Ancient Wisdom to Help You Sleep

If you knew something that was essential to a brain-healthy life, gave you energy, improved your mood and decision making, and you could do it right from the comfort of your home, would you make sure you did it? Well, how much are you sleeping? Healthy sleep is absolutely essential to a brain-healthy life, but are you putting the effort into getting enough sleep? Protect your sleep as if it were one of the most important things you ever do—because it is!

Sleep rejuvenates all the cells in your body, gives brain cells a chance to repair themselves, helps wash away toxins that build up during the day, and activates neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate due to inactivity.

How Lack Of Sleep Effects Your Life

Additionally, getting less than seven hours of sleep a night has been associated with lower overall brain activity, which can negatively affect your:

  • Weight
  • Energy
  • Skin
  • Mood
  • Overall health
  • Athletic, school, and job performance
  • And most importantly, decision making

Insomnia causes lower activity in the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes – affecting attention, judgment, impulse control, memory, and learning. Considering all of this, it is no surprise that sleep-deprived individuals struggle to maintain a healthy mood, memory, or body.

According to the Institute of Medicine, (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research as many as 70 million Americans have chronic sleeping problems which interfere with their daily functioning. And it is progressively getting worse with the proliferation of gadgets and bad habits.

What to Do About Poor Sleep

So, what do you do when you are lying awake with a restless mind struggling to get sufficient, good-quality sleep? If you already do all the right things, such as getting regular exercise, eating right, avoiding caffeine later in the day, and practicing good sleep hygiene, but still struggle with sleep problems, a good nutritional supplement that supports your body’s natural relaxation response and healthy sleep cycle can make all the difference.

One thing to consider is valerian (Valeriana officinalis, root), a well-recognized perennial plant native to Europe and Asia with anti-anxiety properties that is used as a mild tranquilizer, sedative, and muscle relaxant.

The active ingredient of valerian comes from a foul-smelling oil produced in the root of the plant – many people describe it as smelling like moldy cheese or dirty socks! Despite its unappealing scent, people throughout history have still turned to valerian for its unique properties.

The ancient Roman physician, Galen, wrote about the virtues of valerian; in the Middle Ages, medical literature used the term “All Heal” to describe the herb; and valerian has long been a staple of Chinese and Indian medicine. In the United States, valerian was commonly used prior to the development of modern pharmaceuticals.

This centuries-old treatment for insomnia has also been helpful for symptoms of nervousness, stress, increased emotional reactivity, agitation, and pain. It has also been found to decrease seizure frequency in epileptic patients.

Historically, valerian efficacy was thought to be primarily due to enhancement the activity of the calming neurotransmitter, GABA. More recent evidence supports its effect on adenosine and 5HT-5a– receptors which are located in a region of the brain involved in regulating the circadian system.

Unlike prescriptions, valerian has a much lower potential for addiction and has been used to help people who are trying to decrease their use of prescription tranquilizers or sleeping pills. It is important to note that anyone using prescription sleeping pills or tranquilizers should decrease or stop their use only under the supervision of a physician.

It may take two to three weeks to start feeling the effects of valerian, so it isn’t the best sleep aid for short-term use, such as when you have jet lag. It is better suited for long-term use and has been found to improve deep sleep, which leaves you feeling more rested in the morning.

There are hundreds of different preparations of valerian available and these preparations vary remarkably in the amount of volatile oils they contain, the bioavailability of the preparation, as well as potential contaminants. Look for it as an ingredient in many sleep formula supplements and be sure to buy a brand you trust!

Note: valerian should not be taken in combination with alcohol, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines, and it is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.