Healthy Q & A: Sleep Aids

Q: I’ve had an awful time sleeping lately.  I’ve been under a lot of stress recently and can’t seem to wind down at night.  I’m exhausted, but I can’t stop thinking about things.  I’d rather not take a prescription, but I really need to sleep!  Any advice?


A: Stress is horrible, since it saps your energy during the day, but can leave you awake and restless at night.  Thankfully, there are a number of supplements which can help, without side effects or being habit forming like many prescription sleep aids.  The first thing I’d recommend is theanine, an amino acid derived from green tea which is fantastic for stress and anxiety.  While theanine doesn’t make you feel tired, it works very well to reduce anxiety and help you to feel more calm.  Research done on theanine and sleep found that people who took it before bed experienced better sleep quality.  It works by encouraging alpha brainwaves, the brainwaves associated with a calm, relaxed state.  Theanine is also very effective for stress and anxiety during the day.

There are also a number of herbs which can be helpful as sleep aids.  Valerian is an herb that works very well to help with relaxation after a busy day.  Most people report that taking valerian before bed actually helps them to “feel tired”.  For that reason, valerian is usually best reserved for taking before bed, since valerian may make you feel too sleepy if taken during the day.  Passionflower, hops, and kava are other herbs which work very well to help to relieve stress and anxious thoughts so you can sleep.

Come by the store and we’d be happy to help you find the product that’s right for you.  Sleepless nights are no fun, though thankfully we have a number of supplements which work very effectively to help achieve a proper night’s sleep.

Help for Stress Free Holidays

This month’s focus is on having a happy, healthy, and stress-free December. The holidays are a time of togetherness and love, but it can also be a time of heightened stress, anxiety, and depression for many. There are a number of very effective natural products which can help each of us to make it through these weeks in a calmer, more positive state.


Theanine for Anxiety

All of us at the store view theanine as one of the best supplements there is for stress and anxiety. It works best when taken on a regular basis, but is also very effective when taken occasionally for a circumstance that you know is going to be stressful (Christmas dinner, anyone?). It works by helping the brain to produce alpha brain waves, which encourages a state of calm, restful alertness. One of the best things about theanine is that unlike many other things for stress and anxiety, it will not cause drowsiness. I think theanine is one of those supplements we could all use this month.


5-HTP for Mood

5-HTP is an amino acid that’s great for giving yourself a mood boost. It works by increasing serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is known as the “feel good neurotransmitter”. Research has shown it to be as effective as prescription antidepressants, but without the side effects. Interestingly, other research has found that 5-HTP can help with weight loss, particularly “stress eating”, most likely due to its relaxing and mood boosting properties. The one caution would be not to mix 5-HTP with prescription antidepressants in the class known as SSRIs (Prozac for example) since they work similarly in the body.


SAMe for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or comes into full swing for many people during this month, since the days are the shortest they will ever be. Supplementing with extra vitamin D can be helpful (and really, everyone should be taking extra D in the winter), but the supplement we’ve found to be most effective for SAD is SAMe (pronounced “Sammy”). It works by enhancing feel good neurotransmitters and helping to maintain the proper structure of cell membranes. SAMe is nice because its effects can be felt very quickly, for most people within the first week, compared to prescription antidepressants which can take weeks to gain effectiveness. SAMe also has the side benefits of helping to reduce joint pain as well as detoxifying the liver. It is very effective, and has also been found to be useful for fibromyalgia symptoms since it helps with both depression and pain.


Valerian for Extreme Stress

Valerian is best known as a sleep aid, but in lower doses it works very well for stress, in fact, it is often known as “Nature’s Valium”. Research has found valerian to be similar in effectiveness to valium, but without the side effects. One of the owners, Theresa, went through a rough time a few years ago, and found valerian to be a real help.


Ginseng for Energy

If you find that December and all the planning that goes with it has sapped your energy, ginseng may help. A warm ginseng like panax or Korean ginseng is great for giving you an extra boost. Ginseng is an adaptogen, which basically means that it helps the body to adapt to stress while easing its negative side effects. Herbs like ginseng work best when taken on an empty stomach. Interestingly, panax ginseng has also been found to have benefits for mental functioning, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction.


Immune Shield for the Immune System

Getting sick around the holidays is often a common occurrence due to increased stress and social engagements. One supplement that greatly increases the odds of staying healthy is Irwin Natural’sImmune Shield- it’s a mix of a number of very effective herbs that help the body to fight off bacteria and viruses. If you do end up getting sick, you can take a higher dose to help yourself to get better faster. We all take it at the store and find it to be very effective. Another supplement to think of is vitamin D, which also is great for the immune system. Our bodies can make vitamin D from the sun, but most Americans become deficient in the colder months since they’re only outdoors for short periods.


Supplement Spotlight: Sleep Aids



Melatonin is actually a hormone which is produced by the body.  It helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms, or the natural cycle of sleeping and waking.  Supplemental melatonin can help to correct sleep patterns and help to make a person feel awake and rested in the morning.  Sleeping disorders can increase with age, and melatonin has been shown in research to help.  In one study of participants over 55 years of age, those who took 2 mg. of time release melatonin experienced better sleep quality and were more alert in the morning.



Valerian is one of the most well known herbs for sleep.   It’s used as both a tranquilizer and a calmative.  Its benefits are particularly effective for women experiencing menopause.  Research has shown that it can increase sleep quality and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.   There have even been studies which found it to be as effective as a number of different prescription sleep aids.  Valerian is most beneficial for people with chronic insomnia instead of those with temporary or sporadic sleeplessness.



Passionflowers are gorgeous if you’ve ever seen them.  They also are great for sleep and have been used as a sedative for over 200 years.  It helps to reduce anxiety and relieve muscle tension.   Passionflower is especially helpful for nervous insomnia.



L-theanine is an amino acid that’s present in small amounts in green tea.  It’s often used during the day because it reduces anxiety without tiredness.  Even though it doesn’t cause sleepiness, it has been shown to be an effective sleep aid.  One interesting study conducted in Japan found that those who took theanine were more alert on wakening and reported, “a significant absence of feeling exhausted and a reduced need for sleep” when interviewed in the mornings.  The majority reported improved sleep efficiency and also a reduction in nightmares.  Another study on children (ages 8-13) found that those who consumed theanine had a significantly higher sleep percentage and sleep efficiency scores.



Many of the above sleep aids are available in formulas which have several supplements combined together, since while they work well alone, they often have impressive benefits when combined.