Insomnia and anxiety relief without side effects
I recently went through the most hellish chronic insomnia that over time caused me daytime and night time misery (anxiety, depression, appetite changes, concentration problems). After endless online research I suspected the problem was an adrenal gland imbalance so I ordered an Adrenal Stress Index test.
Once I received the results (which were nearly all abnormal) I consulted with a Physician’s Assistant (PA) who specializes in neuro-brain balancing. Based on my specific results, the PA told me how to address my adrenal issues (food avoidance, lowering cortisol, etc) which in and of itself lowers cortisol and calms the brain to promote sleep, and about a product called Kavinace, a supplement that calms the brain by working on the GABA receptors.
GABA, as well as other neurotransmitters, play a key role in the sleep cycle.
GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter. It’s main role is to calm the central nervous system by neutralizing the effects of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. Low levels of GABA are detected in patients with bipolar and anxiety disorders.
I can say that Kavinace is gold. It got me to sleep like a baby with NO hangover effect the next morning. And while I sometimes still wake during the night (blood sugar balancing is part of adrenal health for some), I usually fall right back to sleep.
For people who aren’t falling or staying asleep due to “busy brain,” anxiety, etc. Kavinace is a natural, non-addictive solution.
For people who want to wean off of anti-anxiety benzodiazepene drugs (e.g. Klonapin etc), with the guidance of a health professional (weaning off benzodiazepene use must be done very carefully), this may be for them.
Kavinace isn’t the only supplement I take to help me sleep. For anyone suffering through insomnia, the key is to systematically figure out WHAT’S keeping you up, and to address each cause individually and in entirety.
My sleep plan includes proper sleep habits and a nightly mix of:
- Kavinace to support GABA
- Tryptophan to support serotonin. An amino acid that converts to serotonin which converts to melatonin
- Magnesium, a critical factor and co-factor for numerous processes in the body
- Bioidentical progesterone (capsules or transdermal cream) which has a calming effect, balances estrogen
Occasionally if I think my cortisol is too high I take Sleep Tonight by Enzymatic Therapy.
If I’m really sore from working out sometimes I take one of the best, and clinically proven inflammation-reducing supplements on the market, Zyflamend, regular during the day, PM formula at night.
I used to take L-theanine before bed (Suntheanine form only) but when I got chronic insomnia it wasn’t enough to address the underlying issues that disrupted my sleep.
L-theanine is a calming amino acid that can give you a focused-calm feeling during the day and help some people at night. My chewable Natural Factors is convenient for middle-of-the-night waking but Kavinace in my experience is more effective, or rather it’s a “stronger” GABA promoter.
Kavinace use and ingredients
Integrative Psychiatry writes:
“Kavinace by Neuroscience combines two powerful ingredients that have shown to be effective at addressing symptoms of:
- Sleep problems
- The GABA derivative Phenibut
Also known as 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid, Phenibut,easily crosses the blood brain barrier, binds to GABA receptors, and may increase GABA levels. Additionally, phenibut appears to inhibit the excitatory neurotransmitter phenylethylamine (PEA). Lastly, phenibut appears to have anti-convulsant, anti-arrhythmic and anti-aggression effects. No signs of toxicity and few side effects, including drowsiness, have been reported from,clinical studies.
Kavinace also contains taurine, which functions as an inhibitory amino acid.,Taurine is an osmoregulator, neuromodulator, and provides neuroprotective actions against cellular insults such as hypoxia, free radicals, excess ammonia, and excitotoxicity. Taurine is also a GABA agonist and may increase GABA levels by increasing GABA synthesis, preventing,GABA breakdown, and blocking GABA reuptake. Both phenibut and taurine may enhance enzodiazepine binding to GABA receptors. Vitamin B6 is included as an important cofactor for the synthesis of GABA, as well as other enzymatic pathways.”
Kavinace Ultra PM or Kavinace for sleep? It depends.
Integrative Psychiatry writes about Kavinace Ultra PM that it is “uniquely designed to promote sleep by promoting healthy levels of the primary neurotransmitters and hormones involved in sleep.”
All the ingredients in Kavinace Ultra PM are sleep-supporting and may work well for your insomnia, while Kavinace can be taken during the day for anxiety and at night for sleep support.
I could take the PM formula before bed instead and in the future I might, however, my combination seems to work very well for me. Because Kavinace Ultra PM contains 5 HTP (that I took for years and like tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin) and melatonin, (that again, I took for years), the PM formula might be a more cost effective approach for me.
However, I replaced tryptophan with 5 HTP because I’d been taking 5 HTP at night for so long I suspected (and the Physician’s assistant agreed) that it may have started having an inverse, stimulatory affect on me.
*It’s important to take supplement breaks, to rotate ingredients, to try them ONE AT A TIME to see what works. Over time you may habituate or build up higher levels which can cause potentially serious problems.
Writes Integrative Psychiatry: “Kavinace Ultra PM is frequently recommended for patients with elevated levels of glutamate and PEA, decreased levels of serotonin and melatonin, and may be beneficial in some individuals with elevated epinephrine and norepinephrine. Kavinace Ultra PM combines support for the top 3 calming neurotransmitters and hormones (GABA, serotonin, and melatonin) in one product.* 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid: Acts as a GABA agonist to inhibit the activity of wake centers in the brain. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Provides a calming effect by supporting serotonin Melatonin: promotes sleep through multiple mechanisms!
As with all health issues and holistic approaches, the key is deciding what/if supplement to take to get to the ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. For example, some people find melatonin (which stopped working for me) works for them, and other people it does nothing. If you don’t need it, it won’t work. Do your homework, research carefully what you take (and the brand). Natural doesn’t always mean safe. Combining supplements with others and/or medication can have serious health hazards.
Throwing supplements at a health issue (which I did with my insomnia because I was desperate, and when those didn’t work I took medication), gets expensive, can be dangerous and may not get to the cause behind the insomnia or anxiety.
A sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland may improve sleep issues in children with autism, resulting in an improvement of the day to day dynamics for the entire family.
Americans are tired. About 40 million suffer from a chronic sleep disorder, with an additional 20-30 million affected by intermittent sleep-related problems. Yet for children with autism the problem is even more common, resulting in an issue that negatively impacts the day to day dynamics of the whole family. Researchers estimate that between 40% and 80% of children with autism have difficulty sleeping or staying asleep.
Autism Associated with Higher Incidence of Sleep Disorders
Dr. Beth Maslow, Associate Professor of Neurology and Director of Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center reports that sleep disorder diaries completed by parents of children with autism revealed that the most common sleep concern is insomnia which may include:
- Prolonged time to fall asleep/difficulty falling asleep
- Inconsistent sleep routines
- Decreased sleep duration and continuity
- Restlessness or poor sleep quality
- Increased arousals and awakenings
- Early morning wake time
In her 2007 presentation, “Promoting Sleep in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Dr. Maslow outlined other sleep issues children with autism may experience such as sleep disordered breathing, bruxism, arousals from sleep with confusion or wandering, rhythmic movement disorder, leg movements and daytime sleepiness.
While the sleep disorder estimates are high in children with autism, Dr. Maslow reports that only 54% of parents surveyed indicated their child had a sleep problem (Honomichl and Anders 2002). Yet for those families affected by autism who do struggle with nighttime slumber, the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation trickle down, wreaking havoc on the family’s emotional and physical well-being, and exacerbating behavioral issues the child may already exhibit.
“Sleep onset problems at the beginning of the night are very troublesome for children and their families,” says Beth L. Goodlin-Jones of the M.I.N.D Institute at the University of California Davis Health System in Sacramento, “Sometimes children may take one to two hours to fall asleep and often they disrupt the household during this time,” says Goodlin-Jones.
Autism and Sleep Have Neurochemistry Connection
Scientists aren’t quite sure why autistic children tend to have sleep problems, although several theories exist.
Children with autism don’t always pick up on social cues, including those from siblings and parents that signal when it’s time to go to bed; many have increased sensitivity to stimuli such as touch or sound that may keep them awake, and some kids with autism struggle with anxiety issues which disrupt their sleep patterns.
Another theory is the relationship between the biochemistry of sleep and the brain imbalances associated with autism. Dr. Maslow reports that abnormalities in serotonin, GABA and melatonin, (three neurotransmitters involved in the sleep-wake cycle), are associated in people with autism.
Serotonin for example, promotes sleep by dampening cortical arousal systems or by stimulating the accumulation of hypothalamic sleep factors. Research has shown people with autism tend to have problems with serotonin synthesis, metabolism, and transport as well as GABAeric interneuron disruption (Levitt, 2004).
Melatonin Promising for Children with Autism and Insomnia
Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, is a critical factor involved in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and to promote sleep.
People with autism, research shows, often have deficiencies in melatonin secretion and excretion (Nir, 1995; Kulman, 2000;Tordjman,2005). Autism’s association with problems with sleep latency (falling asleep) and decreased sleep time, coincides with a disruption in the circadian rhythm regulated by melatonin.
In a study reported in the Journal of Child Neurology, Dr. Malow and her colleagues reviewed the medical records of 107 children with autism, ages 2-18, who tried varying dosages of melatonin for insomnia. The results indicated that 25% of parents reported their children no longer had sleep concerns, 60% reported the sleep problems improved, 13% still had major concerns and only 1 percent (one child) had worse symptoms. Only three of the 107 children studied reported mild side effects.
Researchers in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reported that melatonin medication decreased the length of time it takes for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), or both to fall asleep at the beginning of the night.
Children in the study experienced significant improvements in total night sleep durations, sleep latency times, and sleep-onset times. Mean sleep duration was longer on melatonin than placebo by 21 minutes, sleep-onset latency was shorter by 28 minutes and sleep-onset time was earlier by 42 minutes.
In addition, in a June 2010 study involving twenty-two children with autism spectrum disorders, melatonin significantly improved sleep latency (by an average of 47 min) and total sleep (by an average of 52 min) compared to placebo. It did not however, decrease the number of night wakenings.
“Rather than treating them [the kids] with some other drug that would promote sleep, [we could] give them what they’re missing,” said Dr. Malow. She noted that melatonin is very appealing to parents because “it’s something natural that’s already in your child’s body.”
“Although prospective trials will be needed to determine if melatonin is an effective sleep aid in this population, this study does support that it may be a reasonable treatment option in these children when administered under the care of a physician and combined with behavioral therapies for sleep,” Malow said in a 2008 press release for Vanderbilt Medical Center.
Autism Speaks, in conjunction with the Dana Foundation, is contributing funds to a study led by Malow and McGrew. The study is tracking how sleep patterns change in children with autism with the introduction of melatonin. Results are being measured by parent reports and a method called actigraphy which monitors sleep by tracking movements at night via a wristwatch-like device.
So far all children completing the trial have had better sleep, improved daytime behavior, and parents reporting they’re coping better with their child’s autism, said Dr. Malow.
While additional and long term research needs to be conducted, results look promising for the use of melatonin to improve sleep latency and duration in children with autism, and in response, to improving the overall day to day family dynamics.
Honomichl RD, Goodlin-Jones BL., Burnham M., Gaylor E.and Anders T F. “Sleep patterns of children with pervasive developmental disorders.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2002.
Guénolé F., Baleyte J. “Effectiveness of melatonin for sleep problems in autism spectrum disorders: Evidence grows but research is still needed.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Sept 24, 2010.
Malow, Beth, M.D. “Melatonin Well-Tolerated Sleep Aid In Children With Autism.” February 8,2008.
Wright B, Sims D, Smart S, Alwazeer A, Alderson-Day B, Allgar V, Whitton C, Tomlinson H, Bennett S, Jardine J, McCaffrey N, Leyland C, Jakeman C, Miles J.”Melatonin Versus Placebo in Children with Autism Spectrum Conditions and Severe Sleep Problems Not Amenable to Behaviour Management Strategies: A Randomised Controlled Crossover Trial.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. June 2010.
Is your teenager staring at some form of a screen late into the evening? If so, she might be disrupting her sleep patterns. While most teens stay up late, a study found that the amount and timing of morning light can alter a child’s natural nighttime sleep cycle.
Lack of exposure to morning light combined with getting A.M. rays at the wrong time of day can lead to nighttime sleep issues in teens, a group already running low on zzz’s. Adequate exposure to blue light waves (morning light) may however, reset natural sleep cycles.
Teen Circadian Rhythm Disrupted By Light Issues
Teenagers today have become near cave dwellers, spending less time in the sunlight than ever before. And for many, this means having a hard time falling asleep at night.
Insufficient morning light and exposure too soon, researchers found, confuses the body’s internal alarm clock. In response, the brain can’t stimulate its 24-hour biological system, a natural rhythm designed to modulate the sleep/wake cycle. And in teens, a group already inclined to stay up too late, when their internal body clock gets out of sync, even when they are ready to call it a night, sleep may not come so easily.
“These morning-light-deprived teenagers are going to bed later, getting less sleep and possibly under-performing on standardized tests. We are starting to call this the teenage night owl syndrome,” says Mariana Figueiro, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Program Director at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center (LRC) and lead researcher on the new study.
In the study researchers found that 8th grade students who wore special glasses to prevent short-wavelength (blue) morning light from reaching their eyes experienced a 30-minute delay in sleep onset by the end of the five-day study.
“If you remove blue light in the morning, it delays the onset of melatonin, the hormone that indicates to the body when it’s nighttime,” explains Dr. Figueiro. “Our study shows melatonin onset was delayed by about six minutes each day the teens were restricted from blue light. Sleep onset typically occurs about two hours after melatonin onset,” says Figueiro.
The colors of the light spectrum affect the body’s rhythm in various ways, particularly regarding sleep patterns. Daylight is mainly comprised of short, visible wavelengths of light that provides a blue visual sensation, such as the blue sky. How bright the light is, how far away, the duration of exposure, and when someone is exposed to specific light waves, impacts sleep patterns.
People are more likely to sleep deeply in the late hours of night when their body temperature drops, and to awaken when their body temperature begins to rise, usually between 6 AM and 8 AM. As people age, their brain’s “pacemaker” loses cells, changing circadian rhythms, especially sleep patterns. As a result, the elderly nap more frequently, have disrupted sleep and awaken earlier.
Sleep, Melatonin and Biological Cycles
Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland, is created from the amino acid tryptophan. The creation and release of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light. Melatonin, researchers believe, is involved in circadian rhythm and the regulation of a wide variety of body functions including sleep.
Circadian rhythms are biological cycles in the body that repeat approximately every 24 hours, and include the sleep/wake cycle, body temperature, hormone levels, heart rate, blood pressure and pain threshold.
The brain’s internal pacemaker determines when nerve cells should fire to set the body’s rhythms. While adults generally produce melatonin around 10pm, teenagers, according to a study cited in an online British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) article, were found to begin producing melatonin around 1am. Whether this is in response to puberty or caused by teens’ nighttime behavior is hard to say.
The delay in melatonin production could be the result of teenagers playing computer games and watching television till the wee hours. Both screen activities stimulate the brain, exposing it to bright light that holds off the release of melatonin. The hormonal flux of puberty, however, may be the culprit, postponing the body’s nightly release of melatonin. Either way, sleep releases a critical hormone involved in growth spurts. Teens need more sleep than both children and adults, yet often they get less.
Regulating Sleep Patterns in Teens
Researchers involved in the light study developed a way to reset the internal “master clock” in teens and the elderly. The process involves blocking blue light at certain times by wearing orange glasses, followed by exposure to blue light and darkness at nighttime.
The key to resetting the body clock is mimicking a distinct repetitive pattern of light and dark. Figueiro explains that when a teenager gets up and waits outside for their bus in the morning light before their body is ready for the blue light cycle, their internal body clock becomes confused. Their alarm clock might say 7am, but their body clock senses it’s earlier. In the study, the teens wore the special blue light blocking glasses when they woke up.
Later in the morning after their minimum core body temperature was reached, the subjects were able to naturally reset their internal clocks by being out in the morning light (e.g. at the bus stop).
Teen Light Study and Implications for School Design
Over the years, Dr. Figueiro has repeatedly heard from parents concerned their teens were sleep deprived. As a result of the findings from the study, she suggests addressing two key questions: How to promote exposure to morning light with teens and how to design schools differently.
Giving students a quick mid-morning break to go outside and putting blue LEDs around computer screens in classrooms are two ways, Dr. Figueiro offers, to address the issue in schools. Exposing teens with delayed nighttime sleep issues to adequate amounts of morning light at the appropriate time during the day may reset their internal body clock and naturally modulate their sleep cycle.
Chang AM, Reid KJ, Gourineni R, Zee PC, ”Sleep timing and circadian phase in delayed sleep phase syndrome,” J Biol Rhythms. 2009 Aug;24(4):313-21.
MedlinePlus [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); Melatonin; [updated 2009 Aug 25], Accessed May 6, 2010. “Late Nights and Laziness,” British Broadcasting Corporation Online, Accessed May 6, 2010.
Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.