by Veronique Demers-Mathieu, Globetrotter & Blogger

Millions of people have sleep problems due to stress, inactivity, non-ideal sleep environment or illness/disease. Bad sleep can limit your abilities to work, learn, memorize and listen. Sleeping problems can also interfere with your relationships as you have less energy, patience and cognition skills.

Some drugs/medications (benzodiazepines such as alprazolam) can be used to improve your sleep, but they can make you feel tired or irritable, induce a headache and memory problems.

What can we do to sleep better?

First, you can improve your sleep by reducing the factors or elements that stress you out and secondly, have good habits before bed such as reading a book, meditation and drinking a chamomile tea. You can also get better sleep by doing yoga and physical exercises that release stress. However, life is sometimes (and often) stressful and some special natural supplements can help you to control stress as they have anti-anxiety properties, and make you relax and enjoy life! The natural supplements in this article are melatonin, L-theanine, and apigenin. I (Vero) use these natural ingredients every night (or close) before to go to bed and my sleep is so much better than before I did not know them.  These ingredients can make you feel better and give you more energy! After this reading, you will understand what are the functions and characteristics of these products doing to your brain.

Characteristic and role of melatonin

 Melatonin helps to regulate the circadian rhythms, which is a biological 24-hour cycle. It plays an important role in telling your body to wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night. During winter, you feel more tired and sleepy due to the shorter light from the sun on your body (higher production of melatonin). Melatonin level is also influenced by age; babies have higher melatonin production at night than children, adolescents or adults. Some researchers demonstrated that the melatonin level decreases with increasing of age. This explains partially why older adults often have more sleep problems and wake up earlier than when they were younger.

 Melatonin is a hormone (called “sleep hormone”) secreted by the pineal gland within the brain in response to changes in light. Light period (day) to the eye is communicated via the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus (part of the brain) to inhibit melatonin secretion. Dark period (night) stimulate the secretion of melatonin by the gland pineal and increase its concentration. Therefore, our brain naturally secretes more melatonin during the night and, inversely, reduces its production during the day. When melatonin is secreted, this hormone signals to your body that it is the time to sleep. Melatonin also binds to receptors in the brain to decrease nerve activity. However, the mechanisms of how melatonin help you to fall asleep are still unclear.

a) Reducing insomnia with melatonin

The supplementation of melatonin could help the sleep of people with a low melatonin level (older adults) and/or those who have disrupted circadian rhythms (the person with jet lag or working night shift). Melatonin can help you to fall asleep and increase your hours of sleep.

b) Dose and frequency to use melatonin

First, the best melatonin supplement I, personally, found is from Source Naturals Inc. (Sleep Science Melatonin, Santa, Cruz, CA) with orange flavor (1 mg/lozenge) (non-sponsored). This product tastes good and easy to take (like candy). I take 2-3 melatonin pills (lozenges) one hour before bed. I use melatonin when I have a hard time to fall asleep.

c) Food with natural melatonin

High melatonin is found in tea, wine, beer and cereal. Medium melatonin level has been reported in bananas, pineapple, orange, grapes and olive oil. These foods could help you to better sleep.

Characteristic and role of L-Theanine

L-theanine can help you to relax and has anti-anxiety effect by increasing the levels of inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain. It supports the level of GABA in the brain and alpha brain wave generation and glycine levels to promote relaxation. Finally, L-theanine maintains dopamine levels to promote feelings of happiness.

L-theanine (gamma-ethylamino-L-glutamic acid) is an amino acid that found in green leaves of Camellia sinensis or in the mushroom species of Boletus badius (Bay bolete).

a) Anti-anxiety & relaxing effect of L-theanine

L-theanine can help some people fall asleep at bedtime and improve the quality of sleep (longer) by reducing the anxiety (anxiolytic) and increasing relaxed state. L-theanine can reduce stress by decreasing heart rate and blood pressure as well as by increasing the inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain.

b) Dose and frequency to use L-theanine

I, personally, use 2 caps of 100 mg from Jarrow Formulas (Theanine 100, Los Angeles, CA) (non-sponsored). I use this supplement every night! I LOVE IT. L-theanine is generally well tolerated and liked by healthy adults. However, people with diseases or special conditions should consult a physician before using any supplement, including L-theanine. Finally, L-theanine can intensify the effect of alcohol.

c) Other beneficial effects of L-theanine

L-theanine could also prevent brain cells from secreting stress hormone (glucocorticoids) and age-related damage. L-Theanine suppresses glucocorticoids as a glutamate antagonist. The secretion of glucocorticoids affects mood by causing depression, stress and anxiety, memory and learning. By reducing the elevation of this stress hormone, L-theanine can induce a state of relaxation and serenity and help to memorize, learn and focus on it.

Characteristic and role of Apigenin

Apigenin is a flavonoid found in abundance in Chamomile tea and has anti-anxiety effects when consumed at high doses. This anti-anxiety effect is due to its attachment to the GABAA receptors which stimulate GABAA and inhibits the activity of the neuron. It action desensitizes the serotonin receptor which increases levels of serotonin. Apigenin from chamomile does not produce adverse effects as some sleeping drugs (benzodiazepines such as alprazolam) due to its structure and milder action at the receptor site.

a) Calming and relaxing effects of Apigenin

Apigenin can reduce insomnia by calming and relaxing the whole body. It also decreases sleep latency. Chamomile can decrease cortisol levels, which result in a reduction of stress. A dose of 270 mg of chamomile extract may improve sleep in adults with insomnia or sleeping problems.

b) Food containing natural Apigenin

Other foods containing a high level of Apigenin are grapefruits, onions, oranges, celery, cilantro, flax seeds, basil and oregano. It is also found in red wine and beer.

c) Dosage of chamomile for sleeping

Tea made with 2 teaspoons of dried, loose flower in hot water

Herbal tea baths 4-5 tea bags

Essential oil, 20 mg

Supplement, 90 mg-400mg (2.5 mg alpha-bisabolol, 2.5 mg Apigenin)

d) Other beneficial effects of Apigenin

Other properties of Apigenin are anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, antiviral and antimicrobial effects. It also could help the digestion.

For me, these natural products improve my sleep, relax my state at night and increase my energy during the day. Better sleep will help your immune system and control stress, reduce chronic pain, improve your memory and your physical health and other positive effects in your life. Wishing you sweet dreams!