In 2016, the CDC reported that more than a third of Americans were failing to get adequate sleep on a regular basis, with healthy sleep being defined as 7 hours or more per day. The stress and health effects of the pandemic have only served to increase this figure. [This article, “The Quest For A Decent Night’s Sleep: Getting That Elusive 7 Hours” was originally published in HealthXWire]
In 2021, The American Psychological Association reported that two out of three Americans were sleeping either too much or too little. We are now in the midst of a nationwide obsession with sleep. Furthermore, we have been forced into a new understanding of the need to keep our body systems strong in order to fight infections. Post-pandemic, we have intensified the search for ways to strengthen our immune systems and to improve our overall health; restful sleep has been broadly recognized as one of our health’s most important components.
The problem that’s keeping us awake
Sleep issues, including trouble falling asleep or maintaining sleep, are some of the most common complaints heard by doctors. Daytime drowsiness experienced by sleep disorder sufferers may impair decision making, concentration, and memory, and may even lead to accidental injury. The long-term health effects of sleep debt may include obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. The costs of poor sleep are high, and those who struggle to get quality sleep are left looking for solutions.
Occasional sleeplessness versus insomnia
If you have insomnia, then you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or you may wake up early and not be able to get back to sleep. If your insomnia has become chronic, then you have probably been having trouble with your sleep at least three nights per week for three months or more. Many people self-treat their sleep issues with various over-the-counter sleep aids and natural sleep supplements. However, suppose you have self-treated your sleep issue without meaningful results,
and it has become chronic. In that case, you should seek a medical evaluation to rule out any underlying health conditions that may be the cause. Insomnia has numerous potential causes, including stress, poor environment, jet lag, genes, medications, pain, caffeine use, and underlying health conditions such as hypothyroidism. For many people with insomnia, the first step to achieving quality sleep is to discover the underlying health causes of the condition.
A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach
The medical community does not generally advise the administration of drug therapy for sleep issues without first exploring other avenues. The American College of Physicians guidelines recommend cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as a first-line treatment for insomnia.
CBT-I is a structured program that helps patients identify specific thoughts and behaviors that may interfere with their ability to achieve restful sleep. CBT-I techniques may include setting a consistent sleep schedule, using the bed only for sleep and sex, keeping the bedroom quiet, dark, and cool, and keeping the TV out of the bedroom. Treating the underlying cognitive and behavioral causes of sleep issues is considered a much more effective and enduring approach than one that is drug-based.
A better nighttime routine
The adoption of healthy sleep hygiene practices is also a part of cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia. Still, these behaviors are beneficial even for those who don’t suffer from a chronic sleep disorder. Common sleep hygiene recommendations include avoidance of physical activity and challenging cognitive tasks before sleep, and the avoidance of smoking, alcohol, and caffeine late in the day.
If you’re looking for healthy ways to ensure a night of restorative sleep, you might also want to avoid screens before bedtime, as exposure to bright light at night can depress your natural levels of melatonin, an important sleep hormone. Not enough exposure to bright light during the day may also interfere with your ability to sleep at night, so you might want to make sure that you’re not working in dim light all day.
Cutting to the chase: Over-the-counter sleep aids
While CBT-l and sound sleep hygiene practices are proven methods to improve sleep quality, many of us may not have the time or resources (or the patience) to implement these techniques. Even healthy, active individuals who do the right things most of the time may occasionally struggle to achieve quality sleep. In these types of cases, many sufferers turn to over-the-counter sleep aids for relief.
The downside associated with most of these formulations is that they either 1) contain alcohol (which has many well-documentated negatives associated with it, including the potential for rebounding sleeplessness, serious brain fog, dehydration, and drug interaction issues – just to name several), or 2) contain antihistamines (such as diphenhydramine, the principal ingredient in Benadryl), which have been implicated in episodes of sleepwalking, and which can cause significant increases in blood pressure.
These approaches, while often effective in the shorter-term, can create longer-term dependency problems. They are, categorically, a rather heavy-handed approach to a problem which requires some delicacy and precision to address.
Going gently into the night: Natural sleep supplements
Natural sleep supplements may offer safer and healthier options than the standard roster of over-the counter sleep aids. While there are a growing number of supplements in the marketplace, some stand out as being markedly better than others due to such factors as ingredient amounts, ingredient proportions and bioavailability, i.e., how efficiently the active ingredients are delivered to the bloodstream.
Som Sleep founder Abdul Khan has created a product that may be the nighttime answer to the energy drink. Som Sleep is designed for busy individuals who may need some extra help in calming their bodies and minds to permit sleep. This natural sleep supplement contains a blend of ingredients to address the problem of falling asleep through a three-pronged approach.
Magnesium and Vitamin B6 ensure that your body’s sleep cycle is running smoothly, L-Theanine and GABA induce relaxation before bed, and melatonin helps you fall asleep naturally. Each of these ingredients can be found naturally – either in the human body, a healthy diet, or in green tea. In combination, and in the appropriate proportions, they work synergistically to induce sleep. Let’s take a brief moment to look into what role each of these ingredients plays.
A look at individual ingredients
Magnesium, in small amounts, has been shown to be a mild systemic muscle relaxant. It is actually recommended by some naturopathic practitioners to relieve muscle cramps and as a safe treatment for restless legs syndrome. Interestingly, many people suffer from an undiagnosed deficiency of magnesium which may be due, in part, to the fact that stress, primarily physical but also psychological, can deplete the body’s reserves of this special metal. The majority of natural sleep supplements do not incorporate magnesium in their formulations.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, not only strengthens the immune system and promotes wound healing (it is recommended as a supplement – it is essential to metabolism – although it is often overshadowed by its more famous cousin, Vitamin B12, often touted as the “energy vitamin”), but it assists in the creation of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and acts as a catalyst to affect the body’s chemical balances crucial to both physical and mental relaxation, and to help in the repair and restoration of red blood cells.
L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, has been receiving a great deal of attention in recent years for its unique ability to calm the central nervous system and as a neuroprotective agent.
It has been cited as one of a select few naturally-occurring anti-anxiety substances which presents a safer, gentler alternative to valium and the other benzodiazepines, which are quite potent, but have the downside of being strongly addictive. L-Theanine is serotonergic, and it is likely that its effects are catalysized or enhanced by Vitamin B6 and GABA. Additionally, L-Theanine is a reputed among nootropics experts and neurohackers as being an aid to clarity and focus in the thought process.
GABA, which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is widely recognized (particularly in Europe) as being the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It works its magic by reducing certain neuronal impulses throughout the central nervous system, and while not a depressant, suppresses over-stimulation and reactivity in the brain, although the degree to which it actually does this as an oral supplement is not fully known. It is currently thought that Vitamin B6 might be a catalyst or synergist in helping GABA to do its important work.
Melatonin is a hormone which is responsible for regulating the body’s wake-sleep cycle (the circadian rhythm). It is secreted by the pineal gland during periods of darkness, and has become very popular as a solo supplement to aid in inducing sleep and extending the duration of sleep time. It is also used to combat the disruption in circadian rhythm caused by jet lag and long work shifts.
Its principal mechanism of action is through its sleep-encouraging effect on neuroreceptors throughout the body, effectively initiating a series of biochemical events which cause the body to shut down to rest. Melatonin is the ingredient common to most natural sleep supplements, although most melatonin in these formulations is synthetic instead of plant- or animal-based.
Som Sleep is probably most useful and effective in conjunction with making the conscious effort (which sounds a bit counterintuitive) to relax your body and your mind.
Your first line of defense is simply to calm down…relax…
While many of us struggle to relax at bedtime due to our high-stress, hectic lifestyles, science has identified some techniques that help to induce a relaxation response. The first technique is to create a soothing environment with either calming sounds in the background or silence. Focusing on a mantra, your breath, or a mental image can draw your attention away from distracting external worries. If you adopt a passive attitude, accepting that it’s normal for your mind to wander, then you can gently focus your attention back to your mantra or another calming focal point.
Finally, you need a comfortable position to induce a relaxation response before sleep. It may be wise to invest in a comfortable mattress or set of pillows. Relaxation is recognized as an important component of a healthy sleep routine. Whether you try a supplement or stick to cognitive-behavioral techniques, you are much more likely to enjoy restorative rest if you can calm your mind at bedtime.
In certain instances, drug therapy may be helpful for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders, especially in the short term. However, in recent years consumers have been concerned about the side effects of prescription sleep medications. In 2007 the FDA issued cautions on 13 different sedative-hypnotic sleep drugs.
Benzodiazepines like Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam) increase the risk of cognitive impairment, falls, fractures, delirium, and motor vehicle crashes in older adults. Prescription sleep medications are often associated with issues of dependency or withdrawal.
Many over-the-counter remedies leave people feeling drowsy the following day and lose their effectiveness over time. Due to consumer skepticism about prescription sleep medications and common OTC remedies, natural sleep aids and supplements, such as Som Sleep, which have far fewer side effects, have increased in popularity and continue to garner market share.
Back To Melatonin
Interest in melatonin has surged as consumers feeling the stress of the pandemic reached for natural sleep aids in droves. In 2020 alone, melatonin sales hit $821 million, more than double the amount for 2017. Melatonin is one of the few natural sleep aids that has been incorporated into conventional sleep medicine, and the AASM has accepted it for use with some circadian rhythm disorders. Side effects associated with melatonin are relatively rare, and may include headache, nausea, and dizziness. It is not associated with physiologic dependency or withdrawal effects.
Considerations in choosing a supplement
As natural sleep supplements are not as strictly regulated by the FDA as OTC remedies and prescription drugs, it’s important to choose your brand carefully. There have been reports of supplements that contain quantities that differ from those listed on the label. Som Sleep is certified by the National Sleep Foundation and is backed by an advisory board of sleep experts, nutritionists, physical therapists, and personal trainers. It is used by over 60 pro teams in the NBA, the NFL, and MLB.
The product is available in Original and Zero Sugar formulas on the brand’s website, Amazon, and at grocery and wellness chains nationwide. With a repeat purchase rate of 60%, Som Sleep has plenty of satisfied customers who are enjoying the benefits of this highly bioavailable liquid sleep supplement.
Before you consider any natural supplement, you should consult your physician to ensure that you are not at risk of harmful medication interactions. Natural solutions to common sleep issues have surged in popularity in the wake of the pandemic, as millions now struggle to achieve quality rest; however, the best first-line approach to disordered sleep is to ensure that you are practicing proper sleep hygiene.
Supplements may offer relief for certain mild sleep complaints, but if your insomnia has become severe or chronic, then you should seek your physician’s advice. Sleep is not only an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, but also an indicator of health status. A persistent sleep issue may be indicative of a more serious condition.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the great value of good health and the importance of taking good care of ourselves. This includes not only educating ourselves about the many products available to enhance our lives, but also putting the best habits for optimum health into practice. A good night’s sleep is an important part of this equation.