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Herbs That Make You Go ZZZZZZ
By Maureen Williams, ND of Vital Nutrients

Did you know that National Sleep Awareness Week occurs in the second week of March? Are you one of the many Americans that need to focus on improving the quantity and quality of your sleep? A poll from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in 2002 found that 74 percent of American adults are experiencing sleep problems a few nights a week or more and over a third of Americans are getting less than seven hours of sleep each weeknight.

Insomnia is a symptom of a sleep disorder, characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking too early in the morning, and not feeling refreshed upon waking. The chronic sleep deprivation experienced by people with insomnia can lead to a cumulative deterioration of cognitive alertness and ability to function in the daytime. Some of the more common conditions associated with insomnia include anxiety, depression, stress reaction, pain, sleep apnea, and hormonal changes including those occurring with premenstrual syndrome and menopause. In addition, caffeine and alcohol can contribute to insomnia, and some medications have sleep-disruptive side effects. Behavioral therapies and relaxation techniques often help people with insomnia to improve the amount and quality of their sleep. In addition, some herbal and nutritional supplements have been found to promote relaxation of mind and body. For the best results, look for a formula that contains some of the following herbs in addition to melatonin and L-theanine.


Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a popular herbal remedy for anxiety and insomnia with a long history of use in North America. Two studies have demonstrated its efficacy in treating anxiety, and in one it was found to be as effective as benzodiazepine (anti-anxiety) medications. In a controlled trial, passionflower extract effectively alleviated anxiety in pre-surgical patients, a circumstance in which benzodiazepine medications are typically used. Animal studies have suggested that chrysin, an active constituent from passionflower, might act similarly to benzodiazepines by affecting GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. Unlike benzodiazepines, however, regular use of passionflower extract does not appear to lead to dependence, and in one animal study it was helpful in treating benzodiazepine dependence.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a medicinal plant in the mint family with mild sedative properties. Lemon balm has traditionally been used for its calming effects on both the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Extracts have been shown to bind to receptor sites in human brain tissue, which enhances parasympathetic (the part of the nervous system that allows the body to "rest and digest") activity. A combination of lemon balm and three other medicinal herbs (lavender oil, hops, and oat) was found to alter electrical activity in the brains of healthy adults, reflecting its ability to induce a relaxed state. In other research, lemon balm improved self-rated mood, increased calmness, and improved cognitive functioning in healthy people under ordinary circumstances and during performance of tasks designed to induce stress.


Hops (Humulus lupulus) is most familiar for its use in flavoring beer. Its most common medicinal use, as a treatment for insomnia and anxiety, as well as hops' other traditional uses, as a digestive aid, antibacterial, and antifungal agent, have been supported by animal and in vitro studies. Results from several studies suggest that hops extract quiets the central nervous system by increasing GABA activity and by activating melatonin receptors.

California Poppy

California poppy (Eschscholtzia californicum) is a flowering plant in the poppy family. Although milder than the opium poppy, it is known for its sedative effects and has been used historically for insomnia and nervous tension. In a controlled trial, a combination of California poppy and hawthorn plus magnesium was found to reduce symptoms in people with mild to moderate anxiety.


Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a flowering perennial plant that is well known for its ability to ease nervousness and promote sleep. Some studies comparing valerian extract to benzodiazepines have found them similarly effective, and one study found valerian extract to be helpful in people withdrawing from benzodiazepine therapy for insomnia. The long-used combination of valerian and hops has also been studied and results suggest its effectiveness in relieving insomnia, and its similarity in effect to a benzodiazepine drug.


L-theanine is an amino acid naturally present in green tea. In animal research, L-theanine was found to increase the release of serotonin and the inhibitory neurotransmitters GABA, dopamine, and glycine to cause relaxation. In humans, L-theanine supplementation increased alpha brainwave activity, indicating movement toward a calmer mind. L-theanine might help promote sleep by reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety.


Melatonin is a hormone that participates in regulating the sleep/wake biorhythm. It is secreted by the pituitary gland and its release is strongly affected by ambient light, with levels normally dropping during daylight hours and rising at night. Melatonin levels are low in people with insomnia, and supplemental melatonin has been found to be an effective treatment for insomnia in controlled trials. It has also demonstrated effectiveness in treating insomnia associated with medical illness in general and specific chronic conditions including schizophrenia, chronic fatigue syndrome, mental retardation, and bipolar disorder. Melatonin appears to help shift the sleep phase in some circumstances, and studies have suggested that it can improve sleep in shift workers and people with jet lag. People using benzodiazepine medicines for sleep disorders have found melatonin helpful during medication reduction and discontinuation.

Vital Nutrients Sleep Aide contains all previously mentioned ingredients, using only the highest quality herbs available. Vital Nutrients has products tested by independent labs, for authenticity, potency, heavy metals, solvent residue, herbicide and pesticide residue, aflatoxins, stability, and bacteria, yeast, and mold counts. This effective formula will help you to acquire optimal sleep—after all, optimal sleep helps us to lead optimal lives.

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