16 Jun 14 Proven Deep Sleep Activators for Women (Science-Backed)
Fewer things are worse than not achieving a restful night’s sleep. According to Sleep Health Foundation of Australia, about 4 in 10 Australians get an inadequate amount of sleep. The recommendation for most adults is no less than eight hours of sleep each night (Australian Government Health Department).
A night spent tossing and turning is a guarantee of feeling tired and cranky the next day. The long-term effects of ongoing sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on us mentally and physically. RMIT University research (1), has shown that continued lack of sufficient sleep affects your brain and your body in for ways:
- Diminished Cognitive Performance: Sleep is required to recharge the brain. Inadequate sleep and feelings of tiredness disrupt genes that control circadian rhythm, reducing one’s ability to perform a task. Lack of sleep also affects memory and the ability to retain information.
- Reduction in Reaction Time: Sleep loss results in a reduction of awareness of what is happening around you and reduces reaction time in response to external stimuli. This can be especially dangerous when operating a motor vehicle.
- Mood Disturbances: A consistent lack of sleep impairs the central and peripheral nervous systems, increasing negative moods, making it difficult for sleep sufferers to distinguish facial expressions (2) accurately.
- Serious Health Problems: Sleep loss contributes to a higher risk for certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. This study (3) found a correlation between prolonged sleep deprivation and more serious adverse health issues.
Women and Sleep Loss
Both men and women experience sleep deprivation. Women are more impacted by sleep loss due to their complex brains and the fact that women are more likely to multitask than men, which makes the brain work harder and require longer recovery periods. Sleep neuroscientist Jim Horne contends (4) that women not only need more sleep than men, but they also are not getting the proper amount. He cited factors such as sleep disturbances during pregnancy, difficulty sleeping during menopause, losing sleep over worrying about problems and being awakened by a sleep partner.
The Sleep Health Foundation (5) notes that up to 7 in 10 women report their sleep quality is negatively impacted by their menstrual cycle. The effects are experienced as early as three to six days prior to menstruation beginning and last the duration of their period. The fluctuation of hormones during premenstrual syndrome (PMS) particularly makes it difficult for women to get a restful night’s sleep. Hot flashes, night sweats and cold sweats also can interrupt a woman’s sleep during menopause.
Regardless of the reason for sleep loss, it is vital that women achieve the recommended eight hours of sleep per night. Katherine Sharkey, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and of psychiatry and human behaviour at Brown University, Providence, R.I., researches sex-based differences in sleep and circadian rhythm. Her research (6) has shown that sleep disturbances for women are most likely to occur after menopause. Even prior to menopause, Dr. Sharkey concluded that women experience hormone-related sleep disturbances throughout their life cycles.
A separate study (7) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences included similar findings to that of Dr. Sharkey, indicating women suffer more profoundly from the effects of inadequate sleep due to fluctuations in oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone throughout a woman’s life. The fluctuations were greatest during times of hormonal change in women – puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. The same study also found women suffered more with diminished cognitive functioning following prolonged periods of sleep disturbance.
Diminished cognitive functioning is not the only negative consequence of a lack of sleep for women. According to the Harvard Medical School (8) women are twice as likely as men to develop major depression due, in part, to being more susceptible to influence from life stressors and environmental factors, including lack of adequate sleep.
Sleep deprivation is a vicious cycle, causing physical and mental well-being to diminish the longer it goes on. But there is good news for women looking to break the sleep-disturbance cycle: the recommended eight hours of sleep per night isn’t an unachievable dream. There are 14 scientifically-proven deep-sleep activators that can help them achieve a restful night’s sleep every night.
1. Passionflower Extract
Passionflower (passiflora incarnata) is an herbal supplement traditionally used in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. It is available in a variety of forms for ease of use, including dry powder, liquid, capsules and tablets.
In its naturally-occurring form, passiflora incarnata may increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical known to help the brain regulate mood. When used correctly, it can counter neurotransmitters in the brain that cause us to become excited, providing a calming effect. It is recommended for use approximately an hour before bedtime due to its sedative nature.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), passionflower is safe for use and may cause drowsiness. The NCCIH advises against using passionflower during pregnancy because it may cause contractions.
A study (9) published in the International Clinical Psychopharmacology Journal on the effects of passionflower on subjects suffering from insomnia disorder demonstrated positive results. Patients in the control group who were administered passionflower showed an increase in total sleep time compared with their counterparts who received a placebo.
2. Lactobacillus Casei
An unhealthy gut can cause more than stomach upset and discomfort. Studies have shown that an unhealthy microbiome – genetic material consisting of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses that live on and in the body – can greatly diminish our capacity for a restful night’s sleep.
Some research suggests that a good night of sleep starts in the gut, backing the recommendation for maintaining a healthy microbiome. Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist, diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, is a firm believer in the gut-brain connection. Dr. Breus cites the fact that the microbiome is regulated by circadian rhythms (10) He notes that emerging research supports that a disruption in a body’s circadian rhythms has a direct correlation to the health of the microbiome. It would make sense, then, that improving the health of the microbiome could result in more restful sleep.
Probiotics such as Lactobacillus Casei can improve the health of the microbiome. Lactobacillus Casei belongs to the genus Lactobacillus, which is commonly found in the human urinary tract and mouth. It is documented as having a wide pH and temperature range, complementing the growth of L. acidophilus, a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme. A 2016 study (11) found that daily consumption of Lactobacillus Casei can help to maintain sleep quality, particularly during periods of increased stress.
Lactobacillus Casei can be found in certain fermented foods, such as yogurt and cheese. It also can be taken in a supplement form.
3. Magnesium Glycinate
Low magnesium levels, especially in women, can be a major contributing factor in sleeplessness. In a Psychology Today (12) piece from Dr. Breus, he indicates that magnesium is one of the few dietary elements with a huge influence over the body and its many functions. As an essential mineral, the human body requires large quantities of magnesium for optimal performance. Dr. Breus specifically cites magnesium’s ability to improve sleep, as insomnia often is a sign of a magnesium deficiency.
The human body is incapable of producing magnesium on its own; the only way to provide our bodies with enough of this mineral is through supplementation and consumption of magnesium-rich foods. Among the foods naturally rich in magnesium are:
- Dark, leafy greens
- Seeds and nuts
- Squash and broccoli
- Unprocessed whole grains
- Dairy products
Another way to absorb ample amounts of the mineral is via the ingestion of the supplement magnesium glycinate. Sold as a dietary supplement, magnesium glycinate consists of the magnesium salt derived from glycine. It contains, on average, 14 percent elementary magnesium by mass.
Found in the arid regions of Madagascar, mainland Africa, Arabia and Australia, baobabs are an indigenous tree that produces an amazing fruit that is associated with many health benefits. According to a 2018 article (13) by registered dietician Rachael Link, baobab fruit is rich in many important vitamins and minerals, including the aforementioned magnesium. It also acts as a prebiotic, feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut to keep the microbiome healthy.
Whether eaten as a fruit, a juice or taken in supplement form, the benefits are the same to the human body. A 2015 study published in the journal Cell (14) determined baobab’s high vitamin C and B complex levels, combined with its potassium-rich properties, could attribute to achieving a better night of sleep.
Mesquite bark and pods, also known as Prosopis juliflora, are derived from the leguminous part of the mesquite tree. The bark and pods are ground up into a powder, which can be used for a number of health benefits, including achieving better sleep. Native to South America, mesquite is considered a superfood because of its numerous nutritional and medicinal properties.
Like baobab, mesquite is high in minerals, including magnesium. It is also considered to be an adaptogen, which means it works to help the body react better to stress through the balancing of cortisol levels. Adaptogens (15) are proven to promote relaxation, which can lead to more restful sleep.
L-Theanine is an amino acid most commonly found in tea leaves. It’s also found in Bay Bolete mushrooms in small amounts. Touted for its ability to promote relaxation without drowsiness (16), L-Theanine is among the many supplements recommended for achieving a better night’s sleep.
Research (17) pointing to the use of L-Theanine as a means of encouraging a better night’s sleep indicates that when used in dosages of 250 mg and 400 mg, this supplement greatly improves sleep in both animal and human test subjects. L-Theanine is proven to reduce resting heart rate, which can help the body to achieve a state of relaxation and therefore restfulness.
7. Zinc Picolinate
Zinc is important for a number of biological processes at both a molecular and physiological level. New evidence (18) suggests it also plays a vital role in sleep regulation.
After iron, zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the human body. While researchers continue to conduct further studies on exactly how zinc regulates sleep, initial studies (19) indicate that zinc plays a role in shortening the amount of time it takes us to fall asleep.
Individuals who choose to include zinc in their improved sleep regimen plans should take zinc picolinate. Of the various forms of zinc available on the market today, some research suggests that the body absorbs zinc picolinate the best.
8. Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides
Mainly derived from cows, hydrolyzed bovine collagen peptides are a form of protein that is associated with numerous health benefits.
Supplementing with hydrolyzed bovine collagen peptides is a great way to deliver glycine to the body. Studies (20) have shown that glycine produces four distinct sleep benefits:
- Fall asleep faster
- Increased sleep efficiency
- Insomnia symptom reduction
- Improved sleep quality
Not only does glycine lower body temperature and increase blood flow to the body’s extremities, but it also increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is required to produce the sleep hormone melatonin.
9. Valerian Root Extract
Valerian root extract is derived from the valerian herb native to Europe and Asia and parts of North America. Its most common use is as a sleep aid, and for good reason. Often referred to as “nature’s Valium,” valerian root promotes relaxation. It contains a number of compounds, including valerenic acid and isovaleric acid, which interact with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to regulate nerve impulses in the brain and nervous system.
Research (21) has shown that low GABA levels are related to anxiety and poor sleep quality. Combined with other supplements, short-term use of valerian root can produce sleep benefits.
10. Reishi Mushroom Extract
The reishi mushroom is a mushroom that grows in hot and humid locations in Asia. Long a staple of Eastern medicine, it is believed to boost the immune system and fight fatigue and depression, among other benefits.
While it can be consumed fresh, most people who use reishi mushrooms take it as a supplement. In sleep studies(22), the use of reishi mushroom extract significantly increased the total sleep time and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep time. A similar study (23) conducted using human subjects produced results indicating that the use of reishi mushroom extract reduced fatigue and helped people experience less anxiety and depression.
11. Himalayan Crystal Salt
Touted as the purest and healthiest sodium in the world, Himalayan crystal salt is mostly derived from the Khewra Salt Mine in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The human body requires sodium for a variety of functions, including the contraction and relaxation of muscles and sending nervous system impulses.
Evidence (24) indicates it is highly effective in normalising mineral balance in the human body while stabilizing pH levels. Adequate sodium levels are extremely important in regulating the sympathetic nervous system to prevent the body from launching into “fight or flight” mode.
Mixing a bit of Himalayan crystal salt with a teaspoonful of honey each night before bed can aid in more restful sleep. Use a ratio of five parts honey to one-part salt for the best results.
12. Black Pepper Extract
When we think of herbs and spices that are beneficial to our health, one that often is overlooked is black pepper. The active ingredient in pepper, known as piperine, is believed to fight free radicals and improve digestion. Among its many perceived benefits (25), piperine helps improve dopamine and serotonin levels, which are responsible for elevating mood. It also can reduce inflammation in the body.
Piperine has the added benefit of enhancing the bioavailability of other substances. Simply speaking, it increases the body’s ability to properly absorb and use other nutrients and drugs. When paired with turmeric (26) piperine increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2,000 percent in humans. Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric.
13. Kakadu Plum
This fruit from the Eucalypt open woodlands of Northern Australia may be small, but it packs a significant health punch. Kakadu plum is extremely rich in vitamin C, a potent antioxidant known to fight free radicals. It also contains healthy amounts of copper, iron, magnesium and zinc, all of which are considered essential micronutrients for the human body.
Its incredible antioxidant powers have earned it the reputation for being a “dream maker.” Studies (27) have suggested the role of antioxidants in helping people to fall asleep faster and staying asleep.
14. Turmeric Extract 95% Curcuminoids
Turmeric is a powerful inflammation reducer. According to some research (28), women are more likely to suffer from chronic inflammation issues than men. Because sleep and inflammation are regulated by the same biorhythms (29), lack of sleep can cause an increase in inflammation in the body. Likewise, increased inflammation can result in a restless night’s sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.
Turmeric extract containing 95 percent curcuminoids is proven to reduce inflammation in the body. Taking black pepper extract with turmeric (30) improves the body’s ability to absorb curcumin, so you may wish to pair these two powerful sleep activators for the best results.
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- Andrea N. Goldstein-Piekarski, Stephanie M. Greer, Jared M. Saletin and Matthew P. Walker Journal of Neuroscience 15 July 2015, 35 (28) 10135-10145; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5254-14.2015
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- Sleep Health Foundation, “Menstrual Cycle and Sleep Fact Sheet,” sleephealthfoundation.org, 09 December 2011.
- Joffe H, Massler A, Sharkey KM. Evaluation and management of sleep disturbance during the menopause transition. Semin Reprod Med. 2010;28(5):404–421. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1262900
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- The Sleep Doctor, “The Latest on Sleep and Gut Health,” Dr. Michael Breus, May 29, 2018.
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- Rachael Link, “Top 6 Benefits of Baobab Fruit and Powder,” Healthline.com
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