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What you can do when you can't get a good night's sleep.

Last month I talked about how a chance encounter with a Chinese herbalist who introduced me to various types of ginseng changed the direction of my life. But there's more to the story that I didn't have the time to share with you.

It all began when I was in my 20s, and I met this Chinese herbalist. Some friends of mine had been impressed with the energy they got from taking ginseng root, and I was eager to learn about it. It turned out that herbalist Peter Tsou was just as eager to teach me. You can just imagine how exciting it was for me to understand about the mysterious world of Chinese medicine from someone who learned about herbs since he was a child from his father and grandfather.

A few days after my initial visit to his store, Peter began to teach me about the healing properties of Chinese medicinal herbs, beginning with ginseng. But there was more to the subject than ginseng, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. So I studied Eastern herbs with Peter, and I learned about Western herbs on my own. Then I shared what I had learned with everyone I knew. Eventually, under Peter's direction, I started a small herb-tea mail order business, The Herb Lady. It gave me the freedom and opportunity to learn more about the fascinating world of herbs.

Eventually, my interest in herbs expanded to include foods, and my studies continued, leading to a PhD in nutrition. That, in turn, led to a nutritional counseling practice, The Nutrition Detective, that lasted 30 years and terminated after I took over as editor of Women's Health Letter. The Nutrition Detective also was the title of my first book (Tarcher, 1985).

It all began when I met my friend, Peter, who offered to teach me about Chinese herbs. And his teaching started with ginseng. But there was so much more.

Popular herbs for a popular problem

One thing I learned was that having energy in the daytime was related to getting enough restful sleep at night. My most popular herb blend was a combination of Passion Flower (Passiflora Incarnata), Scullcap (Scuttellaria barbata), and Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis). I called it Tranquili-Tea.

Through the years, I've learned about and used a variety of calming herbs that have helped me--and my patients--get a deep, uninterrupted night's sleep. Some work better than others. Just because herbs are "natural" doesn't mean that they're either safe or effective. Valerian, for example, may cause morning drowsiness and fatigue just like sleeping pills. And if you tend to get migraines or cluster headaches, valerian could make them worse.

Better choices

There are two ways you can get a good night's sleep. You can knock yourself out with strong herbs or drugs, or you can use small amounts of good quality nutrients that allow your body to gently relax and help balance your body's circadian rhythm. Here are some of my favorites for the latter.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Insomnia caused by anxiety is a major reason why some people can't sleep. A study published in the Medical Journal of Nutrition Metabolism (December 2011) was the first to discover that regular use of Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) relieves stress. In this two-week study, 95% of moderately stressed volunteers responded positively to Lemon balm.

But it does more than reduce anxiety. Lemon balm has been used to improve cognitive performance and increase a feeling of calmness as well. This is why you may find it in some formulas designed to protect against Alzheimer's disease.


In the August 2014 issue of this newsletter, I explained how light affects melatonin production. Melatonin, as you may remember, is a hormone that regulates your inner clock, and your inner clock affects your sleep patterns. But instead of regulating hormone production by exposing yourself to bright light in the morning and dim light at night, many people are opting to take melatonin supplements.

The problem is you need different amounts of melatonin for various conditions. And the amount recommended to help you sleep is much lower than the amount of melatonin suggested for other conditions.

Many sleep formulas contain 3-10 mg of melatonin. That can be more than you need for a refreshing night's sleep. High dosages can actually reduce your body's natural production of melatonin and other hormones.

If you wake up feeling groggy or with a headache, taking a higher-than-necessary dose of melatonin could explain why. And let's not forget aging. As we age, our bodies produce less melatonin. Low levels are commonly seen in people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. No wonder we're having trouble sleeping. Some people can benefit from taking smaller doses of melatonin. You can try 1-2 mg per night. A sublingual (under the tongue) spray can provide this amount.

Passion Flower extract

Another wonderful herb that can help with insomnia is Passion Flower. In a really good study, researchers followed 41 participants between the ages of 18 and 35. They divided them into two groups that took either Passion Flower extract or a placebo for one week. After the first week, the researchers took the participants off all treatment for another week. Then, for the third week, they switched up the treatments. The researchers found that those taking the Passion Flower had significantly improved sleep compared to the placebo. So if you struggle with insomnia, Passion Flower extract might be able to help calm your nerves and give you a great night's sleep. Take 110 mg daily.


Chances are you haven't heard of Honokiol. It's the active ingredient in Magnolia tree bark (Magnolia officinalis). Traditional Chinese herbalists have used the whole raw bark for thousands of years for a wide variety of conditions including inflammation, anxiety, and other chronic problems--like helping you sleep.

Without causing a dependency like so many drugs, Honokiol reduces anxiety and depression by adjusting the electrical activity in the brain. This has a gentle relaxation effect that makes it easier to get to sleep. Honokiol is a powerful herb. A study published in the Journal of Pharmacy (1999) showed that it was as effective as benzodiazepines like Valium in reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. But while Valium may cause morning fatigue, irritability, headaches, and vertigo, it's addictive. Honokiol is not.

Just 0.5 mg of honokiol will gently regulate your body's circadian rhythm and prepare it for a restful night's sleep. This is the amount included in Pure Sleep from Advanced Bionutritionals.

Pure Sleep is a complex formula of traditional Chinese herbs, Western herbs, minerals, amino acids, and B vitamins. It is unlike any formula I've ever seen--or used. It addresses the causes of insomnia, anxiety, and sleeplessness--not just its symptoms. And all of its nutrients work synergistically to support the organs and systems that improve sleep quality. I'm amazed at the results I'm hearing from the people who have taken this formula. If you have any sleep problems, whether temporary or chronic, give this supplement a try.

You can order Pure Sleep by calling 800-791-3395. Be sure to give them special offer code WHB314 when ordering.

What's So Bad About Sleeping Pills?

Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata are examples of prescription sleeping pills I suggest you avoid completely. They are sedatives and hypnotics that can lead to a dependency. They also may cause morning drowsiness. You could build up a tolerance to these drugs and need to take higher and higher amounts. Or they can just stop working. If you begin taking sleeping pills and then stop, you could have withdrawal or rebound insomnia, leaving you with even more sleeping problems.

"Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm) and Sleep and Anxiety," Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011 December;4(3):211-218.

Nan Kathryn Fuchs, PhD

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Author:Fuchs, Nan Kathryn
Publication:Women's Health Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2014
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