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.
Hops: 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
L-Theanine: 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
Melatonin: 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
Skullcap: 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.