As people age, often the typical sleep patterns of youth changes to more interrupted sleep, which can become annoying and affect general health in many areas as well. Prescription medicines for this problem exists but frequently have unwanted side effects. Even without the dangers, none of these are intended for long-term use. Some turn to “natural” supplements—herbal or other remedies that naturopathic physicians may suggest.
It is easy to find information on this type of aid on the Web. Searching on the term “sleep” on Amazon.com will bring up a list of books on the subject. One good starting point for herbal remedies is webmd.com . Here you will find information, both pro and con on Valerian, Chamomile and Melatonin as well as forms of Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
For more in-depth information on Valerian, see:
1) “Valerian for Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” PMC (PubMed Central®) a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature from the NLM. The final edited form was published in American Journal of MedicineDecember 2006 Volume 119, Issue 12, Pages 1005–1012.
Finally, despite the poor reputation homeopathic remedies have among most allopathic physicians, naturopaths tend to have differing opinions on the subject. Personally, I have found several homeopathic forms that do exactly what they claim to do. While they may not work for everyone and perhaps a placebo effect comes into play, I am of the opinion that if it works, don’t knock it! Readers might want to read the 26 positive and three critical reviews of Coffea cruda 30C on amazon.com for comments on this sleep aid. Another article is “Effects of homeopathic medicines on mood of adults with histories of coffee-related insomnia,” in Forschende Komplementarmedizin, 2010 Oct;17(5):250-7 Epub 2010 Oct 1. (Ed. Note: The Europeans have a long history of being more sympathetic to complementary medicine and homeopathic remedies.)
In a future blog I plan to discuss the topic of a possible explanation for why homeopathic treatments might work in the more recent physics theories involving superstring theory and membrane quantum mechanics.
[Note: to the Reader: While you might wonder at the connection between this post and the subject of the blog, an upcoming post will deal with natural ways to improve sleep.]
The recent brouhaha over President Trump’s sleeping habits—four to five hours a night—prompted me to look into the issue of sleep as it relates both to health and mental functioning. Periodically, media headlines trumpet the alarming news that Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. A few years back, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in a major study claimed “more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.” The report went on to warn that, “Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.” More recently (January 2017) a sleep statistics study based on 20,000 participants found a “whopping 79% of Americans are getting less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night and over 30% have a SleepScore of 55 or less.” Actually, these reported percentages vary widely depending on the study, of which there are quite a few to be found. Still, the figure of seven to eight or nine hours sleep a night for healthy living seems to be fairly constant.
One aspect of the media focus on this question seems to involve how sleep deprivation might cause problems for persons in positions of power, both in the area of mental functioning and possibly by extension even in intelligence. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how these shortfalls in sleep might have affected some famous historical figures.
Einstein, acknowledged by all as a great genius, is said to have slept punctually for 10 hours each night, which is considerably more than the average sleep duration – added to this were daytime naps. Wouldn’t this excess of sleep have muddled his thinking? Nikola Tesla, responsible for us using AC electricity today as well as nearly 300 other patents, slept for no more than a couple of hours each night. He did take some regular naps during the day, though. In sum, he seems to have gotten about five hours of sleep in every 24. With all the presumed attendant health risks, how could he focus on so many brilliant inventions? And he lived to be 87. Thomas Edison, who was 84 when he died, followed the same schedule. Tesla and Edison were well into the sleep deprivation area that seems to be so worrisome today. https://www.thesleepjudge.com/the-strange-sleeping-habits-of-five-great-geniuses/
This pattern of short periods of regular sleep with relatively brief naps of between 20 minutes to two hours is called the Da Vinci Sleep Schedule, although Da Vinci himself is thought to have used the Uberman cycle , with naps every four hours lasting about 20 minutes. According to a Big Brand Beds (U.K. manufacturer) study, a few other well-known individuals apparently were known for getting far less than the allegedly optimal seven hours per night. These were people like Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Sigmund Freud, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama (does anyone recall media concern about this?) and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi. With allowances made for differing opinions about the intelligence level of all these people, still most people would consider all of them to be relatively bright. So, what is it about sleep that really affects intelligence and the ability to reason?
New information is emerging about the mechanics of sleep as it affects the brain. Until fairly recently, the period of sleep known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which comes about every 90 to 120 minutes during sleep and is associated with dreaming, was believed to be very important for health, learning and memory. Now it seems this is not the full story. Instead, Non-REM sleep, which accounts for about 60% of the time we are asleep, includes thousands of seconds-long but intense bursts of activity, called “spindle events” from their shape on an EEG. The more you sleep, the more of these events you have.
From research, it seems these spindle events are correlated with intelligence. It is still a bit of an open question whether people who have more of these events are more intelligent or whether more intelligent people tend to have more events—sort of the chicken or the egg puzzle. Also, for a yet-unknown reason, research shows women have more spindle events during overnight sleep while men have more during daytime naps.
Sleep spindles are thalamocortical oscillations in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, that play an important role in sleep-related neuroplasticity and offline information processing. Several studies with full-night sleep recordings have reported a positive association between sleep spindles and fluid intelligence scores, however more recently it has been shown that only few sleep spindle measures correlate with intelligence in females, and none in males.
Journal of Neuroscience . 2014 Dec 3;34(49):16358-68. “Sleep spindles and intelligence: evidence for a sexual dimorphism.”
Sleep spindles are thalamocortical oscillations in nonrapid eye movement sleep, which play an important role in sleep-related neuroplasticity and offline information processing. Sleep spindle features are stable within and vary between individuals, with, for example, females having a higher number of spindles and higher spindle density than males. Sleep spindles have been associated with learning potential and intelligence; however, the details of this relationship have not been fully clarified yet.
Scientific Reports. 2017 Dec 22;7(1):18070. “The sleep EEG spectrum is a sexually dimorphic marker of general intelligence.”
The shape of the EEG spectrum in sleep relies on genetic and anatomical factors and forms an individual “EEG fingerprint”. Spectral components of EEG were shown to be connected to mental ability both in sleep and wakefulness. EEG sleep spindle correlates of intelligence, however, exhibit a sexual dimorphism, with a more pronounced association to intelligence in females than males. In a sample of 151 healthy individuals, we investigated how intelligence is related to spectral components of full-night sleep EEG, while controlling for the effects of age. A positive linear association between intelligence and REM anterior beta power was found in females but not males. Transient, spindle-like “REM beta tufts” are described in the EEG of healthy subjects, which may reflect the functioning of a recently described cingular-prefrontal emotion and motor regulation network. REM sleep frontal high delta power was a negative correlate of intelligence. NREM alpha and sigma spectral power correlations with intelligence did not unequivocally remain significant after multiple comparisons correction, but exhibited a similar sexual dimorphism. These results suggest that the neural oscillatory correlates of intelligence in sleep are sexually dimorphic, and they are not restricted to either sleep spindles or NREM sleep.
Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 2011 Apr;35(5):1154-65. “The function of the sleep spindle: a physiological index of intelligence and a mechanism for sleep-dependent memory consolidation.”
Until recently, the electrophysiological mechanisms involved in strengthening new memories into a more permanent form during sleep have been largely unknown. The sleep spindle is an event in the electroencephalogram (EEG) characterizing Stage 2 sleep. Sleep spindles may reflect, at the electrophysiological level, an ideal mechanism for inducing long-term synaptic changes in the neocortex. Recent evidence suggests the spindle is highly correlated with tests of intellectual ability (e.g.; IQ tests) and may serve as a physiological index of intelligence.
The efficacy of probiotics in maintaining healthy bacterial levels in the gut has been well known and studied for years. Research in recent years shows the importance of such “good” bacteria in maintaining a well-functioning immune system. Since immune support tends to decline with age, it is reasonable to hope that keeping a healthy gut might prevent or at least lessen the effects in diseases such as upper respiratory infections. At least for the past 10+ years, some studies have shown how certain probiotics can improve resistance to, or at least shorten the effect of upper respiratory infections.
For example, there was a study in 2008 in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, Sep;42 Suppl 3 Pt 2: S224-33 titled “A new chance of preventing winter diseases by the administration of symbiotic formulations.” Results noted that influenza type illnesses were “significantly reduced” with administration of some specific probiotics. These were “strains of Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium lactis. This study covered three different winter periods.
A later study in Immunity & Ageing 2015 Dec 3;12:24, “Probiotic strain Bacillus subtilis CU1 stimulates immune system of elderly during common infectious disease period: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study,” found similar results with the addition of another strain of probiotics, Bacillus subtilis CU1.
Several reports from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015 Feb 3;(2) confirm these results, with a caveat, after reviewing multiple studies. The most recent review,” Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections,” said “Probiotics may improve a person’s health by regulating their immune function. Some trials have shown that probiotic strains can prevent respiratory infections . . . Probiotics were better than placebo in reducing the number of participants experiencing episodes of acute URTI, the mean duration of an episode of acute URTI, antibiotic use and cold-related school absence. This indicates that probiotics may be more beneficial than placebo for preventing acute URTIs.” However, the reported also noted, “the quality of the evidence was low or very low.”
Life Extension Magazine in its February 2018 issue has a lengthy article on this subject.
Even if you are not interested in alternative remedies for diseases and other health conditions, it is likely you have heard of the supposed benefits of curcumin. Perhaps the most striking recent report is one in the Daily Mail. A woman in the U.K. named Dieneke Ferguson battled blood cancer(myeloid leukemia) through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and four stem cell transplants. At 67, she stopped medical treatments and began started taking eight grams of curcumin a day. Five years later tests show her stable and any remaining cancerous cells were negligible.
Doctors wrote in the British Medical Journal Case Reports February 19, 2017 that, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the ﬁrst report in which curcumin has demonstrated an objective response in progressive disease in the absence of conventional treatment.” The report went on to report, “The patient continues to take oral curcumin eight grams daily without further antimyeloma treatment. Over the last 60 months, her myeloma has remained stable with minimal ﬂuctuation in paraprotein level, her blood counts lie within the normal range and she has maintained good quality of life throughout this period.”
Curcumin comes from turmeric (Curcuma longa) and accounts for the yellow color of turmeric. The spice contains only a small amount of actual curcumin. Unless taken in a concentrated supplement, it would be difficult to consume enough original turmeric for any therapeutic benefit,
Over the past few years increasing numbers of research reports as well as excited headlines in the popular press have been published examining the multiple health benefits of curcumin. These were accompanied by a dramatic increase in the production of the product. By 2013 turmeric/curcumin supplements grew by 26% and was then the top selling item in natural supplements. Worldwide consumption is expected to more than double by 2020.
Curcumin supposedly is an effective painkiller, reduces the risk of cancer, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, depression and even heart disease, depression, even Alzheimer’s. See for example:
Pharmacological Research, Dec. 28, 2017. pii: S1043-6618(17)30783-1[Epub ahead of print], “Botanicals and phytochemicals active on cognitive decline: The clinical evidence.”
Nutrients. Dec. 28, 2017 Dec 28;10(1). pii: E28. “Neuroprotective Effects and Mechanisms of Curcumin-Cu(II) and -Zn(II) Complexes Systems and Their Pharmacological Implications.”
On the other hand, as often happens in the field of medical literature and research, more recent publications have begun to throw a bit of cold water on this near-miracle supplement.
In “The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin,” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, January 11, 2017, 60(5), pp. 1620-1637, an impressive collection of authors with diverse backgrounds in such fields as Clinical Pathology, Structural Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products Chemistry and Pharmacognosy offer a 17-page “Miniperspective” with 164 footnotes.
Among other criticisms, the authors point out, “Additionally, many researchers have described the potential “dark side of curcumin” (5-9). The drawbacks noted include its poor pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic (PK/PD) properties, low efficacy in several disease models, and toxic effects under certain testing conditions.” They go on to note, “These cautionary reports appear to have been swept away in the torrent of papers, reviews, patents, and Web sites touting the use of curcumin (and its primary commercial source, turmeric) as an anticancer agent,(10, 11) a therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease,(12) a treatment for hangovers,(13, 14) erectile dysfunction,(15, 16) baldness,(17, 18) hirsutism,(19) a fertility-boosting,(20) and contraceptive(21) extract, collectively establishing the properties expected of a panacea.(22, 23).” [Numbers in parentheses refer to article footnotes.]
Given the differing information on curcumin, what is the layperson to believe? It could be worth keeping in mind that, despite the popular KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle, very little in Life is simple, particularly when it involves the human body. Second, keep in mind the idea of synergy, that individual elements, taken together, can produce effects greater than any of the parts. It seems perfectly possible that the reported effects may result from a combination of factors, that, when studied independently might not lead to a positive conclusion. Even the last review article above, in discussing the need for more research, used the term holistic. In other words, look at this in the broader perspective of the whole body.