Better Sleep

  • Which Sleep Supplement is Right For Me?

    Losing sleep isn’t something to casually ignore--too little sleep can cause all kinds of health issues, from poor work performance to inability to lose weight to some chronic diseases. If you’re confused about which ingredients do what, here’s some information about common elements in our most popular sleep formulas.

    5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP):
    In the body L-tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP, which can then be converted to serotonin, which affects sleep, appetite, as well as depression and anxiety. Commercially available 5-HTP is isolated from a seed from the African plant Griffonia simplicifolia.
    One to try: Pharmaca’s 5-HTP

    Gamma-Aminobutryic Acid (GABA):
    In the central nervous system, GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it slows down the synapses that overfire (usually due to too much stress). Supplemental GABA is created as a byproduct of the fermentation process of Lactobacillus hilgardii
    Try it in: NightRest by Source Naturals, which includes GABA, melatonin, skullcap and other relaxing herbs.

    Primarily a temperate European plant, hops contain several different flavonoids and other ingredients that help calm the nervous system. It packs a powerful punch, so it’s best when used in combination with other less powerful sedative herbs.
    Find it in: Herb Pharm’s Relaxing Sleep Tonic

    An amino acid found in green tea, as well as in some mushrooms, L-Theanine has historically been used for its relaxing and anti-anxiety effects; it's thought that it might work for anxiety by increasing levels of GABA and serotonin. While it won’t necessarily put you to sleep, it can help slow racing thoughts.
    One to try: Natural Factors’ Suntheanine

    Lemon Balm: A member of the mint family, lemon balm contains volatile oils, in particular citral and citronellal, that can calm the central nervous system and have a relaxing effect on the muscles.
    Find it in: Lemon Balm Force by New Chapter

    : This hormone plays a vital role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythms, endocrine secretions and sleep patterns. Melatonin works best to enhance sleep if the body is lacking in the hormone (and can actually cause wakefulness if the body has too much). Dr. Jacobs recommends 1-3 mg, about 30 minutes before sleep.
    One to try: Source Naturals’ Sublingual Melatonin

    This herb grows uncultivated in North America, and is traditionally used to calm anxiety. “Skullcap is a good mental relaxer, says Julie Plunkett, medical herbalist at Pharmaca La Jolla. “It’s what we call the herb for over-thinking.”
    Find it in: WishGarden Herbs’ Sleepy Nights

    Valerian: Native to Europe and Asia, valerian has been used as a sedative medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Dr. Brad Jacobs recommends finding a formula that includes at least .3% of valerenic acid, and taking it 30-60 minutes before sleep.
    One to try: Gaia Herbs’ Valerian Root

    Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner for more information about sleep-specific supplements.

  • Get Serious About Sleep

    Good sleep is one of the most vital elements of good health—but for many of us, it can also be hard to find. Here, customers and Pharmaca staff tell us about their favorite sleep products, and Dr. Suen Sohn, former naturopathic doctor at our Oakland store, tells us about why these things work.

    “I take my magnesium/calcium/vitamin D supplement just before bedtime to help relax me and my muscles.”
    -Kim, customer, West Seattle Pharmaca

    “Magnesium can work as a muscle relaxer,” says Dr. Sohn. “So if tension is contributing to sleep problems, it can help people wind down and soothe any muscle aches.”

    L-Theanine is my favorite. There is no hangover, and I don’t feel that it ‘knocks me out.’ It is a more gentle choice for me.”
    -Kristin, customer, North Boulder Pharmaca

    “L-theanine is an amino acid derivative of green tea,” says Dr. Sohn. While it won’t put you to sleep, it can lessen any anxiety and “racing thoughts” that you have around bedtime.

    Kava really helps my body calm down after a long day running around.”
    -Sindy, Team Member, Pharmaca Home Office

    “Kava definitely has a bodily effect, as well as a mental effect, in producing calm,” says Dr. Sohn. “It makes some people feel drowsy, but it can also just help you relax.” She cautions that there are some liver toxicity issues with kava, however, so make sure you speak with a practitioner before taking it.

    “I like the Serious Relaxer by WishGarden Herbs. It’s relaxing for the muscles, and especially good when I overdo it with exercise. I need it to get my body to relax.”
    -Whitney, Team Member, North Boulder Pharmaca

    This herbal formula combines a number of useful elements, such as Valerian root, European Betony leaf, Passionflower vine, Scullcap leaf and Ginger Root.

    “For most people, the valerian will have a drowsy effect,” says Dr. Sohn. “Passionflower is often used in anxiety formulas and can be very relaxing. And ginger is a good circulatory enhancer. It can also be warming, which is good for tight muscles.”

    Depending on what keeps you up at night, Pharmaca practitioners can help you find the right path to better sleep. Dr. Sohn, for example, often recommends Sleepy Nights by WishGarden Herbs, or Natural Factors’ Tranquil Sleep, a blend of L-Theanine, Melatonin and 5-HTP. Come in to Pharmaca today to find your perfect sleep formula.

  • Better Sleep: The Holy Grail of Good Health

    On March 17, 2011, Dr. Brad Jacobs, MD, and Chair of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board, held a webinar to talk about the problem of sleeplessness—which affects more than 40 million people—and its integrative solutions.

    "On average we feel that people should be sleeping at least 7-8 hours, some people prefer 9 hours per night, on a regular basis,” Dr. Jacobs says. While this was possible 100 years ago, too much external and internal stimuli keep us from that amount of sleep. “Today we're a bit more disrupted, so the hours of sleep have really gone down."

    Insomnia is characterized by difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep or waking too early, or even just getting poor quality sleep. This problem usually worsens as we age, and up to 50% of the elderly experience insomnia, with women experiencing it more often than men.

    But there are other causes, too: medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, heart disease and neurological disorders; stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol; and even prescription drugs such as bronchodilators, decongestants and some anti-depressants. “A lot of medications can cause sleep problems,” Dr. Jacobs says. “Often medical doctors don't realize that."

    And the consequences of not getting enough sleep can be drastic. Dr. Jacobs says that even if you just feel tired and grumpy, you may not know that sleeplessness can also lead to cognitive problems, decreased performance and productivity in the work place, even accidents and injuries.

    “We think it actually accelerates a lot of health issues related to age,” Dr. Jacobs says. But it also affects health issues not related to age, including your endocrine system, carbohydrate metabolism, glucose tolerance, cortisol levels, and the activity of your sympathetic nervous system. “Our body is very well designed to deal with acute stress,” he says. “But the consequences of chronic stress are quite devastating.” Chronic diseases such as high cholesterol, cardiac disease, even cancer, can be dramatically affected when you have sleep debt, he says.

    The good news is that now there is much research being done on sleep problems, and there are a variety of ways to tackle the issue. "In my experience, the vast majority of sleep problems are related to lifestyle and medications,” Dr. Jacobs says.

    Sleep solutions
    Above anything else, he recommends the “non-drug” solutions, which include the following lifestyle changes:

    Set bedroom rules. Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex. That means no work, no television, no emotional conversations right before bed. "There are a lot of things people do in the bedroom that really should be done in other parts of the home," says Dr. Jacobs. Set rules with yourself, your partner, your family.

    Set solid sleep patterns.
    The body develops a circadian rhythm, so if you’re constantly switching your sleeping and waking times, it will have trouble getting good sleep. Dr. Jacobs adds that naps can be helpful. "I recommend that people experiment with naps,” he says. “But if you're going to nap, nap routinely so that your body gets accustomed to it."

    Exercise! It's not only important for your body, your mental state and your spirit, Dr. Jacobs says, it's also important as a stress reliever. Decreasing that stress makes it easier for your mind to unwind when it comes time to go to sleep.

    Eat the right foods. Too much sugar can keep you up, as can big meals that are still being digested. Pay attention to foods like dairy that can cause gas. Opt instead for small snacks or warm tea.

    Create the right environment
    . Because of our circadian rhythm, darkness is especially important for good sleep. Dr. Jacobs recommends doubling up on drapery, or using an eyepad filled with lavender or other calming herbs. If you live in an urban environment, consider a white noise device to blur out specific noises, or earplugs.

    Control external stimuli.
    If you have difficulty falling asleep, don't read or watch television for long periods of time, since those things can get you “wound up” and engaged. If you can't fall asleep after 15-20 minutes, get up, leave the bedroom and do calming activities until you're feeling sleepy enough to head back to bed. Activities might include breathing techniques, prayer, yoga or meditation, which help engage the mind in a calming, focused way.

    If you're worrying too much, have a pad of paper near the bed to unload it from your mind. “Worry about it sometime in the future, not in the current moment,” Dr. Jacobs says.

    Try Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. “Research has shown it to be better than drugs, even long term,” Dr. Jacobs says. This mindfulness-based practice helps change the repeated pattern of negative thinking that keeps us from falling to sleep, replacing it with new positive thoughts. The practice includes breathing exercises, encouraging the person to let negative thoughts pass through like clouds instead of holding onto them.

    In addition to these lifestyles changes, the following supplements and medications can be helpful.

    Melatonin: Dr. Jacobs says that 1-3 mg of melatonin, about 30 minutes before sleep, can really help. Though we don’t know the effects of taking it for the long term, he feels that it’s most effective when taken as needed, such as for jet lag or just when you have trouble sleeping a night or two each week.

    : This herb is pretty well-tolerated by most people, says Dr. Jacobs. Find a formula that includes at least .3% of valerenic acid, and take 30-60 minutes before sleep.

    5-HTP: A precursor to serotonin, Dr. Jacobs says many people sleep well with 200-300 mg daily.

    Herbal formulas: There are a variety of different herbs that can help calm the mind and enhance sleep, including hops, lemon balm and chamomile. Look for formulas that combine a number of these different herbs.

    Prescription medications: In general, Dr. Jacobs only recommends prescriptions such as Lunesta and Ambien as short-term solutions as you get on your way to modifying your lifestyle. While they can help, they can also evoke some serious side effects. Dr. Jacobs’ final advice? Know that you’re not alone in your sleeplessness. Recognize that as you age, sleep patterns do change,” he says. “It's not abnormal. Just adjust to it accordingly."

  • Webcast: Better Sleep: The Holy Grail of Good Health

    Join Dr. Jacobs as he discusses a holistic approach to getting better sleep, including diet and lifestyle changes, supplements and herbal remedies ideal for your unique situation.

    March 17, 2011
    Click icon on bottom right to view full screen
    Download a PDF of the presentation >
  • Dr. Low Dog's Ashwagandha Tonic Tea

    If you missed Dr. Low Dog's webinar on Menopause Solutions yesterday, you missed this soothing recipe that's great for a variety of symptoms of menopause, or just to help you sleep better. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb, which Dr. Low Dog says is relaxing, can help with night sweats, mental fog, aches and pains, even boosting the immune system. "Drink this at night, before you got to bed," she says, "and I promise you’ll be sleeping better."

    Ashwagandha Tonic Tea

    •1-2 tsp powdered Ashwagandha
    •2 cups milk (dairy, soy or almond)
    •1 Tbsp raw sugar (or honey or agave nectar)
    •1/8 tsp cardamom

    Simmer ashwagandha in milk on low heat for 15 minutes. Add the sugar and cardamom and stir until well mixed. Turn off heat. Drink 1 cup 1-2 times day.

  • Essential Oil of the Month: Lavender

    This month, we're starting a new tradition of examining a new essential oil to discover more about its healing properties. Since March is Sleep & Stress month, we thought it fitting to take a closer look at the benefits of everyone's favorite relaxing essential oil: Lavender. Pharmaca offers two different strains: French lavender and Bulgarian lavender.

    What it does
    Lavender is a natural antibiotic, antiseptic and anti-depressant. Lavender is best known for its balancing properties, as it can rejuvenate and inspire a tired person, or calm someone who is stressed or tense. 

    Bonus use
    Lavender can also stimulate the immune system and allay the effects of shock or injury.

    Ways to use it

    • Add to a hot bath for a soothing, stress-relieving experience
    • Add to a carrier oil or unscented body product and smooth onto skin
    • Put a few drops on your pillow for relaxing sleep
    • Add to laundry rinse or your iron to freshen clothing
    • Keep a bottle and tissue in your purse or car. Drop lavender oil onto tissue and inhale when you're on the go for an immediate feeling of clarity and calm.

    Interesting tidbit
    One of the founders of aromatherapy, R.M. Gattefosse, started his research into essential oils when he experienced how well lavender helped heal a burn on his hand.

    Discover the power of lavender today!

  • Hit the Hay

    For many people, getting to sleep or even getting back to sleep can be a struggle. We spoke with pharmacist Anne Friar and Ayurvedic practitioner Sunny Rose at Pharmaca in Albuquerque to find out about the range of solutions available to help the sleepless get more rest. From time-tested herbal formulas to doctor-recommended prescriptions, Pharmaca can help you conquer short-term sleeplessness and chronic insomnia.

    Sunny: Insomnia is often a result of stress, worry and having too much on the mind. I like to start by recommending remedies that gently relax the nerves-ones that don’t interact or have side effects. Bach’s Rescue Sleep is great because people can use it if they wake up in the middle of the night and it won’t make them drowsy the next day. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go to herbal combinations like Deep Sleep from Herbs, Etc. with things like valerian, lemon balm, poppy and passionflower.

    Anne: Ambien or its generic versions and Trazodone are the two prescriptions we see most often for insomnia. For people who are prescribed Ambien, I tell them not to take more than the recommended dose and to avoid drinking alcohol. It’s a pretty quickly metabolized drug, so it’s best to have 6-8 hours of sleep time to avoid the “hangover” the next morning. Ambien is really only recommended for occasional sleeplessness, a few times a week, but a lot of people start taking it every night. Because it can be mildly addictive, we can advise on alternative options so people don’t become reliant.

    Sunny: I try to recommend melatonin in moderation because people can become habituated to it and need increasing amounts. In certain cases, I suggest Natural Health International’s Herbatonin, because it is a low-dose, plant-based melatonin that is safer for the long term. I also like Pharmaca brand Sleep Formula, which combines an herbal blend with melatonin-perfect for taking during an especially stressful period or for jet lag.

    I see more people with insomnia than almost anything else. Being an Ayurvedic practitioner, I also encourage people to try restorative yoga and good breathing practices. In my opinion these are some of the most important things you can do.

    Speak with one of Pharmaca’s pharmacists or licensed practitioners for advice and information that suits your specific needs. And enjoy getting your zzzs.

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