What nature provides in our wild world

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Ahh, the promise each night of a refreshing sleep, waking up excited to get out of bed and commence the day. The nightly promise enticing us to our beds, is all too often dashed by the time we drag ourselves from poor sleep in the morning.

A quick search for sleep on Medium.com, brings up innumerable articles with tips and hacks to improve sleep.

What if you are away from home?

Yes, you can and should block out light, but have you actually ever slept successfully with a sleep mask on all night? What if you are away from home and sleeping in a room with no light-blocking drapes?

Yes, you can and should limit alcohol, food and electronics for at least two hours before bed. Is this possible to do every night?

Dr Matthew Walker in his book, Why We Sleep, explains that even one night of poor sleep affects cognitive functioning and good sleep is required for physical recovery after intense activity, such as playing a sport. What if that game is scheduled at night and it takes you two hours to wind down, eating into your sleep time?

We do not live in a perfect world. In fact, our wild urban world is filled with every possibility imaginable, to keep us from sleeping.

I am frequently asked by desperate patients for a sleeping pill, “just to rest my sleep.” Sorry, but sleeping pills do not provide normal, physiological sleep and certainly do not “reset” sleep. Except when used appropriately in time-zone travel, I have never seen sleeping pills “reset sleep.” You reset sleep by resetting your brain, using sleep hygiene methods; it is hard and takes time and commitment. Resorting to sleeping pills just makes things worse. Zolpidem, a commonly prescribed sleeping pill, “is associated with rebound insomnia”(1) and may be harmful in the long term.(2)

I would actively encourage you to undertake the sleep hygiene methods that have been written about ad infinitum.

However, what to do when life gets in the way? Turning once again to nature and its pharmacopeia of ancient herbs and fungi, there may be a way to mitigate the effects of an occasional lapse (planned or otherwise) of lifestyle.

I would like to state that once a plant or fungi has been processed into a pill, it cannot be compared to chewing on the root or brewing the leaves of the same plant. The active metabolites are now reaching pharmaceutical concentrations.

Nature does provide, but in the past, we would have had to seek out and treasure these compounds, while now we stock up mindlessly at Walmart.

So, using these compounds mindfully, respecting their ancient origins and their evolution alongside ours, in my opinion, helps to harmonize our health.

Valerian Officinalis Root

Perhaps the most well-known of the hypnotic herbs in the West, Valerian has long use as a sleep remedy in Traditional Western Herbal Medicine. It is thought that the active compounds, including GABA, tyrosine and valeric acid work synergistically to improve sleep and calm nervous tension with few side-effects especially when compared to pharmaceutical sleep aids. (3)

Ganoderma lingzhi Reishi Mushroom

This fungus has been used in China as a treatment for restlessness and insomnia for hundreds of years. (4) It has been proposed that Reishi’s effect in improving sleep, especially deep sleep, is through its effect in modulating inflammatory chemicals such as TNF-α.

Ziziphus jujube dried seed

The fruit from the Ziziphus species of trees and shrubs has a long history of use as a food and medicine. (5) It is referred to as “the fruits of life” in China and is frequently used as a treatment for insomnia. (6) Ziziphus appears to support deep sleep via GABA receptors.7

Piper methysticum Kava Root

Yes, Kava has been linked to liver damage. So have common antibiotics, alcohol and a variety of other herbs and pharmaceuticals. Seek out a reliable water-based source and avoid using Kava with alcohol and other sedatives.

Kava is native to the Pacific Islands and has been used ceremonially for thousands of years. (8) Kava appears to act via modulation of GABA activity while decreasing norepinephrine and dopamine, (9) and has been shown to be effective in supporting sleep. (10)

Magnolia officinalis Bark

Magnolia bark has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicines. It has been found to have a wide range of biological activity, including anti-inflammatory, metabolism regulating and neuroprotective effects. (11) One of the ways that Magnolia Bark seems to work is via the GABA- and Endocannabinoid pathways. (12)

In our wild urban world, sleeping to natures rhythms is something we can often only dream about. However, treasuring what nature does provide may support us in our yearning for restful sleep and a purposeful life.

This article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor / patient relationship is formed. The use of information in this article or materials linked is at the user’s own risk. The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Readers should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such condition.

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2. Kripke DF. Kripke DF. Hypnotic drug risks of mortality, infection, depression, and cancer: but lack of benefit [version 3; peer review: 2 approved]. . F1000Res. 2018;5:918.

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10. Lehrl S. Clinical efficacy of kava extract WS 1490 in sleep disturbances associated with anxiety disorders. Results of a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2004;78(2):101–110.

11. Zhang J, Chen Z, Huang X, et al. Insights on the Multifunctional Activities of Magnolol. Biomed Res Int. 2019;2019:1847130.

12. Schifano F, Guarino V, Papanti DG, Baccarin J, Orsolini L, Corkery JM. Is there a potential of misuse for Magnolia officinalis compounds/metabolites? Hum Psychopharmacol. 2017;32(3).

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Practicing Functional MD developing a diagnostic and treatment online platform, incorporating wearables and AI. Always questioning.

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