Sleeping is fundamental for both body and mind. The body recovers its energies, the tissues are regenerated, and the brain processes the experiences and notions learned. Lack of sleep can negatively affect the quality of our life. Some natural active ingredients have been shown to be very useful in restoring the physiological sleep-wake rhythm.
In Italy, around 9 million people suffer from insomnia. Insomnia is a disorder that manifests itself with the difficulty of falling asleep or sleeping without interruption at night and can arise from multiple factors. For example, incorrect daily habits, such as going to sleep at different times, practicing little physical activity, spending too many hours in front of electronic devices, especially before going to bed, following a bad diet rich in heavy foods and abusing alcohol, coffee and nicotine. In addition, high levels of stress, aging, the arrival of menopause, certain types of drugs (hypoglycemic agents, alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, cortisone and some drugs for Alzheimer) and more or less serious pathologies (night apneas, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hyperthyroidism, headache, depression and heart failure) can cause sleep loss.
Insomnia, if chronic, can negatively affect our daily lives, our mood, our social and working life and even health. Therefore, it is important to understand its origin and fight it at the root. In most cases it can be of great help to correct our lifestyle and our habits, both physical (nutrition and sport) and mental (relaxation and self-control).
Several drugs, such as tranquilizers, sedatives or anxiolytics, are useful against insomnia. Among these, the most prescribed are those based on benzodiazepines, which act by stimulating the GABAergic system. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter (which blocks the creation of a nerve impulse) of the Central Nervous System. However, these drugs should only be used when necessary and under strict medical supervision because of the related high risk of side effects and addiction. The use of melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by our body based on the light-dark alternation that regulates the sleep-wake rhythm, is also indicated only for short times of use (jet lag insomnia) or in the elderly who physiologically secrete less of it. Taking it for long periods of time can cause major side effects (such as headaches and dizziness) and in young people it may cause the body to no longer feel the need to produce it. For these reasons, melatonin-based drugs or supplements are not allowed in some countries.
For a long time, science has been studying the active ingredients contained in some plants that could help in case of insomnia. For example, Valerian is a plant whose root has been consumed for centuries as an adjuvant to sleep thanks to its calming properties due to some acids in it that prevent the degradation of GABA. Passionflower could be useful in case of insomnia associated with anxiety and nervousness, since the active ingredients (flavonoids) present in its leaves and aerial parts could exert a calming effect and relieve muscle spasms by improving sleep. Hops could also be very useful, which according to some studies reduces the time taken to sleep and improves their quality; Lemon Balm, which would act on sleep disturbances caused by irritability and agitation and on gastrointestinal spasms of nervous origin; the Hawthorn, is said to be capable of regulating heart beats in case of palpitations due to anxious situations.