If the three primary pillars of mind body health are diet, exercise and sleep, we cannot afford to neglect any one of them. For many, getting a good night’s rest can be the most difficult of the three to manage. In today’s non-stop, ever more complex world, stress can often be a deterrent to a good night’s sleep. And of course pain, discomfort and even overeating can disrupt your slumber.
Fortunately, there are a number of adaptogens that can help remove these sleep barriers and relax your mind and body for an even deeper, more rejuvenating sleep. Researchers have determined that adaptogens help you to manage stress by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. They do this by affecting the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (or HPA axis for short).
Here is how the HPA axis works according to the School of Modern Herbal Medicine:
“First, the brain perceives danger (stress) it signals the hypothalamus to release the hormone CRH. CRH travels to the pituitary where it stimulates the release of ACTH. ACTH travels through the blood stream to the adrenal cortex where it stimulates the release of cortisol and other glucocorticode hormones. At the same time, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the adrenal medulla to release epinephrine (adrenaline). When cortisol levels rise in the blood, they inhibit the release of CRH and ACTH from the hypothalamus and pituitary, thus shutting down the stress response.
Unfortunately, this cascade can be retriggered by another stressful event. So, when we have a series of stressful situations during the day, the feelings of stress tend to ramp up, increasing feelings of anxiousness and distress.
So, let’s say you have a bad day, one where you face one challenge after the other. You wake up late and skip breakfast. You get caught in a traffic jam that makes late for work. Your boss chews you out. You get an unexpected bill. You find out that a member of your family has a serious illness. As each one of these situations occur, the stress response is turned on and the levels of stress hormones in your body get higher and higher until you feel so wound up you can’t think straight and start making a lot of mistakes. Worse yet, you’re so stressed you can’t get a good night’s sleep.”
This is where adaptogens can help. They inhibit the production of CRH and ACTH from the hypothalamus and pituitary, reducing the overall output of stress hormones. This means that the stress hormones don’t ramp up with each stressful event, allowing you to meet life’s challenges with less tension and anxiety, more energy and greater mental clarity.
So, how can we counteract the effects of stress? Well, here are 8, count them 8, adaptogens that help you better deal with stress and get the rest you need to maintain a healthy mind and body.
1) Eleuthero Root
Eleuthero was the first herb identified as an adaptogen and has been researched extensively. In Russia, they conducted hundreds of clinical trials measuring its adaptogenic effects in a wide variety of stressful situations. They documented improvement in mental alertness, energy, work output and the performance of both physical and mental tasks. For example, studies showed that athletes had better stamina, increased oxygen uptake, improved performance and faster recovery when taking eleuthero. Factory workers and truck drivers got sick less often. There were also reports of reduced fatigue and better sleep. Anxiety also decreased in workers and performance improved. Patients receiving drugs for gastric cancer had less damage to the immune system and needed lower doses of those drugs.
It is also useful for athletes, people who work night shifts, and aiding mental alertness and memory when a person is under a lot of stress. It can also be helpful for adrenal fatigue and jet lag. Eleuthero root is well tolerated by men, women, teenagers, the elderly and everyone in between.
Cordyceps entered Western medicine after the Chinese government demonstrated its efficacy at the Olympic games in Beijing, where the Chinese athletes set new world records in nearly every competition they entered. The spectacular performance of the athletes stimulated a burst of pharmacological and clinical research into its health benefits. Research suggests that cordyceps has a balancing effect on the immune system. It can stimulate the immune system for people who suffer from frequent infections (especially respiratory infections) or who have cancer. It also calms down hyperimmune reactions in people with allergic asthma, hayfever and autoimmune diseases of the kidney.
An important herb from Ayurvedic medicine, ashwaganda is a nervine and adrenal tonic that helps anxiety, depression, exhaustion and poor muscle tone. It reduces the effects of stress, while promoting energy and vitality. It is used as a supporting herb for recovery from debilitating diseases, and is effective for treating sexual dysfunction caused by stress. In addition to helping the adrenal glands, Ashwaganda is also helpful for the thyroid. It boosts the conversion of T4 (the thyroid storage hormone) to T3 (the active thyroid hormone). Generally speaking Ashwaganda is a good adaptogen for women.
This adaptogen is a general tonic that helps to balance the entire body. It improves circulation, strengthens the heart, aids digestion and increases bile secretion. In traditional Chinese Medicine it is thought to harmonize the body and help one retain energy. It helps to keep the nervous system balanced, increasing both excitatory and inhibitory action. It also has hepatoprotective effects like milk thistle. Schizandra is a good adaptogen for people who tend to run on the dry side, since it helps the body retain moisture.
Astragalus is an adaptogenic and tonic herb used in Chinese medicine to boost energy and strengthen immunity. Research suggests that the polysaccharides and saponins in astragalus may be helpful to those with heart disease, improving heart function and providing relief from symptoms. It appears to restore immune and adrenal function in people whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or chronic illness and has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Astragalus may also have benefits in treating allergic asthma.
6) Holy Basil
Used in Ayurvedic medicine, Holy Basil is a general tonic that protects the heart from stress, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and stabilizes blood sugar levels. It reduces feelings of stress and down regulates excessive immune responses in conditions like hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and asthma. At the same time it enhances cerebral circulation, memory, concentration and mental acuity.
Another adaptogen from Russia, rhodiola aids mental clarity, memory, energy, production and stress reduction. It is astringent and drying, so it is not a good adaptogen for people whose constitutions run on the dry side.
8) Reishi (Ganoderma)
This medicinal mushroom has been shown to have immune enhancing effects as well as acting as a general health tonic. Research suggests that reishi relaxes muscles, improves sleep, eases chronic pain, aids heart function, reduces cholesterol and has antioxidant effects.
So, if you are not getting the sleep you need or if you are just looking to relieve stress so you can relax and go to sleep, don’t turn to dangerous and addictive sleep medications, take it from AdaptoGenie, try these safe but effective adaptogens and get the rest you need.