Sleep is one of the most vital things we can do for our wellbeing as humans. We spend up to one third of our lives asleep, and there's very good reason why. When you think of sleep, you likely think that it's a time when you mind and body shuts down. But that is not the case; sleep is actually an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration and strengthening occurs.
One of the most important roles of sleep is to help us solidify and consolidate memories. We take in an incredible amount of information each day, and experience a lot each day too. And each day, all of this information and all these experiences need to be processed and stored, and much of this is done while we sleep. Bits and pieces of information and experiences are transferred from our short term memory, to our more stronger, long-term memory. This process is called consolidation.
Sleep also helps us to retain information and perform better with memorized tasks. It also helps us to be more alert, present, and feel better overall. Another vital role of sleep is to restore and rejuvenate our bodies, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones. Getting a good night's sleep is extremely important, as it helps us to function optimally - physically, mentally and emotionally.
Unfortunately, sleep disorders and disturbances are very common in North America, but there are also many options to help you sleep - in the form of sleep aids and medications. So, what options do you have when you can't sleep? Well, there are many sleep aids on the market today that can help - both prescribed and over-the-counter. Two very popular over the counter sleep aids include passionflower and melatonin.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
This stunningly beautiful flower is native to the Americas, where it blooms in several varieties and forms and is cultivated for its flowers of unmatched beauty, and others for the edible fruit it bears. Passiflora incarnata has also been sought after for centuries to help people relax, and ultimately, to sleep.
Passionflower is a gentle, anti-anxiety and mildly sedative herb that can even be used to induce a good night's sleep. The increased GABA in the brain that passion flower extract can induce will also reduce the anxiety so often associated with insomnia. In addition, passion flower is known to be a muscle relaxant, easing away the tension that can make it more difficult to drift off to sleep.
How Does it Work?
The passionflower herb extract inhibits GABA reuptake. What exactly does this mean? GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), is a chemical the brain makes to help regulate mood - it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Passionflower contains GABA, so it may help treat anxiety, insomnia, and certain forms of pain because they may increase levels of GABA. Passionflower also counters neurotransmitters that cause excitement, and so it may have a calming effect.
Find the more technical explanation below:
- Neurotransmitter reuptake inhibitors play a very important role as pharmaceutical substances acting on the CNS.
- Passionflower has no effect on GABA release and GABA transaminase activity. Affects GABA-B receptors.
- GABA-B receptors are important for longer-lasting inhibition of nerve cells.
- GABA-B antagonists possibly improve cognitive ability. Affects GABA-A receptors.
- GABA-A receptors are responsible for rapid inhibition in the brain and are the site of action of important drugs such as, for example, Valium (diazepam). Passionflower does not bind to either the benzodiazepine or the ethanol binding sites, which explains the lack of addiction potential in contrast to chemical sedatives.
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body's pineal gland. Melatonin helps your body know when it's time to sleep and wake up. It natrally occurs that the human body produces more melatonin at night; melatonin levels start to rise in your body when it is dark outside, signaling to your body that it's time to sleep. Sufficient levels of this hormone will then signal the body to begin winding down and sleeping. When we are stressed out, or when there is too much unnatural light late at night, our melatonin levels do not rise adequately. This can lead to trouble falling asleep.
How Does it Work?The goal of taking melatonin as a supplement is to increase the levels of this hormone in the body. Therefore, a melatonin pill contains this endogenous hormone. In theory, this is a very effective plan, however, there are a few problems that arise with melatonin.
One problem may be that low levels of melatonin may not be the reason for having trouble sleeping, there are many reasons for sleep depravation. If possible, pinpoint the problem/cause first before taking any course of action. In addition, melatonin is normally a synthetic hormone that is unnatural and can have further impacts on the other hormones in the body, especially if taken over a long period of time. Melatonin dietary supplement can also be made from animals or microorganisms, but these can often come with other additives that can pose other health concerns, so it's best to stick with the synthetic version.
In Canada, melatonin is the only hormone that is not regulated by Health Canada, and in other parts of the world like Europe, melatonin is a prescribed medication that is not available over the counter. Melatonin can also cause side effects such as intense dreams and a feeling of drowsiness or grogginess in the morning. This information is important to keep in mind when choosing to take melatonin.