Talking to patients and supplements to address a critical need when anxiety, lifestyle prevent restoration sleep
Missing out on a good night’s sleep is not that unusual for anybody. We’ve all experienced those stressful days or weeks when we can’t seem to slow down enough to get the restoration sleep we need.
Many patients fall into that category, too, but they’ve been struggling for a long time. Fortunately, there are supplemental approaches that can help them get the restorative sleep they need.
Because of the stresses of the pandemic and simply the times we live in, melatonin use has seen a recent surge in popularity. But even before its current notoriety, there were good reasons to recommend melatonin.
After all, there are many conditions and causes that deplete this natural substance from the body:
- Age: As we get older, our sleep/wake cycle deteriorates and disrupts our circadian rhythm, throwing off the natural timing of melatonin release. Not surprisingly, this is one reason that insomnia affects up to 50% of people aged 60 years and older. Additionally, some experts consider low melatonin levels to be a cause of aging, and not just an effect.1
- Screen Time and Artificial Light: The “blue light” of tablets, smartphones and computers reduces melatonin levels, even in young people (who otherwise would be well-stocked with it). One study showed that two hours of continuous screen time by 20-year-olds reduced melatonin levels by 22%.2 Of course, that effect is most likely multiplied as we age, especially considering the ubiquity of screens in our lives. There is a good case to be made for recommending no screen time at all for two hours before bedtime to achieve restoration sleep. That’s going to be a tough ask for some patients, but it may be necessary to help them reestablish their sleep, too.
- Changes in Schedules, Travel and Working at Night: Travel, of course, throws the circadian rhythms for a loop because a patient’s mind and body are used to a specific day and night cycle. But really, anything that is disruptive of regular sleep is going to have an effect. Combine a late night with screen time, and a person has definitely set themselves up for brain fog, a weakened immune system, and increased inflammation and oxidative stress. And this can have extremely serious consequences. In fact, women who work in shifts are at greater risk of breast cancer because of their exposure to artificial light during nighttime.3
- Overweight/Obesity: Carrying extra pounds may not just be due to sedentary lifestyles or a slow metabolism, but actually caused, in part, by a decline in melatonin activity in the first place. This can become a vicious cycle, in that fat stores themselves can decrease melatonin. Research suggests that melatonin supplementation may help bring patients who struggle with their weight into a better metabolic balance, as part of a diet and exercise regimen.4
- Various Health Conditions and Diseases: In addition to obesity, other conditions — including systemic inflammation, autism spectrum disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, heart disease and insulin resistance — may have a cause/effect relationship with melatonin levels. That’s not to say that low levels are necessarily the reason for the disease, but they may be both a contributing factor and effect of many health issues.2
With all of these health factors in mind, there’s a strong case to be made for recommending melatonin — and I haven’t even touched on its potential for preserving bone density, cancer prevention, tumor reduction or depression treatment.2
Nonetheless, melatonin needs to be recommended with care. Patients may need to block out some time for extra sleep and plan on getting ready for bed a little earlier than usual. They also may want to limit caffeine and alcohol intake during the lead-up to and use of the supplement, so that it can work its best to help restore healthy circadian rhythms and restoration sleep.
I’m also a big fan of sustained-release forms of melatonin. Sometimes the body can rapidly cycle through melatonin, so levels don’t remain consistent to help a patient get better sleep. A 10-mg dose of sustained-release melatonin can initially get someone into a healthy cycle.
Reduce daily anxiety, increase sleep
Effectively dealing with anxiety during the day can also help prevent sleeplessness at night. For that, consider a specialized extract of Echinacea angustifolia. While many echinacea species are well-known for bolstering the immune system, a specific extract from a specially cultivated plant calms nerves and relieves anxiety.
This clinically tested Echinacea angustifolia (EP107) delivers alkamides — natural compounds with effects on the endocannabinoid system similar to phytocannabinoids from hemp — that ultimately have a “cooling effect” on the way stress and anxiety are felt in the body and mind.5-7
Clinical research has found that Echinacea angustifolia is fast-acting, too. A study published in Phytotherapy Research assessed participants (which included women and men with anxiety, average age of 41 years) using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Participants were scheduled to use this specialized Echinacea extract for one week and evaluate their anxiety before, during and after using the product. But in just three days anxiety levels were significantly lower in both state and trait categories. Plus, the effects remained stable for the duration of the clinical trial and even for two weeks following treatment — all without side effects.8
This echinacea extract won’t cause drowsiness. Instead, it will take the edginess off your patients’ daily stressors, and allow them to focus, attend to the tasks at hand, and not feel burdened by anxieties at the end of the day when they’re trying to relax.
Help patients achieve restoration sleep and health
Sleep is more than simple downtime. It is essential to our well-being.
For patients who seem to be struggling with getting restoration sleep, melatonin has great potential. Along with consistent “wind-down” time at the end of the day, the right melatonin supplement can make a tremendous difference. And for those stressful struggles during the daytime hours, a clinically-studied form of Echinacea angustifolia can help patients keep anxiety from getting the upper hand.
HOLLY LUCILLE, ND, RN, is a nationally recognized, licensed naturopathic doctor, educator, natural products consultant, and television and radio host. She is the author of several books, including “Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Women’s Guide to Safe, Natural, Hormone Health” and “The Healing Power of Trauma Comfrey.” In addition to seeing patients in her private practice in Los Angeles, she lectures frequently across the country, and makes guest appearances on radio and television, including “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors.” She can be reached at drhollylucille.com.