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Natural remedies for sleeplessness unveiled



Have you murdered sleep? When was the last time you had a good night rest? Have you been living on sleeping pills or rather sedatives with little or no success? Not to worry. Researchers have identified natural remedies for sleeplessness also known as insomnia. Top on the list is a local plant, Stachytarpheta cayennensis. CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes.

COMMONLY called snakeweed and rat tail, Stachytarpheta cayennensis, belongs to the plant family Verbenaceae. In Nigeria, it is called tsárkíyárkúúsùù in Hausa, àgógó ìgún in Yoruba.

      Nigerian researchers have found how opioid receptors enhance sedative activity of the leaves of Stachytarpheta cayennensis. They have also scientifically confirmed the rationale for the ethno medicinal use of the leaves for the management of insomnia and anxiety.

     The study titled “Sedative and Anxiolytic Effects of the Extracts of the Leaves of Stachytarpheta Cayennensis in Mice” was published in African Journal Traditional Complementary Alternative Medicine.

     The researchers write: “The leaves are used ethno medicinally in Nigeria and other parts of the world for insomnia and anxiety among other uses. The investigations sought scientific evidence for the ethno medicinal use of the leaves for the management of insomnia and anxiety as well as the neural mechanisms for the activities. 

    “The sedative and anxiolytic effects of the extracts of the leaves of Stachytarpheta cayennensis were examined in this study. The methanolic extract (5–50 mg/kg, i.p.) as well as the ethylacetate (10–50 mg/kg, i.p.), butanol and aqueous fractions (5–50 mg/kg, i.p.) of the extract were examined. Sedation was assessed as reduced novelty-induced rearing (NIR), reduced spontaneous locomotor activity (SLA) and increased pentobarbitone-induced sleeping time (PIST) in mice. 

    “The anti-anxiety effect (methanol 2.5–5.0; butanol 5.0; aqueous 20.0; ethylacetate 25.0 mg/kg, i.p.) was assessed using an elevated plus maze. LD50 was calculated for the extract and the fractions after the intraperitoneal route of administration using the Locke method. The methanolic extract, the butanol and the aqueous fractions inhibited rearing and spontaneous locomotion but prolonged pentobarbitone induced sleep.    

    “The ethylacetate fraction however increased both rearing and locomotion and decreased pentobarbitone sleeping time. The butanol and aqueous fractions, but not the methanol extract showed indices of open arm avoidance consistent with anti-anxiety effect. Naltrexone (2.5 mg/kg, i.p.) reversed the inhibition of rearing, locomotion and prolongation of pentobarbitone sleep due to the aqueous fraction of the extract. Flumazenil (2mg/kg, i.p.) abolished the effects of both methanolic extract and the butanol fraction on rearing, locomotion, pentobarbitone sleep and anxiety model. 

    “The methanolic extract, the butanol and aqueous fractions possess sedative activity while the ethylacetate fraction possesses stimulant property. The anxiolytic effect was found in both the aqueous fraction and the butanol fraction but not in the main methanol extract and also not in the ethylacetate fraction. Flumazenil, blocked the effect of the leaves of Stachytarpheta cayennensis on rearing, locomotion and elevated plus maze suggesting that GABA receptors are involved in the observed sedative and anxiolytic activities. 

     “This study also found opioid receptors involved in the sedative activity of the leaves of Stachytarpheta cayennensis. The rationale for the ethnomedicinal use of the leaves for the management of insomnia and anxiety were confirmed scientifically in this study.”

     According to the Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa by H. M. Burkill, Stachytarpheta cayennensis is found in several regions of the world including the Bahamas, Brazil, Ghana, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Cameroon, Malaysia, Mexico, West Indies and Nigeria as weeds. 

    The extracts of the leaves are used ethnomedicinally in many tropical countries including Nigeria as sedative, anxiolytic and antipsychotic remedies. Also in Ghana, a West African nation like Nigeria, the extracts of the leaves of Stachytarpheta cayennensis (S.cayennensis) are employed in their traditional medicine for the management of mental illness. It is an annual and sometimes perennial herb growing to the height of 60 to 150cm.

     Until now, neurological conditions such that can be precipitated by insomnia are normally treated with sedatives. Insomnia and other sleep disorders are worldwide medical problems and attempts to find new remedies, especially with herbs are steps in the right direction. 

     Currently there are no suitable drugs for the treatment of chronic insomnia. People rapidly develop tolerance to existing sleeping medications, leading them to take higher doses and to mix medications. This can result in bad side effects and even worse insomnia when they try to reduce the medications. 

     Indeed, the extracts of the leaves of S. cayennensis were then investigated pharmacologically to look at the possibility of confirming the use of the leaves to resolve insomnia. It is also possible that some of the shortcomings of synthetic drugs for insomnia, particularly drowsiness, dependence and addiction as we have with the benzodiazepines may be absent in the extracts of the leaves of S. cayennensis. Medicinal herbs may also be cheap and accessible, especially in resource limited regions of Africa, hence the need to screen potential herbal remedies for safety and potency.

     It has been shown that anxiety disorders afflict approximately 10 per cent of the world population in one or many of its forms such as panic attacks, social phobias or generalized anxiety disorders. Anxiety is characterized by excessive or irrational fear associated with a real or anticipated stimulus. Anxiety is often accompanied by phobic avoidance and a constellation of somatic symptoms. Phobic avoidance may be seen as an adaptive mechanism that enables the individual to minimize exposure to situations that may be anxiety provoking. But such avoidance can become maladaptive when it leads to significant behavioral changes, including social isolation and agoraphobia. 

     Common somatic manifestations of anxiety include cardiovascular (palpitations, non-cardiac chest pain), respiratory (dyspnea), neurological (dizziness, headache, tremulousness), laryngeal (lump in the throat), and gastrointestinal (diarrhea, abdominal cramps) symptoms. The somatic complaints are often the impetus for the individual to seek treatment, usually with a primary care provider, and can result in extensive medical workups that fail to find an underlying medical etiology for the symptom.    

    Previous work on the leaves of S. cayennensis reported its anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, anti-nociceptive, anti-ulcerogenic, antimalarial and antidiarrhoea effects. Previous study reported the sleep modulation and toxicity of the leaves of this plant with a projection that the mechanism of its sedative activity and other effects would be investigated. 

     The present study reported the sedative and anxiolytic effects as well as the neural mechanism of the alterations of the extracts of the leaves of S. cayennensis as a sedative and an anxiolytic agent. The receptors involved in the observed sedation and anxiolytic effects of the plant are also elucidated in this study. 

      The researchers concluded: “In conclusion, this study showed that the leaves extract of S. cayennensis possess sedative effect and this effect resides in the main methanolic extract, the aqueous as well as the butanol fractions of the extract. The neural mechanisms by which the observed sedation was induced by the leaves extracts are suggested to be both gabaergic and opioid. The anxiolytic effect of the extracts of the leaves was expressed by the aqueous and butanol fractions of the main methanol extract while the methanol extract itself did not exhibit any anxiolytic property from this study. The low LD50 via the intraperitoneal route is instructive of potential for toxicity but in a previous study, the oral route which is the conventional route for the administration of the leaves extract ethnomedically was found to be safe.”

     The Huffington Post had published 13 natural ways to fall asleep without sleeping pills.

Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or CBT-I is considered the gold standard for insomnia treatment, the method with the most scientific evidence to support it, says Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., M.P.H, a sleep researcher and neurology instructor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

    Typically, CBT-I involves meeting regularly with a therapist for various sleep assessments, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and you may be asked to keep a sleep journal and change a number of your sleep habits.

Get Out Of Bed

     One of the biggest problems people say they have falling asleep at night is that they just can’t stop their minds from racing, says Grandner. Without proper time to wind down before hopping into bed, our brains are likely to say, “Well, here’s what’s on my plate!” as soon as you’re under the covers, essentially training us to associate bedtime with fretting, he says. “It’s a little counter-intuitive,” he adds, “but get out of bed if you’re not asleep after 20, 30, 40 minutes.” Technically a CBT-I theory, this practice of “stimulus control” can be used by anyone, anywhere, and helps you re-associate the bed with sleep, he says. Do something else for 30 or 60 minutes out of bed until you’re really feeling tired, he says. 

Just make sure it’s not something too stimulating or involving bright light.

Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation

     First developed in 1915, this technique will never get old. “Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation exercise in which you systematically tense and then relax all the muscle groups of your body,” clinical director of UPenn Medicine’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program Phil Gehrman, Ph.D., told Everyday Health. “It helps promote overall physical relaxation, which has a number of benefits on its own.” It was shown to reduce fatigue and improve sleep quality in a study of women undergoing breast cancer treatment. Give it a try with this simple progressive muscle relaxation practice.


     If you’d rather quiet your mind but leave your muscles out of it, a simple mindfulness meditation may also do the trick. A 2009 study found that meditation could help fight insomnia. The researchers found that meditators slept longer and better thanks to the deep relaxation powers of the practice. Try this 10-step meditation for better sleep tonight. If that’s not quite your style, even just some deep breathing can help clear your mind and better prepare you for sleep.

Take A Warm Bath

     You can skip the candles and rose petals, but a soothing soak really can help you get to sleep. That’s because relaxing in the tub will raise your body temperature slightly, and when you get out, the rapid cool down will mimic the natural temperature drop the brain triggers as it prepares for sleep. A small 1985 study found that people who take a warm bath before bed not only fall asleep more quickly, but also report better quality of sleep.

Break A Sweat

     Regular exercisers may not realize it, but they’re onto something. The physically active reported getting better sleep than people who don’t work out, according to the 2013 National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep In America poll. It seems that the particular timing or form of exercise isn’t as important as whether or not you simply move, says Grandner: “The evidence is out there that people who are even getting mild exercise are sleeping better than those who aren’t.” If that doesn’t convince you to exercise even just a little, we don’t know what will.

Do Yoga

    As a form of mind-quieting physical activity, yoga may just be the better of two worlds. And while there aren’t exactly scientific studies showing a regular yoga practice can help you get more or better sleep, we do know that yoga does wonders for relaxation. “If your sleep problem is that you’re unable to relax, [yoga] could be a way to intervene,” says Grandner.

    Not sure where to begin? Try these 10 calming poses perfect for bedtime.

Sniff Aromatherapy

     Whether it’s an essential oil, a bath scrub, a sachet in an eye mask or even a pillow or mattress, lavender is the scent you’re searching for if you want more and better sleep. In a small 2005 study, a whiff of lavender before bed resulted in more deep sleep. And a 2008 study found that smelling lavender helped a small group of women with insomnia fall asleep more easily, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Set Your Bedroom Up For Success

     For people with insomnia, “the bedroom just becomes unpleasant, a war zone,” says Baron. That’s why she recommends making a few simple changes to make it as comfortable a setting as possible. Maybe it’s as simple as buying a new set of comfy sheets, she says. Other bedrooms may be too light. Even the faintest bit — whether it’s from behind the drapes or beaming from the alarm clock — can keep you up. The bedroom should also be quiet; consider investing in a white noise machine or app if it’s not. Set the thermostat for a just right temp somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees. And please, please, please leave the cell phones in another room — or at least put them on Do Not Disturb.

Consider A Supplement

     The good news is that most sleep supplements probably won’t do harm. The bad news is that they’re not very well researched, says Baron, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Agency do not regulate them for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

    “We hear the most about melatonin,” she says, “but it’s most useful for disorders that affect the body’s clock.” A small dose can help shift your circadian rhythm if you’re recovering from jet lag, for instance, she says.

    It’s also frequently used wrong, says Grandner. Melatonin doesn’t induce sleepiness the way most of us imagine, he says. Instead of right before bed, it’s most helpful if it’s taken a few hours before bedtime, as the body is just beginning to “ramp up its natural production” of the sleep hormone, he says.

     Another supplement option is valerian, made from the root of the herb. Only small studies have been conducted with inconclusive results, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health. Baron says some people may find it to have a relaxation effect, meaning it could help with more mild sleep problems but probably won’t cut it for insomnia, says Grandner.

    L-theanine is an amino acid found naturally in green tea that seems to promote deep sleep. Since drinking enough tea to really reap the benefits would have you running to the bathroom all night long, some people opt for a pure L-theanine supplement.

Cut Caffeine Earlier

     Caffeine has a half-life of five hours, says Baron, meaning five hours after your last cup of coffee, half of its caffeine content is still in your system. Depending on how much you drink- and how strong it is- you could find yourself counting sheep when you’d rather be sawing logs. To avoid problems at bedtime, Baron recommends cutting yourself off after lunch.

Switch To Herbal Tea

    Caffeine’s a no-no, but caffeine-free herbal tea may actually help you sleep. Many “Sleepy Time” teas are made from the same compounds used in supplements that promote sleep, like valerian or chamomile. Plus, there’s something inherently calming about a warm sip before bed, even if it’s just the ritual of taking the time to do so.

Quit Smoking

     Like caffeine, nicotine is also a stimulant, and may lead to sleep disturbances during the night. In 2008, Johns Hopkins researchers found that smokers were four times as likely to say they woke up feeling tired in the mornings than nonsmokers.

Foods, Herbs, and Supplements

   Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle, an internal pacemaker that controls the timing and our drive for sleep. It causes drowsiness, lowers body temperature, and puts the body into sleep mode.

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