Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sleep-Stress Interview, Natural Products Marketplace magazine

Everyone living in our modern world experiences stress, and if our ability to adequately control it diminishes so does our ability to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep time allows repair and recovery to occur, both mental and physical. The inability to recover from chronic stress can increase stress-related eating habits with a subsequent accumulation of abdominal fat on the one hand, and lead to physical and emotional exhaustion on the other. In fact, the deprivation of sound sleep is a common complaint that is associated with a lack of energy. Energy deficits can lead to a diminished immune response. So we see a host of common complaints that can be at least partially attributed to a lack of sleep and the causes thereof.

The lack of a good night’s sleep can be related to a lack of melatonin; a natural hormone made from the amino acid l-tryptophan and its metabolite 5-HTP. Melatonin is formed from serotonin, a metabolite of 5-HTP that is made in the pineal gland during darkness…this means that falling asleep in a bright room, or in front of the TV, may leave one less than fully engaged in sleep and its several stages of healthy brain waves that allow true relaxation to occur. Melatonin is also an antagonist of the aforementioned stress hormone cortisol, and so adequate darkness/sleep/melatonin production is a key factor in controlling chronic stress and its negative effects on the body.

The adrenal glands help the body respond and adjust to stress generated from both internal and external forces. Under chronic stress, cortisol can be overproduced, resulting in weight gain and difficulty in managing healthy blood sugar levels. Adaptogenic herbs help the body to manage the negative effects of stress, such as excess abdominal fat deposition, overeating, and low energy levels.

We see specific sleep solutions that are targeted to enhance certain normal mechanisms; for example, to reduce cortisol and/or increase melatonin to maintain them within healthy levels. Another strategy is to add certain amino acids that are precursors of relaxing or inhibitory neurotransmitters. And some people prefer to utilize individual herbs, while others prefer to take a formula combining multiple mechanisms.

Kava Kava helps people to relax but does not act as a strong sedative. Kava has been used by people to stay calm before taking a test and may support mental focus and calmness.

The essential mineral Magnesium has long been used, sometimes with Calcium, to relax muscles. Magnesium also has an effect to relax overstimulated brain neurons by acting against those excitotoxic states.

L-Theanine is an amino acid found commonly in green tea. L-Theanine promotes relaxation without the drowsiness or negative side effects associated with some other calming agents. L-Theanine also supports healthy cardiovascular function through this relaxing effect, as well as its antioxidant properties.

L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP products are available in various strengths; make sure that the one you buy has been safety, identity, and potency tested. These amino acids are precursors of the important neurotransmitter serotonin, as well as its metabolite melatonin. Melatonin is used by the body to regulate sleep cycles, as an antioxidant, and as an anti-stress aid; in addition to other wide-ranging health effects on the human body.

Relora® is an all-natural proprietary blend of plant extracts from Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense herbs that helps to control cortisol. Relora® is a safe, non-sedating formula that can help to alleviate symptoms associated with stress such as nervous tension, irritability, concentration difficulties and occasional sleeplessness. The relaxing effect of Relora® can thereby help to control appetite and prevent stress-related eating, aiding in weight control.

100% pure Essential Oils have long been used for aromatherapy, including some oils known to be relaxing. Whether using these oils to sniff, use with reed or other diffusers, blending into carrier oils (almond, olive, apricot kernel, etc.) for massage, or adding a few drops to bath water or potpourri, many people find some of these powerful oils to be very relaxing. Lavender, Chamomile, Marjoram, and Germanium Oils are especially soothing and relaxing.

Some supplements are safe to take daily; for example, the gentler stress vitamins, Chamomile tea, essential oils used in aromatherapy. It is best to be more cautious with stronger herbal and amino formulas, though there’s no strict rule of thumb on how long to take them. Chronic stress may need to be dealt with for many months, resisting a quick fix. On the other hand, one can often cut the melatonin dose down after a month or two of resetting the sleep cycle.

People may not sleep due to a number of factors, and their individual stressors makes it more difficult to figure out which products may help them to normalize their sleep and minimize their stress. Matching the person to the solution is always the biggest challenge, and some trial and error may need to be factored in before a solution is found.

For some products, like melatonin, chewables and liquids may be popular. For herbal formulas, capsules and liquids dominate, but we find that the chewables and capsules sell best for melatonin. Aminos tend to be in powders, chewables, and capsules, with the occasional tablet form.

Sometimes obvious things like limiting caffeine, setting nighttime winding down rituals, and creating a calm space for sleep can be helpful.

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