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Essentials: Sleep

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In the United States, valerian is used extensively as a dietary supplement in the form of alcoholic tinctures, infusions (teas), and as a crude-root, powdered and dried extract in capsules and tablets. Often, valerian is combined with other herbs traditionally known to promote sleep such as hops, passion flower and lemon balm.

The US Pharmacopeia (USP) provides dietary supplement quality standards monographs for valerian root, powdered valerian root extract, and valerian tablets that contain powdered valerian root extract.

Valerian standards were formerly published in the national pharmacopeias of Austria, France, Great Britain, Hungary, and Russia, among others. Most of these databases have been superseded by the European Pharmacopoeia (2008), which provides pharmaceutical product quality standards for this herb.

We use the root extract.

A growing number of clinical trials have shown various types of valerian preparations can be useful in reducing anxiety, as well as for improving sleep quality and decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. In 2 clinical trials, valerian (taken the evening before) did not significantly influence alertness, reaction time, concentration, driving, or operating of heavy machinery during the following day.



What’s really cool about L-theanine is that it stimulates alpha and theta brainwaves. Alpha is the frequency of calm and relation. Theta is the brainwave state just before we fall asleep; the sort of dreaming and trance state of mind!

Theta brainwaves (3 - 8 cycles per second) are not just about sleep (which is delta frequency anyway) but about deep relaxation. I found a paper where it said L-theanine enhanced golf performance! Well it would, if it brought about a calmer state!

L-theanine elevates levels of GABA, as well as serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters, and they work in the brain to regulate emotions, mood, concentration, alertness, and sleep, as well as appetite, energy, and other cognitive skills. Increasing levels of these calming brain chemicals promotes relaxation and can help with sleep.

It lowers levels of “excitatory” brain chemicals and increases chemicals that promote feelings of calm. This may also be a way that L-theanine can protect brain cells against stress and age-related damage, while at the same time enhancing attention, focus, memory, and learning.

Under stress, the body increases the production of certain hormones, including dangerous cortisol. These hormone changes inhibit some brain activity, including memory formation and spatial learning. L-theanine helps to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and avoid interference with memory and learning.



5-Hydroxytryptophan (also known as oxitriptan) is a naturally occurring amino acid and chemical precursor in the biosynthesis of the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. It is manufactured from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia.

5-HTP dietary supplements help raise serotonin levels in the brain. Since serotonin helps regulate mood and behavior, 5-HTP may have a positive effect on sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and pain sensation. 5-HTP is not found in the foods we eat, although tryptophan is found in certain foods (meats, for example).

In one study, people who took 5-HTP went to sleep quicker and slept more deeply than those who took a placebo, but it may take 6 to 12 weeks to be fully effective.

According to an article published in Nutrition Review, “Serotonin nerve circuits promote feelings of well-being, calmness, personal security, relaxation, confidence and concentration.” That does NOT mean SSRI anti-depressants are safe, or effective.

Serotonin circuits also help counterbalance the tendency of two other major neurotransmitters in the brain – dopamine and noradrenaline – to encourage overarousal, fear, anger, tension, aggression, violence, obsessive-compulsive actions, overeating, anxiety and sleep disturbances. [J. Robertson and T. Monte. Natural Prozac-Learning to Release Your Body’s Own Anti-Depressants. San Francisco: Harper; 1997.]

While research regarding its effectiveness has been mixed overall, 5-HTP benefits may include helping reduce overeating and weight gain, sleep-related issues, anxiety, chronic pain and more.

5-HTP may not make you sleepy? It doesn’t work like sleep-inducing medications, which can make you feel very drowsy, but it may help you to feel more relaxed — which allows you to sleep more easily.

It’s been found that it works especially well for combating insomnia when taken with GABA and valerian root, which also have calming effects, so this works well with my other sleep formula ingredients. Taken together, they decrease the time needed to fall asleep.

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