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Valerian v. Melatonin: What’s the Difference for Sleep?0

Valerian and melatonin are two of the most popular sleep supplements. Both have been shown in studies to help people fall asleep more easily, to address symptoms associated with insomnia, and to improve the quality and quantity of nightly rest.

But these two frequently used sleep-boosting supplements work very differently to achieve their results. Understanding the different ways these supplements interact with the body can help you determine which one might be a better fit for you, in consultation with your physician.

One important way to differentiate between valerian and melatonin is to look at how they interact with the body’s two main sleep systems: sleep drive and sleep rhythm.

These two systems work alongside one another to regulate sleep and wakefulness throughout the night, to ensure we get the rest we need AND have the alertness, energy and focus we require to perform in our daily lives.

In terms of how they interact with the body to promote sleep, a fundamental difference between valerian and melatonin comes down to this:

Valerian increases sleep drive

Melatonin strengthens sleep rhythm

Before we look in more detail at valerian and melatonin (and some other natural supplements that affect sleep drive and sleep rhythm) let’s first take a look at the two sleep systems themselves—and how each one works to promote healthy sleep, and how they complement one another to provide us with an optimal balance of rest and wakeful focus and energy.

What is sleep drive?

Our internal sleep drive is a process of homeostasis—that’s a biological ability (and tendency) to maintain balance and stability within the body. Our bodies rely on homeostasis, this ability to maintain balance and equilibrium, for a number of key physiological functions. For example maintaining core body temperature is a homeostatic process. Our bodies are constantly at work managing body temperature so we maintain a core temperature that hovers around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. (Shivering and sweating are two of the most overt signs of the body at work maintaining its core temperature.) Maintaining fluid balance, oxygen levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure are other examples of homeostatic processes within the human body.

Our internal sleep drive is homeostatic, too. This internal system works constantly to maintain a balance between sleep and wakefulness, by promoting alertness after sleep, and by gradually increasing sleep drive the longer we’ve been awake. It’s helpful to think about how sleep drive plays out over the course of a single day. If we’ve slept through the night, then first thing in the morning our sleep drive is low. We’re rested, and our bodies shift into modes of alertness and arousal as we launch an active, wakeful day. As the day wears on, and the longer we go without sleep, the body’s internal pressure for sleep increases, culminating—ideally—in a drowsy, sleep-ready state at bedtime. The rising and falling of sleep pressure is driven by a lot of complex neurobiological activity. Both wake- and sleep-promoting hormones and neurochemicals rise and fall throughout the 24-hour day, to adjust our internal sleep pressure “valve,” and elevate or lower our drive for sleep.

What is sleep rhythm?

Imagine for a moment if our bodies ran only on sleep drive. We’d wake in the morning feeling alert and get steadily more tired throughout the day, without any real variation. Each hour would be less wakeful than the one before it, until we slept again. But that’s not how sleep and wakefulness actually work. We all experience different periods of time throughout the day when we feel more or less alert, and more or less sleepy.

For example: If you’re a morning person (aka a Lion) you probably do feel totally refreshed first thing in the a.m. But evening types (Wolves, most Dolphins) tend to feel sleepy in the morning and become more alert as the day goes on. Many evening types feel at their most wakeful and focused at night.

This is the circadian sleep rhythm at work. Our bodies’ circadian clocks perform their own regulation of sleep and wakefulness, which runs independent of our homeostatic sleep drive. Our sleep-wake rhythms fluctuate during the day, giving us periods of alertness and sleepiness throughout the entire day. And the timing of those fluctuations varies, depending on our individual chronotype. (Do you know your chronotype? You can find out by taking my short quiz:

Circadian rhythms are driven predominantly by light and darkness, led by a master circadian clock located in a region of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. Light (or the absence of light—darkness) travels along the eye’s optic nerve to the SCN, where it cues the master clock, which then sends signals throughout the body—to peripheral circadian clocks that reside in the body’s cells, and to areas of the brain that regulate production of hormones and neurochemicals that affect wakefulness and sleep. Arousing hormones (including cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine) and calming hormones (including serotonin, GABA, and melatonin) fluctuate throughout the day. (So, too, does body temperature, which follows its own daily circadian rhythm and has a significant impact on drowsiness and alertness.) The result is a fluctuating rhythm of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the 24-hour day.

The fluctuations of the circadian sleep rhythm are why a lot of us feel a bout of sleepiness in the mid-afternoon—a great time to get a dose of sunlight to perk up. And disruptions to the circadian sleep rhythm are one major reason for difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, waking feeling un-refreshed in the morning, and struggling to focus and remain active and on-task throughout the day.

(A great many people live daily lives that are out of sync with their circadian rhythms for sleep and performance, which is precisely why I wrote my book, The Power of When, which is all about how to optimize your sleep and waking life with your chronotype.)

How valerian works with sleep drive

Valerian is what’s known as an anxiolytic—it has calming, relaxing, anti-anxiety properties. Valerian—it’s, actually the root of the valerian plant that is used medicinally—boosts the levels of calming neurotransmitters in the brain, including GABA, a neurochemical that is critical for healthy sleep. (I’ve written in-depth about how GABA affects sleep.) Valerian also lowers blood pressure and heart rate. By increasing calming chemicals in the brain and lowering physiological arousal, valerian functions as a natural sedative, enhancing sleep drive.

Research shows that valerian can help people fall asleep more quickly, improve the quality of sleep, and increase amounts of nightly sleep. Valerian can also help ease the symptoms of insomnia, which are:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Waking very early
  • Waking feeling unrefreshed

A review of research studies found that valerian has about an 80% effectiveness rate in improving sleep quality.

Valerian is often paired with another natural herb: hops. Yes, hops is the grain found in beer, and the combination of hops and valerian has been shown to be particularly effective in promoting relaxation and sleep. Hops itself can increase GABA levels in the brain, and also delivers sedating effects by lowering body temperature.

I wrote about the benefits of valerian and hops for sleep, here.

Other supplements have anxiolytic and sedative effects and can naturally boost sleep drive. Two I want to spotlight are:

Jujube, a plant that has fruit and seeds used to make supplements, has sedative and anxiolytic properties that may increase sleep drive. Two phytochemicals in jujube, saponins and flavonoids, trigger changes to neurotransmitters, including GABA and serotonin, which can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Jujube also contains a flavonoid compound, spinosin, which appears to trigger sleepiness through its effects on serotonin. The same saponin and flavonoid compounds that work to relax and promote sleep also appear to provide jujube’s anti-anxiety effects.

I wrote in-depth about the sleep and health benefits of jujube here.

GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is an amino acid produced naturally in the brain. GABA is the body’s most important inhibitory neurotransmitter— it lowers the activity of neural cells in the brain and central nervous system, having the effect of moving the brain and the body into lower gear. By inhibiting neural activity, GABA enables the body and mind to relax and fall asleep and sleep soundly throughout the night. Low GABA activity is linked to insomnia and disrupted sleep. Regular readers will know I talk about GABA a lot in relation to sleep—it’s essential to the body’s overall mental and physical homeostasis, including for sleep. GABA is available in supplement form. Here’s where I wrote about how GABA works to improve sleep and reduce anxiety.

How melatonin works with sleep rhythm

Contrary to what many people think, melatonin is NOT a sedative. It is a sleep regulator and a sleep facilitator, and a key hormone in maintaining the healthy functioning of circadian sleep-wake rhythms. The body makes its own melatonin in the brain’s pineal gland, and production of melatonin is stimulated by darkness. Exposure to light suppresses melatonin—that’s why the body’s melatonin levels stay naturally low during the day. That’s also why exposure to artificial light at night is so damaging to healthy sleep and to circadian rhythms. (You can read more about the hazards of nighttime light exposure—and steps you can take to limit its damaging effects—here.)

Melatonin promotes healthy sleep by helping to keep daily sleep-wake rhythms in sync, and may ease symptoms of insomnia for some people. Scientific research shows that melatonin supplementation can strengthen and improve sleep-wake cycles. With stronger, more regular sleep-wake cycles typically comes more healthful sleep patterns, including an easier time falling asleep and sleeping on a regular schedule. Melatonin has been shown to be effective in addressing insomnia symptoms (including trouble falling asleep and staying asleep) in older adults. As we age, our circadian clocks are more likely to fall out of sync, making older adults especially open to benefiting from supplemental melatonin to strengthen their circadian clocks and keep them ticking in sync.

I’ve written often about melatonin, and how to use it effectively to improve sleep. I’ve also written about the growing body of scientific research that shows melatonin’s array of health benefits beyond sleep. A powerful antioxidant, melatonin has been shown to have protective and therapeutic benefits for cardiovascular health and brain health, and is a potent anti-cancer agent, suppressing the growth of cancer cells, preventing metastasis, and improving the effectiveness of cancer treatment.

Melatonin isn’t the only supplement that can improve sleep rhythm.

NAD, short for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, is a coenzyme, which helps enzymes function effectively, and as such it performs a range of helper functions for the body, including several that are directly related to sleep. NAD  helps the body’s circadian system communicate with cells. NAD also helps maintain the proper activity of the genes that communicate circadian messages, and works to repair DNA that directs circadian function.

The human body produces its own supply of NAD, and NAD is also available in supplement form. NAD production declines naturally with age. Age-related decline in NAD may be one reason that circadian rhythms are less robust and in sync with age, and sleep can become more restless and less restorative. And NAD’s impact on other health systems—including metabolism, cardiovascular and brain health—can have powerful indirect effects on sleep cycles.

Here’s some more in-depth information about NAD and sleep.

Omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that omega 3 fatty acids can boost your sleep quality, and help you fall asleep more quickly. Omega-3 fatty acids also appear to help the body produce melatonin. Studies show low levels of the omega 3 DHA cause melatonin deficiency—and that increasing levels of DHA cause melatonin levels to rise. And omega-3 fatty acids may offer protection for a gene protein that is involved in circadian rhythm function. Research has shown that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA reduces disruptions to the circadian clock gene Bmal1, one of several core clock genes that keep circadian clocks and rhythms functioning in sync.

Here’s a rundown of the sleep-supporting benefits of omega-3s.

What’s right for you?

The answer to that question is highly individual, and dependent on a number of factors, including your individual health profile, family history, age, genetics, lifestyle and habits. It’s important to consult your physician to determine the right natural therapy for your sleep issues. We can look broadly at sleep issues that indicate interference with sleep drive and sleep rhythm. What follows is not medical advice; it is information that you can use as a conversation-starter with your doctor, or a certified sleep-specialist.

There are several types of circadian rhythm sleep disorders, including delayed sleep phase disorder, irregular sleep-wake disorder, and shift work sleep disorder. People with these disorders often struggle to fall asleep and to get sufficient sleep. They often have chronic difficulty sleeping at the times they need to in order to function and meet the demands of their daily lives. Therapies that target sleep rhythm may be most effective for these people. As I’ve said, older adults who have symptoms of insomnia or difficulty getting sufficient sleep may benefit from natural therapies that strengthen sleep-wake rhythms.

Jet lag is a form of circadian sleep-wake disruption, and melatonin can be useful in alleviating symptoms of jet lag.

Adults and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may find help for sleep from melatonin supplementation. That’s because people with ASD have been shown to have lower levels of melatonin than people without ASD. There’s a body of research showing melatonin can help children and adults with ASD sleep longer, get higher quality sleep, and fall asleep more easily, with additional benefits for behavioral issues.

For general insomnia, when taken at the right dose, melatonin may help many of us fall asleep more easily and more quickly. It’s less clear from the current scientific evidence that overall sleep amounts and sleep quality are improved by melatonin. Here’s a recent primer I wrote on do’s and don’ts for using melatonin.

Using supplements that enhance sleep drive (natural sedatives) can often be effective for generalized insomnia, including difficulty falling asleep. These natural remedies may be particularly effective for people whose insomnia or other sleep issues stem from issues such as stress or anxiety or chronic pain. In these cases, the arousal of stress, anxiety, or physical pain may be overriding and overwhelming the body’s sleep drive, and natural sedatives such as valerian may help you relax and allow your body’s internal drive toward sleep to progress more easily.

What matters most, of course, is that you tend to the sleep issues in your life, with guidance and support from your physician.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™








The post Valerian v. Melatonin: What’s the Difference for Sleep? appeared first on Your Guide to Better Sleep.

Natural Tips for Sleeping Better0

Most know that even missing one night of sleep can have a profound impact on how they feel the next day. If you get poor sleep on a regular basis, this negative impact of a lack of sleep can be multiplied. While some may struggle with getting good sleep on a regular basis, the reality is that it doesn’t have to be difficult to improve your sleep quality. If you are looking for ways to get better rest at night here are some things to consider.

How To Have a Sleep-Friendly Home0

Large cities such as Los Angeles have a tendency to make life feel rushed, especially when traffic makes what should be a 10-minute drive home a much longer hour-long drive. That’s valuable time out of the day! It’s no wonder more than a third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. You need restful sleep so your body can repair, replenish, and prepare for the next day. If you’re struggling to get enough sleep, which experts say should be about seven or eight hours, here are some tips to help you create a sleep-friendly home.

Everyone's Sleep Routine is Off, even Your Pets0

How Sleeping on Your Back Can Improve Posture0

In recent years, the medical community has been talking a lot about postural distortions that are wreaking havoc on our bodies. Many of us are even familiar with that relentless chronic back pain. What most people are coming to discover is that they can alter their posture by simply changing up the way that they sleep.

Insomnia in Covid– article in the New York Times0

I was pleased to be quoted by Catherine Zuckerman in this very nice article on insomnia in the Covid-19. Between election stress, Covid stress, kid stress, it’s clear that many people are struggling with insomnia.

I’m going to put together another post as we head towards another lockdown, but here’s what I talked about in the article.

Lots of great advice for parents here as well, if you’ve been struggling with insomnia. Read the article here. 

The post Insomnia in Covid– article in the New York Times appeared first on Craig Canapari, MD.

How to Recover After Thanksgiving0

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving 2020 is right around the corner in the United States- and in so many minds is not only what to eat, or how to cook and season and turkey. Instead, many are wondering how different Thanksgiving will look this year.

In the past, I’ve discussed how to sleep well on Thanksgiving, from tips to avoid indigestion to limiting your alcohol. But this year, in light of everything that’s happened, I want to shift focus: what happens if you do overindulge, or just get plain worn out?

The truth is there’s nothing wrong with a celebration, and none of us stick to eating and sleeping routines perfectly year round. So this Thanksgiving, enjoy in moderation, but know that I have a recovery guide for getting you back on track, no matter how your Thanksgiving looks.

Thanksgiving Food Fatigue

Thanksgiving food fatigue is real, but not in the way you might think. For instance, while turkey is often blamed for causing Thanksgiving Day drowsiness, it’s not so simple.

Turkey does contain tryptophan, which is involved in producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. In fact, protein rich food in general contains tryptophan, including eggs, yogurt, red meat, fish, and even nuts and seeds.

The Real Reason You Feel Tired After Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving food fatigue stems less from your roasted turkey and has more to do with fatigue after large meals, especially meals rich in fast digesting carbohydrates. The standard Thanksgiving dinner includes plenty of those: with sides, a main dish, and dessert, the average American consumes about 400 grams of carbohydrates in a single sitting!

It isn’t just about the carbohydrates, but the type of carbohydrates consumed: most of these are simple sugars, from stuffing to Grandma’s pumpkin pie.

All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, but refined carbohydrates enter the bloodstream more quickly and spike blood sugar levels, causing the sudden peak and subsequent crash. In other words, excessive simple carbs drain your energy.

Thanksgiving Recovery Guide

Just because I study sleep and try to keep a healthy diet and even incorporate intermittent fasting in my daily life, doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes indulge. And on Thanksgiving in a strange 2020, I’m definitely enjoying a slice of pie.

But if you are feeling tired post meal, or even struggling for days after to get your sleep cycle back in check (leftovers can extend the effect of the actual Thanksgiving dinner), here are my top tips to get back on track and feel energized, just in time for holiday or even Black Friday shopping.

Here are my do’s and don’ts for recovering after Thanksgiving.

Don’t: Go Cold Turkey

Pun intended, I don’t recommend going cold turkey on anything, whether that means cutting out all refined sugar or caffeine or swearing off a glass of wine. It’s a common mistake that I also see when people make New Year’s resolutions: the urge to immediately and drastically change habits.

Cutting every “fun” food from your diet is not only likely to backfire– research suggests that 50 percent of dieters actually end up putting on more weight–but it can even wreak havoc on your sleep cycles.

Do: Set a Regular Eating Schedule

Not eating enough during the day can cause a rise in cortisol levels, especially at night. That can spell for disrupted sleep cycles. The key is getting back to being consistent, whether you were a regular eater before Thanksgiving or not.

Everyone is different, which is why I recommend eating based upon your chronotype. Start by taking the Chronotype Quiz, then slowly adjust your schedule post Thanksgiving so you’re getting protein, carbohydrates and fats at the times in tune with your body’s natural biological clock. Patience is the key, as it could take your body a few days to adapt.

Don’t: Punish Yourself With Exercise

I’m a huge advocate for getting a sweat on, but punishing workouts after a Thanksgiving meal can be damaging on a physical and emotional level.

For one, there is no need to “make up” for a heavier meal. Our bodies are incredibly resilient, and, so long as you adjust to regular eating and sleeping patterns, there’s no need to worry about Thanksgiving indulgences long term. You’re more likely to become injured if you overdo it, and may add unnecessary stress.

Do: Finish Thanksgiving With Light Activity

If you can, take a light walk after your Thanksgiving Dinner, especially if you ate an earlier or mid day meal. Just 15 minutes of sunlight a day helps regulate your body temperature and internal body clock. While getting morning sun is ideal, a short walk can boost your mood, stimulate digestion, reduce stress, and get you out of that post-meal stupor.

Don’t: Ignore Stress

Whether it’s arguing with your family about politics after a stressful election or thinking about the holidays or even the public health crisis, letting stress go unchecked is a big mistake for your mental health, energy levels, and sleep.

Do: Find Coping Mechanisms

The link between stress and sleep is something I’ve written about often. Take time to relax at night, turn off your electronics, and talk to a mental health provider if you need to. While it’s normal to be stressed, especially this time of year and especially in 2020, you don’t have to suffer.

Since the Thanksgiving table can be a source of stressful conversations, try a fun game like Table Topics to keep the conversation light.

Don’t: Switch to a Low Fat Diet

That average Thanksgiving feast? Not only does it contain nearly 400 grams of carbohydrates; it also packs in 124 grams of fat, or 200 percent of the recommended intake for the average woman!

But that doesn’t mean switching to a low fat diet is the answer. In fact, low fat diets have been linked to excessive fatigue during the day, and disrupted, or non restorative sleep at night, while ketogenic diets, which are higher in fact, may improve sleep quality and increase both slow wave and REM sleep.

Do: Listen to Your Body

Eating light the day or two after Thanksgiving makes sense for some, but it doesn’t call for trimming out all fats. Instead, trade out saturated or trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated ingredients) for healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados and fatty fish.

And allow yourself a little indulgence, even if it is light. If I’m eating on a schedule that works for me, even after Thanksgiving, I treat myself to a fresh bowl of fruit topped with slivered almonds and just a touch of natural honey.

No matter what holiday you celebrate, nearly all of us celebrations revolve around food. Feel free to keep this guide handy; it applies to all big food days, not just a holiday or celebration!

The post How to Recover After Thanksgiving appeared first on Your Guide to Better Sleep.

Top 4 Crucial Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep You Should Know About0

Sleep is an essential part of your life. Due to the pressures of life, people tend to ignore the importance of sleep. Insufficient sleep can cause you problems like depression and even cardiovascular diseases. During sleep, your memory strengthens because it consolidates what you acquired during the day and stores them permanently. Some illnesses may affect your sleep pattern; hence you should see a doctor who will prescribe appropriate therapy to improve your sleep pattern, therefore saving you from disorders that may result from poor sleep. These are the benefits of getting enough sleep:

The Link Between Sleep And Cardiovascular Health0

The Best Home Decor Trends To Get A Better Night’s Sleep0