strains of skullcap exist but Chinese skullcap - Baikal skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) is thought to be the strongest. The sedating effects of skullcap are not clearly understood. However, it is thought to modulate benzodiazepine receptor activity in the brain. The benzodiazepine receptors or GABAA receptors receive γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the brain's chief inhibitory neurotransmitter. The anxiolytic properties of skullcap may be due in part to other intrinsic compounds such as the polyphenolic flavonoid baicalin that has antioxidant properties and an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) profile.
Because sleep deprivation -- be it in quantity or quality -- is connected to a number of health issues, it is now considered a public health concern. Make sleep a priority and, most assuredly, your health will improve.
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