Posted on Natural Practitioner Magazine - January 2018
A good night’s sleep is one of the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle.
Along with a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, sleep is essential to good health. However, according to the American Sleep Association (ASA), approximately 40 million Americans suffer from some kind of chronic, long-term sleep disorders, while another 20 million Americans experience occasional problems with sleep.
At least seven hours of sleep per day is recommended for adults between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay healthy. Getting the recommended amount of restful sleep helps keep stress levels balanced, supports mood and increases alertness, while sleep deprivation can result in bouts of depression and increased risk of chronic diseases.
There are many underlying issues that could result in a sleep disorder. Highlighted below are some of the most common causes, as well as natural treatment solutions for patients.
What Causes a Sleep Disorder?
Dr. Jorge Angel, medical advisor at Equisalud Laboratory, based in Spain, shared that going to bed late at night, rising at different times each morning and using mobile devices in the bedroom are all habits that can cause an individual to have trouble sleeping.
The ASA reports that insomnia tends to increase with age, affecting about 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men. For most people, the cure is to practice better sleep habits, but for others, it could be the sign of an underlying medical disorder.
Dr. Angel also shared that per recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society say that certain demographics may be more affected by sleep issues than others. For example, survey respondents who were unemployed or unable to work reported a lower healthy sleep duration than employed respondents.
The healthiest sleepers were those who had a minimum of a college degree, and married survey respondents reported a healthier sleep duration than those who were never married, divorced, widowed or separated. “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night, rising at the same time each morning and turning off or removing televisions, computers and mobile devices from the bedroom can help people get the healthy sleep they need,” stated Dr. Angel. “In my experience, a synergic combination of natural products, using low doses is a great adjuvant to support and regulate sleep disorders.”
Carolyn Dean MD, ND, a medical advisory board member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association agreed. “Our lifestyle is stressed more than ever before with a more complex environment and digital technology at our fingertips 24/7; our bodies have less time for proper rest and sleep,” she asserted. “We are having a harder time to flip the ‘off’ switch. As such, supplement aisles selling sleep and calming aids are on the rise.”
When asked about trends in the sleep disorders category, Andreas Koch, influencer in marketing and partnerships for Nutranext family of brands, including the Texas-based Natural Vitality agreed with Dr. Dean that technology and smart phone use are causing great sleep disturbances.
“Digital technology and smart phones are always attached to our bodies and even up to bedtime, with alerts and text messages even pinging us during sleep and keeping us out of deep sleep more often,” he mentioned. “So, a wider population is shopping for solutions to regain a normal sleep cycle. Using the very devices that have hindered our sleep are conversely also helpful tools to research natural solutions such as magnesium-related products and other sleep products.”
Another common cause of sleep difficulty affecting approximately 18 million Americans is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is linked to high blood pressure, cardiac issues and changes in mood such as depression and irritability. “Around half the people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight,” said Dr. Dean, explaining that fat deposits around the upper airway may obstruct breathing. “Another cause is a narrowed airway. You may inherit naturally narrow airways or your tonsils or adenoids may become enlarged, which can block your airway.” Other causes of sleep apnea include hypertension, chronic nasal congestion, smoking and diabetes. “Recent research has also found an association between asthma and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea,” Dean added.
Patients experiencing sleep apnea could benefit from a referral to a specialized sleep center. Sedatives or sleeping pills are not recommended for patients with sleep apnea, but lifestyle changes such as weight loss or alternating sleep positions could provide some relief.
“Sleep is complex, and getting to the root cause of sleep disturbances is key,” stated Amy McKelvey, an integrative herbalist and CEO of California-based her vital way.
“The most successful approaches incorporate a comprehensive plan that includes all of the following: increase exercise; read before bed and put down all devices so that the environment is dark and calm; use herbal support; go to bed earlier and awake before sunrise; increase consumption of plants and plant-based proteins and fats to balance blood sugar levels; address anxiety and reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption,” McKelvey asserted. “Become very protective of your sleep routine. We have a pill popping culture that tends to want quick solutions, and so I always include lifestyle changes in addition to remedies so that people understand how they can directly impact their sleep health. Not getting enough sleep and then drinking coffee all day and taking sleep medication at night is a recipe for disaster.”
Mark A. Kaye, DC, senior manager of medical information at California-based Metagenics, Inc. shared ways that alternative medicine can help patients who experience sleep disorders. “Integrative care suggests ‘integration’ into the standard medical care that [a] patient is also seeking; to fully understand why a patient may be experiencing a sleep disturbance may require multiple health professionals—from family practitioners to chiropractors to mental health professionals to occupational therapists. Prescriptive agents work well when the specific need is defined—similar for nutritional compounds. They work very well when a proper determination of need is made in the individual patient.”
Supplements for Better Sleep
In addition to lifestyle changes, patients may find supplements supporting sleep to be beneficial.
According to Brendan Gaughran, president of Florida-based Liver Medic, Inc., magnesium is the most depleted mineral in the body and simply getting more is a great start to addressing an underlying sleep issue. Gaughran recommended using supplements containing the magnesium glycinate form of magnesium, as it has the highest absorbency levels with the added benefit of reducing midbrain hyperactivity via glycinate.
“The mineral magnesium facilitates sleep regulating melatonin production, relieves the muscle tension that can disrupt sleep and prevent[s] restful sleep and activates GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system,” explained Dr. Dean. “Magnesium is known as the anti-stress mineral. Numerous studies have shown its effectiveness in boosting mood, lowering anxiety and reducing stress levels as well as helping with deeper more restful sleep.”
Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm is a fruity, effervescent drink formulated with magnesium citrate powder, a highly-absorbable form of magnesium that can be mixed with hot or cold water. Natural Calm promotes healthy magnesium levels and balances calcium intake, resulting in a more relaxed state of being.
For patients who need extra sleep support, Natural Vitality’s Calmful Sleep contains rest-promoting magnesium glycinate, Suntheanine (a patented form of the relaxing amino acid L-theanine), calm-enhancing GABA (a non-protein amino acid) and melatonin, which helps the body ease into restful sleep.
Melatonin is well known for its sleep benefits. The melatonin hormone secreted by the brain is what regulates the body’s sleep/wake cycle. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the evening, stay high during the night and decrease in the morning. Travel, stress and other lifestyle factors can disrupt the normal melatonin cycle making it difficult to fall or stay asleep.
Benesom from Metagenics is a sleep and relaxation formula with melatonin as well as herbs and minerals for additional support. The formula delivers 3 milligrams of melatonin per serving to help relieve occasional sleeplessness as well as plant extracts passionflower and valerian to promote calm and minerals for enhanced relaxation.
Dr. Angel also supported the use of herbal supplements or phytonutrients in treating sleep issues. “In my experience, the synergic combination of California poppy, chamomile, folic acid, inositol, L-arginine, niacin, passionflower, valerian, vitamin B6 and zinc gluconate is very interesting to support these patients,” he shared.
Dormisol is a product from the Holoram line (manufactured in Spain by Equisalud Laboratory and distributed in the U.S. by Welife Naturals) containing the blend of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients mentioned by Dr. Angel. One of the ways the product works is by controlling the body’s response to stress.
The formula also contains L-tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin. “Serotonin has general sedative effects,” said Angel. “In theory, raising the level of L-tryptophan in the brain will cause increased production of serotonin and natural sedation, especially if this amino acid is low. Serotonin is then converted in to melatonin with the proper micronutrients. Supplementation could correct these deficiencies that are not uncommon in our industrialized society.”
To reduce anxiety and improve the quality of sleep, one of McKelvey’s go-to remedies is L-theanine. “L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea leaves, and is one of nature’s most effective natural relaxants,” she explained. “It directly stimulates the production of alpha brain waves, creating a state of deep relaxation; it also reduces anxiety.”
McKelvey shared that a 2004 study published in the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology showed that L-theanine was more effective than a standard benzodiazapene at reducing resting anxiety. “Anxiety is one of the main causes of sleep disorders, and that L-theanine is more powerful than Valium and Xanax and natural is very impressive.”
her vital way provides L-theanine in its purest form as AlphaWave, an amino acid found in green tea leaves that promotes relaxation without drowsiness while reducing nervous tension. These vegetarian capsules can be taken with a meal or on an empty stomach.
Sleep Z-z-zen from Rainbow Light (in the Nutranext family of companies) uses a blend of well-studied ingredients to promote relaxation and healthy sleep. The formula includes melatonin, L-theanine and GABA as well as botanicals used in traditional medicine to support relaxation.
Additional products supporting relaxation and sleep include Zen Calm and Zen Sleep from the Zen Herbalists brand owned by Liver Medic. The two products contain organic adaptogenic herbs, magnesium glycinate and B vitamins, while taking care to avoid toxic fillers. “We often get physicians that will give [these products] to patients they believe have adrenal fatigue or HPA axis imbalance, and that’s a fine application too,” said Gaughran.
Lastly, if stress is a reason for a patient’s sleep issues, homeopathic medicines may be an effective remedy. “Homeopathic medicines like Boiron’s Sedalia allow health care providers to offer a safe and simple solution to stress-related problems, reserving the usage of anxiolytics to more severe cases,” stated Christophe Merville, DPharm, director of education and pharmacy development at Boiron USA in Pennsylvania. “Sedalia targets both physical symptoms and inner feelings such as irritability, feeling of being overwhelmed, fatigued, nervous and hypersensitive to any additional stimuli. It offers a non-sedative solution that calms you down but yet allows you to remain alert and focused to react and accomplish on what you need to do during stressful situations. It’s perfect for stress that comes on very quickly.”
Sedalia combines six single active homeopathic ingredients in its formula:
Aconitum napellus (Monkshood), Belladonna (Deadly nightshade), Calendula officinalis (Garden marigold), Chelidonium majus (Greater celandine), Jequirity and Viburnum opulus (Guelder-rose).
Lu, Kristy, et al. “The acute effects of L‐theanine in comparison with alprazolam on anticipatory anxiety in humans.” Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental 19.7 (2004): 457-465.
Healthy Take Aways
• Adults between the ages of 18 and 60 should get a minimum of seven hours of sleep daily to support good health.
• Insomnia typically increases with age, affecting about 40 percent of all women and 30 percent of all men.
• Sleep apnea affects approximately 18 million Americans.
• Magnesium is a mineral found to be effective at boosting mood, reducing stress levels and promoting a deeper and more restful sleep.
• L-theanine is an amino acid found to be an effective natural relaxant.