After a long day tilling the soil, or responding to countless slack messages or attending to various boring board meetings, your body needs time to cool off, reboot and gear itself for another busy day. Sleep helps the body get rid of toxic wastes that build up during the day and primes us for optimal functioning. Sleep is the ultimate health hack.
Sometimes however, the body is unable to get that much-needed sleep, throwing us off balance and messing with our daily life. Many drugs can help improve sleep in times like this, but having a natural means to do this makes a world of difference. This is where adaptogens come into play.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are non-toxic herbs that help the body to resist and cope with physical, chemical and biological stressors. These natural remedies stimulate the body’s response to stress and also help the body to maintain homeostasis. Adaptogens have been used for several years in Ayurveda, an Indian traditional system of medicine, but are now gaining widespread use in Western medicine due to their numerous benefits
So far, there are 9 herbs considered as primary adaptogens including ashwagandha, holy basil and licorice; but there are several other herbs considered secondary adaptogens such as royal jelly, hop extract, valerian root, skullcap and passionflower. These herbs are formulated as tinctures, teas, capsules or powders and when taken exert a range of health benefits.
Benefits of Adaptogens
Adaptogens have a wide range of benefits for which they are used. Some of these benefits include;
- Increase adaptability to extreme stress
- Lower stress-induced disorders
- Balance hormone levels including cortisol, insulin and growth hormone
- Fight fatigue that results from excessive physical or emotional stress
- Stimulate cognitive performance
- Maintains homeostasis
- Boost the immune systems
- Increase physical stamina and improve energy levels
- Improve sleep
How do Adaptogens Help Sleep?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or difficulty maintaining prolonged sleep. Insomnia may be caused by a range of physiological and mental stressors such as menopause, childbirth, depression, and anxiety.
Insomnia is a stress cause-result loop situation, i.e, it results from stress and builds up more stress in return. The circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) regulates cortisol (the major stress hormone) levels in the body. When you’re sleeping cortisol levels are at their lowest, and when you wake, they’re at their highest.
They will drop slowly throughout the day till you sleep. Persistent exposure to stress will cause cortisol levels to remain high throughout the day and this will impair sleep. Lack of sleep will also impact cortisol levels causing it to remain high. This cortisol rise has a lot of negative effects on the body, including; weight gain, osteoporosis and muscle weakness.
Adaptogens act on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that regulates cortisol release. Adaptogens do not function to block cortisol release, but rather to regulate it. By acting on this pathway, adaptogens regulate cortisol through a feedback loop, allowing cortisol bursts only in absolutely necessary circumstances.
By regulating cortisol release, adaptogens ensure that the cortisol levels drop significantly at sleep time, allowing the body to get much-needed sleep and tissue repair. Improved sleep will further boost cortisol regulation and reinforce healthy sleep. Many adaptogen herbs have been shown in scientific experiments to help in regulating the sleep cycle.
Which Adaptogens are needed for sleep?
Many adaptogens have shown benefits in sleep regulation. Some of the studied adaptogen herbs that improve sleep quality include;
Royal jelly is a gelatinous secretion produced solely by honeybees. Royal jelly is produced through incomplete digestion of honey and pollen by the honeybees and is used to feed the queen and young bees.
Royal jelly consists majorly of water, sugar, lipids, and proteins, but also contains low levels of vitamins, salts, and minerals. This substance has potent antibacterial and antioxidant properties and is widely used in traditional medicine, being used to treat ailments like asthma, diabetes, fatigue, premenstrual syndrome and insomnia.
Royal Jelly for Sleep
Royal jelly has a positive effect in treating insomnia or sleeplessness. Royal jelly helps to calm your brain biochemistry, which results in improved sleep quality.
Royal jelly contains acetylcholine, a neuronal chemical that helps to improve cognitive function. Reduced acetylcholine production can cause sleep-related problems, as well as anxiety, memory loss and neurodegeneration. By replacing acetylcholine stores, royal jelly helps to improve sleep and prevent these neurological conditions.
Insomnia is also caused by blood sugar drops. Royal jelly on the other hand helps to regulate insulin function and maintain a baseline blood sugar level throughout the night. This helps to maintain prolonged sleep and also prevents conditions like anxiety and depression.
Royal Jelly Benefits in Men and Women
Royal jelly contains 185 biological ingredients that benefit men and women variably. In men, royal jelly helps increase testosterone levels and boost sperm quality. Royal jelly also influences sperm motility and improves male libido
In women, royal jelly impacts the ratio of sex hormones, FSH and LH, and increases libido. Royal jelly regulates the levels of estradiol, progesterone and prolactin, keeping the woman healthy and helping with a number of postmenopausal symptoms
How to Use Royal Jelly as a Therapy for Sleep
Royal jelly can be administered as a capsule or powder, or can also be given fresh. It is often more effective when combined with other adaptogens like ginseng.
Fresh royal jelly can be bitter, so mixing with honey is recommended. Similarly, powdered jelly should be mixed in smoothies or fruit juice. Royal jelly capsules are most convenient and can be taken directly.
Royal jelly capsules come as 1000mg supplements taken once daily. They can be taken any time of the day but should be taken with food. Royal jelly may cause allergies in some people, so it is best to take a test dose first, before shifting to higher doses.
Interactions of Royal Jelly with Other Drugs
Royal jelly may interact with certain medications, causing often serious side effects. Such medications include;
- Blood-thinning medications like warfarin
If you use any of these drugs, do well to speak to your doctor before commencing royal jelly use.
Valerian root is an herb found majorly in Europe and some parts of Asia. It is mainly used in traditional medicine as a sedative, and is a potent adaptogen. They are commonly used for treating insomnia, anxiety, stress and other related health conditions.
Valerian root extract is used at a dose of 300-600mg daily to treat sleep disorders. You should use it for up to 6 weeks until a change is noticeable. You can combine it with other medications like lemon balm, hops, and passionflower.
Possible Side Effects and Safety
Some possible side effects of valerian roots use include;
- Stomach upset
- Vivid dreams
- May cause withdrawal symptoms after long-term use.
Pregnant women, lactating mothers, children and people undergoing surgery should not use valerian roots.
Interaction with Other Drugs
Valerian root extracts should not be taken with drugs like alcohol, antipsychotics and sedatives. These drugs have the same function and may cause prolonged, potentially dangerous sedation.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is native to the southeastern United States, Central and South America. This flower has calming effects on the body and helps with sleep disorders. It is also used in treating stress, pain and ADHD and is also added to food and beverages for flavor.
Passionflower may be taken as a tea for 7 nights and as a supplement for about 8 weeks. The regular dosage for passionflower capsules is 250-900mg depending on the condition.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions
Possible side effects of passionflower are drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion. It is also unsafe to use for pregnant women by mouth as it may lead to early labor and other complications. It should also be avoided by lactating mothers and in people undergoing surgery.
Interaction with Other Drugs
Passionflower interacts with sedative medications like CNS depressants, which can cause slow breathing and sleepiness.
Hops (Humulus lupulus) are dried flowering parts of the hop plant, commonly used in brewing beer. They contain various chemicals that help in reducing anxiety and restlessness, treating sleep disorders, and producing estrogen to remedy symptoms of menopause.
Dosage and Possible Side Effects
Hop extract is used at doses of 300mg for up to 3 months to treat a variety of ailments. Possible side effects include drowsiness and slowed breathing.
This extract should not be used with CNS depressants, grapefruit juice, hormone supplements and several other drugs known as CYP substrates.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is found in the US and Europe. It is a potent adaptogen, helping to regulate the sleep cycle, relieve anxiety and treat various health conditions.
Dosage and Side Effects
1-2 grams of skullcap divided twice daily exerts potent adaptogenic effects. Possible side effects of skullcap use include; memory decline, stomach pain and excessive sleepiness. Skullcaps should not be used with sedative medications as they can cause sleepiness and slow breathing.
Pregnant and lactating mothers should avoid using skullcaps
Sleep Enhancing Adaptogens and Exercise
Adaptogens for sleep are very beneficial for improving exercise efficiency. The relationship between sleep and exercise is well established. Exercise is a physical stress situation that builds cortisol levels. Exercising also leads to muscle tissue damage and some oxidative stress. By inducing sleep, these adaptogens help regulate cortisol levels, repair damaged tissues and get rid of all the toxic wastes that build up during the day.
Thus, these herbs help revitalize the body through sleep, preparing it for a new round of workouts that help improve it. Adaptogens allow the body to adapt optimally to exercise routines, and the vitality they provide means athletes can maintain more consistency, which is highly beneficial for muscle building and weight loss.
Sleep is a beneficial part of exercise recovery and building exercise consistency. You can’t experience positive results with your workouts without adequate sleep. Royal jelly, hop extracts and the other adaptogens listed here help with sleep problems, ensuring your body stays ever revitalised and ready for the next workout.