Natural Solutions for Sleep Deprivation

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By Hyla Cass, MD

I’m seeing increasing numbers of  patients with sleep problems, ranging  from difficulty in falling asleep,  to being unable to sleep soundly  through the night. Rather than waking  up in the morning restored and rejuvenated,  they are dragging themselves out  of bed, facing another day feeling  drained and exhausted. (1)

As you know, disrupted sleep can  exert a severe toll on your emotional and  physical health, interfering with mental  abilities, productivity and performance –  leaving you feeling stressed,  cranky, depressed and drowsy. (2) Poor  sleep patterns are linked to a growing list  of serious health conditions, including  obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes,  and even premature deaths in older  adults.

Sleep Problems Begin in Middle Age

Sleep researchers at the University of  Pittsburgh have recently shown that alterations  in normal sleep patterns actually  begin in middle age. (3) Studying 110 volunteers  between 20 to 59 years of age,  they discovered that the quality and duration  of sleep changed dramatically  between the mid-20s and the mid-50s,  with subjects going to bed and waking up  earlier. The subjects also slept less, woke  up more often during the night, and experienced  fewer stages of deep sleep. (4)

According to study author, Dr. Julie  Carrier, “Middle age is a turning point for  sleep. Some sleep patterns have already  changed significantly by the time an average  adult reaches age 30.” Dr. Carrier  observed that these changes are most likely  tied to gradual age-related changes in  features of the biological clock. “We need  to learn where the system breaks down. If  we are able to find out what is causing the  biological clock to change with age, we  may be able to discover ways to overcome  these changes and help get these people  back on track.”

Restoring Natural Sleep Cycles

Given the scope of the problem it’s little  wonder that the number of prescriptions  for sleep aids has increased dramatically.  According to data from IMS Health,  56,287,000 prescriptions were written last  year for sleep medications like Ambien®  and Lunesta®, a seven percent rise since  2007. My choice is to avoid prescribing  fast-acting sleeping pills that tend to knock  patients out and leave them with a hangover  in the morning. I prefer, instead, to  work with natural supplements combining  nutrients that work together to gently promote  a state of calm, initiate and support  the natural process of falling asleep, and  improve the overall quality of sleep to  allow you to wake up feeling refreshed,  energized and restored.

I most often recommend starting with  two well-established supplements – the  neurohormone, melatonin, that is commonly  used to treat jet lag and aid shift  workers (e.g. police officers and nurses),  and the amino acid, 5-HTP, which promotes  serotonin production. More details  on these in my book, Natural Highs. I then  add, if needed, a selection of traditional  plant extracts, such as passionflower and  valerian, that promote deep, restful sleep.  Another favorite of mine is L-theanine, an  amino acid derived from green tea that has  been shown to aid in relaxing the mind and  promoting a sense of calm.

Most recently I’ve been very  impressed with a newly available version  of a traditional Chinese herbal compound,  Wulinshen, available in an aptly named formula,  SleepCycle, along with the abovementioned  natural sleep enhancers. Wulinshen  is known to help to re-synchronize the  body’s biological clock and sleep rhythms.  It is rich in unique “deep-sleep” nutrients  that help to relax the brain and promote a  sense of calm to restore restful, recuperative  sleep without next-day brain fog. It  also reduces the time needed to fall to  sleep, and, especially after seven to eight  days of use, helps you to stay asleep longer.  Wulinshen contains glutamic acid, gammaaminobutyric  acid (GABA, a calming  amino acid, as well as a relaxing neurotransmitter)  and glutamate decarboxylase,  all of which are natural tranquilizers.

Many of my patients come to me after  trying all the typical prescription and natural  sleep products. They report that  SleepCycle works even better than expected:  they now just go to bed, fall asleep, and  wake up feeling refreshed. It seems to  gradually and steadily restore an optimal  state of balance, promoting deep, restorative,  recuperative sleep cycles over time.

In summary, rather than introducing  foreign chemicals that can cause a host of  their own problems, my preference is  always to go for the natural products that  work with the body’s own chemistry.

References

1. 1.Stoller, MK. Economic effects of insomnia. Clin  Ther. 1994;16:873-97.

2. Knipling R, Wang J. Revised estimates of the U.S.  drowsy driver crash problem size based on general  estimates system case reviews. Thirty-Ninth Annual  Proceedings of the Association for the Advancement  of Automotive Medicine; 1995:415-466.

3. E. J. W. Van Someren. “Circadian and sleep disturbances  in the elderly.” Experimental Gerontology,  Volume 35, Issues 9-10, December 2000, Pages 1229-1237.

4. “Deterioration Of Sleep During Middle Age  Related To Changes In The Biological Clock.”  ScienceDaily 25 June 1998.