Fall Asleep Faster and Stay Asleep LongerAugust 2019
By Katherine De Mateo
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 35% of adults get less sleep than they should.1
That’s part of the reason sleeping pills are so popular. But they come with serious drawbacks, including risk for physical dependence, accidents, and eventual tolerance that renders them ineffective.
Several plant-derived extracts have been found to safely help promote healthy sleep.
Scientists have created a combination of three such extracts: lemon balm, honokiol (a compound found in the magnolia tree), and apigenin (an ingredient found in chamomile).
Together, they work on multiple sleep centers in the brain to help restore healthy sleep patterns.
One study of people with mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances showed 85% of subjects that supplemented with lemon balm extract achieved full remission for insomnia and 70% of the subjects had complete relief of anxiety symptoms.2
Preclinical and clinical studies and gene expression analysis show that these ingredients can help people fall asleep more easily and improve sleep quality, leading to restorative and health-promoting rest.2-5
The Problem with Sleeping Pills
Based on studies in sleep research, the CDC and other experts recommend that adults get seven or more hours of sleep a night.1,6
Using this standard, they found that more than 1 in 3 adults get suboptimal sleep on a regular basis. Frequently getting insufficient sleep has been linked to increased risk of obesity, depression, dementia, and chronic health issues like type II diabetes and heart disease.7-10
The failure to get enough sleep can be influenced by many factors, including caffeine consumption, stress, anxiety, and sleep disorders. The problem worsens with age, with around 40% of all elderly adults suffering from some form of sleep complaint.11,12 Changes in hormones as we grow older have been linked to insomnia and poor sleep quality,13,14 and some medications prescribed to older individuals can disrupt sleep.15
Pharmaceutical sleep aids are extremely popular, but they come with an array of problems. One group of drugs, the benzodiazepines , works by enhancing the effect of a calming neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This causes reduction in anxiety, relaxation of muscles, and sedation. Common drugs in this class include Valium®, Xanax®, and Klonopin®.
But these drugs can cause too much sedation, leading to a “hangover” effect in the morning. Even worse, users can become addicted with regular use. And as doses increase, overdose becomes a possibility.16
Newer sleeping pills, such as Ambien® and Lunesta®, work by interacting with GABA receptors in the brain to produce sedative, anti-anxiety effects. Though they have a slightly lower risk for addiction, regular use can still lead to dependence. And many users of these drugs complain about a “zombie” effect the following day, which can cause poor mental performance, and risk for injuries such as falls.17,18
The newest class of sleep aids, orexin receptor antagonists, takes a different approach than the above-mentioned drugs that enhance GABA signaling. The orexin system in the brain controls wakefulness. Therefore, orexin receptor antagonists enhance sleep. Users of orexin receptor antagonists are subject to a “hangover” effect and the potential for physical dependence, like they are with most potent sleep aids.19
A Healthier Alternative
Lemon balm is an herb in the mint family that enhances GABA neurotransmitter activity in the brain, but by a different mechanism than benzodiazepines and other sleeping pills. The compounds in lemon balm, including rosmarinic acid, have been found to inhibit the enzyme that normally degrades GABA.4 This keeps GABA levels higher, to support a sleep-promoting and anxiety-reducing effect.
The magnolia tree is the source of a compound called honokiol. Research has shown that honokiol interacts with the receptor for GABA. Through this interaction, it boosts the activity of GABA to aid sleep.5
The flowering herb chamomile has long been used as a natural sleep aid. Part of this effect may also be attributed to its GABA-enhancing activity. But chamomile and its active components, particularly the nutrient apigenin, may act by additional mechanisms to further promote sleep.20
Computer-based gene expression analysis found that apigenin’s profile resembles an orexin receptor antagonist, and therefore may be working in a similar fashion.3 Orexin, made in the wake centers of the brain, is a compound that promotes wakefulness. A blocker of orexin, which apigenin may be, reduces wakefulness and promotes sleep.21,22
Medical Research on Herbal Sleep Aids
Scientists have uncovered evidence that lemon balm, honokiol, and chamomile can improve sleep.
Since they act by overlapping and unique mechanisms, a formulation combining all three can help restore healthy sleep patterns.
Lemon Balm Extract
In one study, investigators recruited people with mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances.2 Subjects were given a lemon balm extract for 15 days, then assessed by rating scales for anxiety and depression that included sleep quality.
At the end of the study, all the subjects were considered to have had a positive response to the supplementation, with 85% seeing a full remission of their insomnia and the remaining 15% being much improved.
In terms of anxiety symptoms, 70% of subjects who responded to the product were considered in complete remission and another 25% experienced significant improvement.
Another study of lemon balm evaluated patients with heart disease who had trouble sleeping, along with high levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.23 These subjects were randomized to receive either a lemon balm supplement or a placebo for eight weeks.
The patients taking lemon balm had significantly reduced scores for depression, anxiety, and stress. They also took less time to fall asleep and had an increase in total sleep duration.
In mouse models, honokiol reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the amount of sleep.24 In another animal study, honokiol was directly compared to diazepam (Valium®).25 It was found to reduce symptoms of anxiety to a similar level as the drug.
But while diazepam decreased muscle motor activity and tone, and impaired memory, honokiol did not. Mice experienced withdrawal symptoms when diazepam was stopped. The animals taking honokiol did not, indicating its use is not likely to lead to physical dependence.
Chamomile is a popular herb often used as a tea to promote sleep and relaxation.26
In a rat study, chamomile was shown to improve sleep onset and had a mild hypnotic effect (much like benzodiazepines).27 In one clinical study, chamomile showed encouraging beneficial effects on daytime functioning in people with sleep problems.28
Researchers believe that the active components present in chamomile, apigenin in particular, are responsible for its effects.
Getting enough quality sleep is critical to health. Inadequate sleep increases risk for many chronic illnesses.
A large percentage of adults do not get enough sleep on a regular basis, and sleep problems increase with advancing age.
Many people rely on pharmaceutical drugs to aid sleep, but these medications cause several potential adverse effects, including risk for addiction and tolerance (which means they stop working).
A combination of plant-derived nutrients may provide support for healthy sleep, without the risk for significant side effects.
Lemon balm, honokiol, and chamomile (which contains apigenin) work on slumber centers in the brain to induce and maintain sleep, but without the sedating or addictive properties of those pharmaceutical medications.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
- Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html. Accessed May 9, 2019.
- Cases J, Ibarra A, Feuillere N, et al. Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011 Dec;4(3):211-8.
- In-house connectivity mapping. LINCS-Broad Institute Database. Data on File. 2019.
- Awad R, Muhammad A, Durst T, et al. Bioassay-guided fractionation of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) using an in vitro measure of GABA transaminase activity. Phytother Res. 2009 Aug;23(8):1075-81.
- Alexeev M, Grosenbaugh DK, Mott DD, et al. The natural products magnolol and honokiol are positive allosteric modulators of both synaptic and extra-synaptic GABA(A) receptors. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jun;62(8):2507-14.
- Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al. Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. 2015 Jun 1;38(6):843-4.
- Riemann D, Krone LB, Wulff K, et al. Sleep, insomnia, and depression. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 May 9.
- von Ruesten A, Weikert C, Fietze I, et al. Association of sleep duration with chronic diseases in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Potsdam study. PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e30972.
- Cooper CB, Neufeld EV, Dolezal BA, et al. Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018;4(1):e000392.
- Lao XQ, Liu X, Deng HB, et al. Sleep Quality, Sleep Duration, and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Prospective Cohort Study With 60,586 Adults. J Clin Sleep Med. 2018 Jan 15;14(1):109-17.
- Zhang F, Zhong R, Li S, et al. The missing link between sleep disorders and age-related dementia: recent evidence and plausible mechanisms. J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2017 May;124(5):559-68.
- Adib-Hajbaghery M, Mousavi SN. The effects of chamomile extract on sleep quality among elderly people: A clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2017 Dec;35:109-14.
- Geyer C. In Search of a Good Night’s Sleep: Hormones, Mind, Movement, and Breath. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018 Mar-Apr;12(2):120-3.
- Baker FC, de Zambotti M, Colrain IM, et al. Sleep problems during the menopausal transition: prevalence, impact, and management challenges. Nat Sci Sleep. 2018;10:73-95.
- Sutton EL. Insomnia. Med Clin North Am. 2014 May;98(3):565-81.
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- Frey DJ, Ortega JD, Wiseman C, et al. Influence of zolpidem and sleep inertia on balance and cognition during nighttime awakening: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011 Jan;59(1):73-81.
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- Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/orexin-receptor-antagonists-new-class-sleeping-pill. Accessed May 13, 2019.
- Awad R, Levac D, Cybulska P, et al. Effects of traditionally used anxiolytic botanicals on enzymes of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2007 Sep;85(9):933-42.
- Brisbare-Roch C, Dingemanse J, Koberstein R, et al. Promotion of sleep by targeting the orexin system in rats, dogs and humans. Nat Med. 2007 Feb;13(2):150-5.
- Dubey AK, Handu SS, Mediratta PK. Suvorexant: The first orexin receptor antagonist to treat insomnia. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2015 Apr-Jun;6(2):118-21.
- Haybar H, Javid AZ, Haghighizadeh MH, et al. The effects of Melissa officinalis supplementation on depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorder in patients with chronic stable angina. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2018 Aug;26:47-52.
- Qu WM, Yue XF, Sun Y, et al. Honokiol promotes non-rapid eye movement sleep via the benzodiazepine site of the GABA(A) receptor in mice. Br J Pharmacol. 2012 Oct;167(3):587-98.
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