CyberHealth 17

CyberHealth 17

October 1998

CyberHealth Index

  1. Hormones and Sleep
  2. Falling asleep and staying asleep: advice from our readers
  3. Pharmacist Pete Hueseman discusses sleep-aid products
  4. Mozart at Midnight: slowing down your brain waves with music
  5. Foods for better sleep: what to eat and not to eat in the evening
  6. Nutrition hot tip: broccoli sprout extract
  7. Care of the Soul: Connecting with others

Hormones and Sleep

We spend one third of our lives sleeping, and yet our understanding of this vital process is partial at best. About the only thing that we know for sure is that as we age, both the quantity and the quality of sleep deteriorate. Women notice this immediately with the onset of menopause. They hardly need to be told that sex hormones exert a profound influence on brain activity, including sleep.

As for the myth that the elderly need less sleep, I think any of us who have experienced terminal insomnia (early-morning insomnia, characteristic of people over forty) sometimes feel we’d do almost anything for just one more hour of sleep.

As we grow older, falling asleep isn’t much of a problem — it’s staying asleep, or sleep maintenance. Yet practically all books and articles on sleep problems focus on onset insomnia, or falling asleep.

With all the herbs and other well-known remedies, falling asleep is relatively easy! Don’t tell us for the thousandth time about valerian and warm baths. Tell us how to sleep as long as we used to, as deeply as we used to. Alas, here the answers are very hard to find.

Still, let us try to find some clues by examining what is known about the neurochemistry of sleep, incomplete though that knowledge is.

First, sleep is a cyclical activity, consisting of rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM) and slow-wave sleep (SWS). The first half of the night is dominated by slow-wave sleep; in the second half, we see an increase of REM sleep, during which most dreaming occurs. REM sleep is usually possible only if preceded by SWS.

REM sleep accounts for about 25% of sleep; REM periods gradually lengthen until the last one, just before the awakening, lasts about 50 minutes.

While SWS is considered restorative, a time when body tissues are repaired, the function of REM sleep remains something of a mystery. The best guess is that it is necessary for the consolidation of memory and new learning.

SEROTONIN plays a key role in slow-wave sleep. REM sleep appears to be controlled by norepinephrine and acetylcholine. Serotonin depletion results in reduction of both slow-wave and REM sleep; but norepinephrine depletion (or suppression with drugs) results only in the reduction of REM sleep.

Aging, decreased estrogen levels, and prolonged stress lower serotonin.

Nicotine addiction and alcoholism also ultimately result in lower serotonin.

Since serotonin is so crucial to getting enough sleep, let me repeat the most important statement here: AGING, DECREASED ESTROGEN, AND PROLONGED STRESS LEAD TO LOW SEROTONIN.

Sleep-wake regulation of body temperature is noradrenergic. In simple translation, norepinephrine makes you warmer (menopausal women certainly know what excess of nocturnal norepinephrine can do to body heat!). Estradiol apparently helps dampen the nocturnal pulses of norepinephrine.

ADENOSINE is a byproduct of the ATP energy cycle. It accumulates during the day, inhibits neural communication, and ultimately triggers sleep. The longer you stay awake, the deeper is your slow-wave sleep. Adenosine also seems to play a part in lowering body temperature, which is crucial for triggering sleep. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors.

The inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) plays a role in sleep by inactivating noradrenergic neurons, thus facilitating slow-wave sleep.

GROWTH-HORMONE-RELEASING HORMONE (GHRH) has sleep-promoting effects and increases both slow-wave sleep and growth hormone release. It also inhibits cortisol. This effect is weaker in older people (over sixty) and in depressed individuals; it is also weaker in the second half of the night.

SOMATOSTATIN counteracts the release of growth hormone. The levels of somatostatin are higher in the elderly, and it is thought that somatostatin excess is one reason for the decreased ability to sleep due to aging. GHRH is probably rendered ineffective in the elderly by their excess somatostatin.

GROWTH HORMONE itself, however, acting through a feedback system, decreases SWS.

CORTICOTROPIN-RELEASING FACTOR (CRF) exerts effects opposite those of GHRH: it decreases slow-wave sleep and increases cortisol. As you can guess, the aging-related unfavorable increase in the ratio of CRF to GHRH accounts for poor sleep in the elderly. Depression is also associated with excess production of CRF.

CORTISOL, acting through feedback inhibition, stimulates slow-wave sleep and growth hormone release.

NEUROPEPTIDE Y acts similarly to GABA, and inhibits the hypothalamo-pituitary axis activity.

GALANIN is another sleep-promoting peptide. It seems to cause an increase in REM.

MELATONIN is a “darkness hormone.” It indicates that it is dark. In nocturnal species, this signal reads: “Hey, it is getting dark. Time to wake up and get active.” In diurnal species, it is a signal to get ready for sleep. Contrary to what you read in articles in alternative health magazines, designed to sell melatonin, there is as yet no scientific consensus about the impact of melatonin on sleep. Women who for contraceptive purposes take as much as 75mg of melatonin at bedtime, for instance, do not show increased grogginess. Nor is there any clear evidence for the superiority of time-release melatonin.

Nevertheless, many experts believe that in diurnal species melatonin may antagonize the alerting process, thus facilitating sleep. Proper double-blind studies on humans still have not been performed.

If you think that this is all, let me gently point out that I haven’t even mentioned the role of cytokines and prostaglandins (aging-related increase in the inflammatory interleukin 6 may be another cause of poor sleep in older individuals), or the vasoactive intestinal polypeptide. Those are still being explored, and even I sometimes reach the conclusion that enough is enough. No doubt a decade from now the picture will be even more complex, with even more players and multiple interactions.

In summary: the first half of the night is dominated by growth-hormone-releasing hormone. This is the time of maximum slow-wave sleep, maximum growth hormone secretion, and low cortisol. The second half of the night is dominated by corticotropin releasing factor. However, when cortisol rises in response to CRF, through feedback suppression it leads to more slow-wave sleep.

It could also be said that the first half of the night is more orchestrated by serotonin, while during the second half norepinephrine increasingly asserts itself.

How do estrogens, progesterone, and other more familiar hormones fit into this picture?

ESTROGENS facilitate sleep chiefly by increasing the levels of serotonin. They also suppress those crazy heat-producing bursts of norepinephrine that can wake menopausal women several times in one night. There is some controversy over whether estrogens enhance or inhibit corticotropin-releasing factor; in vivo, the effect seems chiefly inhibitory, though the mechanism may be indirect.

At the same time, estrogens increase the levels of acetylcholine, which may be one reason for more REM sleep in estrogen-sufficient women.

In daytime, estrogens inhibit the conversion of serotonin into melatonin; after dark, estrogens increase the production of melatonin.

PROGESTERONE is sleep-friendly thanks to its powerfully sedative metabolite, ALLOPREGNANOLONE (not to be confused with pregnenolone). Allopregnanolone binds to GABA receptors, and has a similar effect as GABA itself. However, if you use progesterone every day, the sleep-inducing effects wears off with time. Still, it is an accepted axiom that progesterone increases slow-wave sleep.

PREGNENOLONE has been shown to increase slow-wave sleep.

DHEA seems to increase REM sleep.

GROWTH HORMONE needs to be administered just right, at the right time, in a physiological fashion, if it is not to disrupt sleep. The real boon would be finding a way to boost the GROWTH-HORMONE-RELEASING HORMONE.

Correct levels of THYROID help insure good sleep.

Hypothyroidism may result in constant sleepiness; on the other hand, sometimes we see depression and insomnia due to low production of neurotransmitters.

Hyperthyroidism may also lead to insomnia. One way that thyroid hormones are involved in sleep is seen in the drop of T3 levels close to bedtime, resulting in slower metabolism and lower body heat.

All this may sound complicated, but don’t despair. There is really no reason to worry about Neuropeptide Y. Here is my oversimplified but hopefully reasonably accurate capsule summary.

Two substances seem to play a key role: ADENOSINE and SEROTONIN.

We build up adenosine by getting tired out. That’s one reason why exercise is so helpful (another reason is that, like a hot bath, vigorous exercise raises body temperature; in self-defense, the body will then “chill out.”)

To preserve adequate serotonin levels, use optimal rather than minimal hormone replacement (for most women, 1mg of Estrace is not enough; for many women, .625mg of Premarin, once called the “half-dose,” also falls short), and get enough relaxation and pleasure in your life (the older you grow, the more it is a health necessity to make time for relaxation and pleasure).

Slow rhythmic exercise such as strolling and Qi Gong are excellent serotonin raisers, as is listening to slow music. Minimizing stress is crucial. This may be true even for “good stress,” such as an interesting movie. For some people (I am one of those unfortunates), even wonderful activities such as reading an absorbing book or nighttime chatting on the phone with a lively friend, are already too stimulating (call it adrenergic; with some practice, you learn to discriminate between adrenergic books and friends vs serotonergic ones; likewise, with age you may come to prefer to a serotonergic type of husband/boyfriend/spouse equivalent over the adrenergic type you probably favored in your youth).

Thus, first you need to be active enough; then you need to be as relaxed as possible. And while you are active, try not to get overaroused. Above all, don’t get anxious. “Don’t sweat the small stuff — and it’s all small stuff.” The older you get, the more crucial it is to avoid toxic thoughts and emotions because aging makes it more difficult to detox from the harmful chemicals those emotions produce.

Forgive everyone “seventy times seven” —your well-being is more important than holding grudges, no matter how justified. My great-grandmother made it a point never to go to bed “on an angry mind.” Before her evening prayers, she forgave everyone, and asked their forgiveness, if not literally, then mentally.

If it’s at all possible, schedule your “arousing” activities for early in the day, and your relaxing activities for later in the day. To most people this comes naturally, but some of us are such night owls that we have to consciously train ourselves to quit working sooner and start unwinding.

I have been struggling with the sleep question for at least two years now, and have in the end come up with this solution:

  1. work hard, but not too many hours
  2. exercise EVERY DAY. At least some of the workout should be vigorous.
  3. take plenty of time to relax and engage in pleasurable calming activities, such as listening to slow music and light reading.

Sleep was very simple when we were younger, and we didn’t have to work at it. But with aging, stress hormones stay in the body longer, sleep deteriorates, and we have to pay more attention to “sleep hygiene” if we are to preserve the kind of vitality that is the gift of a good night’s sleep.

Main sources:

Steiger A et al. Effects of hormones on sleep. Horm Res 1998; 49:125-30;

Vgontzas A et al. Chronic insomnia and activity of the stress system. Psychosom Res 1998; 45: 21-31;

Vliet E, Screaming to be Heard.

Research assistant for this feature: Pamela Macon


Louie writes:

I just recently read that cold was the trigger for a good night’s sleep. This article was also in HEALTH 10/98. Sleep scientists said that it’s the sudden drop in body temp – like cold air hitting you after a hot bath that triggers sleepiness (for how long they didn’t say). Also, they noted that people who went to bed at the first yawn slept better, too. That one I believe because I can remember that the boys always had a hard time falling and staying asleep as toddlers if they got over-tired or missed a nap. The scientists may have something with the cold effect, too, because I was always much colder before I started with coconut oil and EFA’s – I would struggle to stay awake just driving in daytime.

One more thought on sleep and body temp—being overwarm at night will cause most people to wake up, showing again that cool is more conducive to sleep. Also, hibernating animals . . . During and after menopause, many women I know become the hotties. In early years their husbands were turning down the heat and now they are and the hubbies are cold! Is that why these guys can fall asleep so fast while their wives toss and turn?

Did you ever try a slant board? I’ve used one for about 25 years – ever since I read about it in Gaylord Hauser’s book. The feet are elevated 14″ higher than the head. For me 15 mins in that position with a blanket on top equals a 2-hour nap (without the drowsiness upon waking). Plus you get up with pink cheeks and sparkling eyes!

I just remembered another sleep trick thought up by Dr. J. Brooks Hoffman, MD: A natural way to induce sleep is to force yourself to yawn (and keep yawning) . . . by the 6th yawn or so, you should notice a feeling of drowsiness. (Of course, by then every one around you will, too!)

I read that lavender is used to induce sleep, too. I remember in “the old days” people used to scent their bed sheets with lavender. I thought it was just to smell nice, but apparently there was more to it.

Well, chill out and have a good nite’s sleep!!

Ivy comments:

Louie makes some excellent points. The drop in body temperature does seem to be a crucial part of the metabolic slow-down and the onset of sleep. Hence the sleep-inducing effect of a hot bath — if it is timed just right. First you induce hyperthermia by staying in the hot water; then, when you get out, the body compensates by using its temperature-lowering mechanism, and you are likely to feel sleepy.

I’d also like to comment on one other point: INVERSION. Putting your feet up higher than your head is known to facilitate relaxation. One fairly extreme version of it is putting your legs up on a wall while your head and trunk rest on the floor. First, sit on the floor in parallel to the wall and pretty close to it. Then scoot around so that your legs are resting against the wall while you lie flat on the floor.

A less extreme and more comfortable version of it is lying on the floor at the foot of the bed, your calves and legs resting on the bed.

Louie mentions the health benefits of using a slant board. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but, encouraged both by her long-time experience and the success of my own “legs-up-the-wall” practice, I intend to get one in early November. The place that makes slant boards, BodySlant, can be reached by calling 800-443-3917. The slant board is padded, it folds up into an ottoman (or call it a large hassock), and also folds out flat, so it can be used as a spare bed. The cheaper but perfectly adequate model sells for $168.

There is a book on the benefits of using a slant board: “Slanting for Health,” by Charlene Lesley. Among those benefits is the quick induction of the alpha state, increased blood flow to the brain, and better nourishment of the thyroid and the pituitary, hopefully resulting in improved hormonal health.

(Please note: using a slant board is not for people with reflux, glaucoma, or high blood pressure.)

Let me point out here that simply lying down and staying in the horizontal position lowers norepinephrine, while staying upright raises it. Some people can fall asleep in the sitting position, but it is not deep sleep.


Louie also suggests forced yawning. This is excellent advice. While yawning probably works best because of its conditioned association with sleep, one can also think of yawning as a special form of deep breathing.

Prolonging the exhalation phase of breath induces relaxation. To enhance this effect, you can also chant “aaaaah” while exhaling. The sound of your own low-pitch chanting will add to the relaxation. New Age sages tell us that “aaaaah” is the sound of creation, so if you visualize something pleasant that you want to invite into your life, that’s all the better. The more blissful you feel, the more the technique works — at least for relaxation.

Gail comments

Funny, reading about forced yawning got me yawning! (It was late evening).


I started yawning even though it wasn’t late evening yet. There is something marvelous about the word YAWN. Say it out loud, slowly, and see if you can stop yourself from actually yawning afterwards. It’s an example of classic Pavlovian conditioning.

Yawning is apparently the body’s way of forcing you to take a deep breath to improve blood circulation and thus tissue oxygenation. (I can’t stop yawning when I’m writing about yawning.)


Cindy writes:

I’ve been an insomniac for 10 years, and finally have it under control. I take 5HTP (50mg) and melatonin (1-3mg) when I go to bed. The melatonin GETS me to sleep, and the 5HTP KEEPS me asleep. I’ve used these for over a year, and they helped immensely.

In the last 6 months I’ve added topical melatonin cream at night, and now I really sleep well. Apparently the melatonin on my skin keeps entering my bloodstream all night. I’m too cheap to buy the expensive melatonin creams, so I just add 12mg of melatonin to a large jar of hand cream that lasts 1-2 months. I mix it up and let it sit for a week before I use it to make sure the melatonin dissolves. I put it on my face, neck, and arms every night when I go to bed.

There are some documented dangers of using 5HTP too much. Have you read what Life Extension says about it? You particularly have to be careful not to take B vitamins close to the time you take 5HTP or all the 5HTP will go to you heart and lungs instead of your brain.

I’ve also read that laughing increases serotonin – the harder the laugh, the more serotonin. A good joke break can help break those grim blues.

Cindy explains further:

I’ve been experimenting for over two years now, and my best results come with 3mg of a quick release melatonin lozenge so I can GET to sleep, with 50 mg. of any old 5HTP, and my melatonin cream. Yes, I just open 4 3mg capsules and pour the powder into the cream. At first it’s gritty to the touch, but over time it dissolves in. I’ve had to use it when it was gritty because I forgot to mix it in advance, and it still worked – just didn’t feel as good. I also put 4,000 mg of vitamin C in it to increase absorbency. I just grind it up and put it in too.

I have bad luck with slow-release or enteric-coated mel and 5HTP for some reason. They release so slowly my body doesn’t even register or something. So far the skin release seems to work better for me, with a big surge at first from the pills to really get me to a sound sleep.

Cindy also writes:

Do you realize that vitamins can give you terrible insomnia? It just occurred to me that maybe you haven’t thought of that? I’ve taken vitamins all my life – my mother was into them. When I was in my 30’s, taking a lot of B vitamins, I developed really bad nightly insomnia. I finally tried not taking the B vitamins for a few days, and bingo, I slept!

Over the years since then, I have scientifically added and dropped vitamins over and over one at a time, to see which ones keep me awake. The ones that are especially bad for me are B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and most other minerals. Calcium and potassium are the only minerals I can take regularly. Isn’t that awful? Those are some of the most important vitamins, right? I just figure that my body is pretty well saturated with them and that I don’t need them. I try to take tiny doses of them about once a month. Zinc I take daily in minute doses, and it usually works that way. The others I listed above are ones I can almost never take because their effect is so strong every time I take the tiniest dose.

You may already know all this, so I won’t keep on. Just in case you hadn’t thought of it, I thought I’d tell you. I’ve never seen insomnia listed as a side effect of taking too much of a vitamin, but I know it certainly is for me!

P.S. I tried aloe vera gel for my latest vitamin cream mix. It worked great. I put the vitamins in the gel for about 24 hours until they dissolved completely, then mixed in the lotion. I even make a morning mix with all kinds of vitamins just for the heck of it. I’m like a kid playing with toys!!!

Ivy comments:

Always warned by my mother that B vitamins may cause insomnia, I generally do not take the B’s past lunch time. But B6, folic acid, and especially magnesium are typically on the recommended list of sleep-promoting supplements. Again, it shows we are all different, and may metabolize nutrients not quite the way that experts think. Niacinamide and inositol are probably big exceptions to the excitatory effects that B vitamins have for some people — or at least they should be, considering these are always presented as calming, pro-sleep nutrients.

Zinc from supplements is poorly absorbed, particularly in the presence of fiber. The exception is OptiZinc, which is zinc methionine. So perhaps not just the dose but also the form of the supplement matters for sensitive individuals.

Also, magnesium aspartate is a waker-upper because of the aspartate, an excitatory compound, while magnesium citrate is soothing.

But let us talk about Cindy’s most exciting discovery: THE DREAM CREAM. I proceeded to make it in two versions: in aloe vera base, and in coconut butter base (I use the organic, non-hydrogenated coconut oil from Omega Nutrition). I’ve added a bit of lavender oil to the CC-based cream. I’ve come to love both versions so much that I use them both every night, first putting on some of the aloe-vera and melatonin concoction, then the CC + melatonin. I must say that if apply the CC cream generously, not forgetting my arms and feet, it does seem to have an effect. But even if it didn’t affect sleep, I’d still love it for its benefits for the skin! It must be a wonderful antioxidant.


Pete is a senior pharmacist at College Pharmacy, 800-888-9358 x116. What follows is a little email interview I’ve conducted with Pete regarding various sleep products.

CH: I see you have a section in your product list called SLEEP AIDS. It lists tryptophan, 5-hydroxytryptophan, serotonin, time-release melatonin, and progesterone. The surprise here is the availability of serotonin. My concern, however, is that if we take serotonin orally, very little of it will end up in the brain. On the other hand, if blood levels of serotonin increase, there may be vasoconstriction, leading to a risk of cardiovascular problems and headaches in those who are prone to migraines. Would you like to comment on that?

We do on rare occasions sell a capsule Rx of Serotonin. It has to be stored in the refrigerator and shipped on ice. We do not know how much ends up in the brain this way, probably very little. If it did increase the brain level to a great degree, then yes it could cause vasoconstriction, possible cardiovascular problems and headache. This would not be good, possibly even dangerous. Therefore, we sell it mostly in injectable form for testing purposes only.CH: Have you had patient feedback on the effectiveness of HTP compared with ordinary tryptophan?

Our feedback from patients and doctors is that 5-HTP is more effective the L-Tryptophan, because L-Tryptophan metabolizes into 5-HTP, but if the enzyme is deficient this will not happen. You need a system working properly (enzymes available) to use and convert L-Tryptophan.CH: How many hours of release can one count on when one uses your slow-release melatonin?

Our slow release melatonin lasts six to eight hours.CH: Some men are probably not aware that they too can use progesterone as a sleep aid. Could you comment on that?

Many of our elderly men patients use it as a sleep aid, especially if they have osteo (bone) problems.CH: Which of the sleep-aid products has produced the most “customer satisfaction”?

Most satisfaction is with 5-HTP.CH: What is the best way to use 5-HTP for sleep enhancement? Just at bedtime, or 3 times a day? In what dosage range? Should be it taken on an empty stomach?

Usually just at bedtime, but for depression and or relaxation, three times a day is OK. Taking it with food is not necessary, but OK, especially if HTP causes any stomach problems.CH: Do you think it makes sense to spend extra money on enteric-coated HTP?

Enteric coated is not necessary, just causes prices to be higher.CH: Some readers may have concerns about the safety of HTP, especially since it was announced that traces of the same contaminant that caused problems leading to the withdrawal of OTC tryptophan have also been found in HTP— though no one has gotten sick. Would you comment on that?

We have had our source checked out by a lab and it is safe!! No contamination. I think it is the big drug companies trying to scare the public so they stay on the Rx anti-depressants and sleep aids.Ivy comments:

As Pete points out, HTP is preferable to tryptophan because you don’t need to depend on the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, a deficiency of which is one reason some people don’t produce enough serotonin. As we age, we become enzyme-deficient; hence supplements that let us skip the intermediate step can be a godsend.

Please note Pete’s last comment. Considering that some people actually died of the contaminant in tryptophan, it makes sense to buy from a source you can trust.

Re: progesterone. My experience with progesterone has been that at first it was simply a wonder drug for sound sleep. If I woke up too early, I’d just pop 100mg of sublingual progesterone and doze off again in no time. But with frequent use, the effect wore off. And indeed I read that chronic dosing with progesterone makes the benzodiazepine receptors shut down (these are the “Valium receptors”).


Would you believe that here and there in alternative health publications I still come across the same old erroneous suggestion that in order to improve sleep you are supposed to eat turkey or tuna at bedtime and drink warm milk? These are rich sources of tryptophan, the experts say. One time, abandoning common sense in favor of listening to the experts, I fixed myself tuna on rye and warm milk. Yummy! I ate the whole thing. Then I lay sleepless for hours, trying to digest the whole thing.

A little milk all by itself might work, since milk does provide calcium, known for its calming effects. Just don’t make the milk too warm, since anything that raises your body temperature is going to be counterproductive. But milk, like fish and meat, contains the aminoacid TYROSINE, which is converted to dopamine and norepinephrine. As for tuna or turkey — forget it, unless you are the kind of excellent sleeper who can drink coffee at bedtime and then be out in one minute.

Why? Tyrosine causes a release of dopamine, which is then converted into norepinephrine, an arousing, energizing neurohormone. Wonderful at breakfast and lunchtime, but not so desirable in late evening hours. If you are on a carb-restricted weight-loss diet, be sure you eat an early dinner. And consider eating most of your daily carbohydrate allotment at dinner. Men especially have found that high-protein diet makes it harder for them to fall asleep — maybe because testosterone also increases the release of dopamine, causing an additive effect.

What then are the sleep-friendly foods? The Wurtmans insist that we eat a plain bagel or a bowl of dry cereal (no milk) to cause an insulin surge in order to carry tryptophan into the brain. Apart from considerations of taste, I have had too much misery caused by insulin surges back in my hypoglycemic days to even touch such dead, processed, unopposed high-glycemic carbohydrates. I remember when I had to keep food in the bedroom because I’d wake up before dawn so ravenously hungry I literally had to eat myself back to sleep again.

As for increasing brain serotonin close to bedtime, 5-HTP fortunately does not depend on insulin, since its entry into the brain is not affected by the presence of other aminoacids.

I’ve discovered that plain yogurt is the best snack for me, and sure enough, a lot of alternative sources agree that YOGURT is sleep-friendly. Maybe it’s the calcium, or the baby-food smoothness of it. Personally I favor natural yogurt, not the low-fat or non-fat kind. Natural yogurt is a balanced food. When you lower the fat content, protein asserts itself more, with that dopamine-raising tyrosine. Fat tends to be soothing.

You can use a little HONEY to sweeten the yogurt. Honey too is often mentioned as conducive to sleep. Dark honey contains more antioxidants than light-colored honey.

BANANAS, FIGS, AND DATES are also often recommended. Bananas seem the best choice, being “live” and rich in enzymes, besides providing a bit of melatonin. If you can get fresh figs, that’s also a wonderful fruit, known for its anti-cancer properties. Dates, well . . . they can act like prunes.

No article on sleep fails to mention a few HERBAL TEAS that have worked for centuries — our grandmothers’ sleeping pills, you might say.

My greatest favorite is HOPS. Yes, hops as in beer. I used to wonder why beer had such a sleep-inducing effect on me, stronger than wine. Then I discovered hops. After a stressful day, when I worry about being able to sleep, I like to brew a simple hops tea. The most active ingredient is thought to be lupulin, along with another compound that is similar to methylpentynol, a known sedative. In addition, hops is anti-spasmodic, meaning it relaxes the muscles and the digestive tract. And as a bonus, hops contains phytoestrogens. Note: the tea is very bitter, so you might want to sweeten it with dark honey, or nibble on a date while you sip.

I also favor CHAMOMILE. Not quite the knock-out power of hops, but a gentle easing and soothing usually follows a good cup of chamomile. You can also take a relaxing CHAMOMILE BATH. Simply brew a larger quantity of chamomile and add it to bath water.

PASSION FLOWER is generally used in combination with other herbs. It’s a mild MAO inhibitor, so it increases the levels of serotonin.

ST. JOHN’S WORT increases serotonin through a different mechanism (possibly, like Prozac, by inhibiting reuptake). While it is not usually included with sleep-inducing herbs, I have found that if I take it regularly 3 times a day, it definitely helps me sleep longer and more deeply.

VALERIAN is an old favorite. My grandmother always exuded a faint aroma of valerian drops. It is a sedative and an anti-spasmodic. I have found that it helps me only if I take it for a short time, then stop to lose the quickly developing habituation.

LEMON BALM TEA is supposed to work as well as valerian and taste 100 times better. German studies indicate that the most effective sleep potion is a combo of valerian and lemon balm.

While GINKGO is not usually considered a sleep aid, its supposed ability to restore a more youthful density of serotonin receptors would make it valuable as an indirect sleep improver, if it is taken over time. Any herb that enhances serotonin action could be considered sleep-friendly.

Among nutritional supplements, MAGNESIUM CITRATE heads my list. Just don’t exceed 600mg, because of a possible laxative effect.

INOSITOL, especially in powder form, tastes sweet and is supposed to have a calming effect, especially together with NIACINAMIDE.

GABA powder was promoted as a substitute for tryptophan, but it has never worked for me. Judging from the current lack of interest in GABA products, I guess it has not worked for others either. GABA is supposed to be the one neurotransmitter that increases with aging, but this is certainly not reflected in better sleep.

When it comes to 5-HTP, I prefer taking it in daytime rather than at bedtime — during the day it seems to mellow me out a bit. If I take a dose at bedtime, it seems to disturb my sleep. I am still only experimenting with HTP.

FOLIC ACID and TRIMETHYLGLYCINE (TMG) are important methyl donors, and the synthesis of melatonin depends on proper methylation (chemically, serotonin is N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine — note the “metho” for methyl). I’m not suggesting that you take folic acid and TMG at bedtime, but rather during the day, normalizing neurotransmitter production.

It is interesting that DEPRESSED PATIENTS SHOW LOW LEVELS OF FOLIC ACID, and also typically suffer from sleep disorders. It is also interesting that in some ways folic acid acts like an estrogen mimic, conferring many of the same benefits.

As for MELATONIN, for a long time I lived with a gnawing suspicion that it was actually disturbing my sleep. There was this uncanny coincidence between the onset of my sleep difficulties and the time I first started taking melatonin. Switching to time-release melatonin did not help (though it seemed to for the first week or so).

Then I read that “night owls,” people who have their best alertness and energy peak during the evening, and whose body temperature drops later at night than average, do indeed suffer from disturbed sleep if they take melatonin too early in the evening. Now I wait until I distinctly feel the pre-sleep drop in my body temperature, even if sometimes it means staying up past midnight, and only then take my melatonin. This honoring of my own temperature rhythms seems to work for me a lot better (but I have also finally disciplined myself to stop working sooner; that was much more difficult for me than losing weight).

I also want to remind you of the sad fact that neither the optimal dosage nor the optimal time of ingestion have been established for melatonin. The only consensus is that it is a “darkness hormone” — not necessarily a sleep hormone. With melatonin, we are truly the guinea-pig generation, and have to learn by trial and error.


The emerging science of psycho-acoustics deals with how sounds of various types and frequencies affect brain activity. Particularly fascinating is the phenomenon of BRAIN-WAVE ENTRAINMENT. When you listen to a particular rhythm, your brain waves tend to speed up or slow down in accordance with that rhythm.

It has been suggested that modern life is too rushed and stressful and our brain waves are mostly too fast. We do not spend enough time in the creative and healing lower frequencies such as alpha, theta, and delta (delta waves indicate deep sleep or a trance state).

Fortunately there is a delightful way to remedy this “hurry up disease.” Whether we call it the Mozart effect or music therapy, it has been well established that listening to slow music has a soothing effect —particularly slow classical music, which is harmonious. Some soothing New Age music can also be very effective.

For more than a month now I have been listening to energizing music in the morning and soothing slow movements in the late evening, and feel that especially the evening music has added a blissful dimension to my life and improved my sleep.

I don’t mean any expensive, esoteric brain wave entrainment discs. I mean “Mozart at Midnight,” “Mozart for Meditation” (my greatest favorite), “Mozart for Massage” (exquisite chamber music). I am still to explore “Beethoven at Bedtime,” “Brahms at Bedtime,” and the like. I’m sure these too will contain exquisite selections, but there is general agreement that Mozart’s music is the most healing, singing as it does with the voices of angels.

New Age bookstores such as San Diego’s Buddha’s Light also carry New Age music design for specific healing effects, including sound sleep. Music therapy is really very ancient, if you consider shamanic chants and Taoist yin and yang music.

Many New Age stores have slow, quiet music designed to be very soothing. “Reiki Light” (music designed for massage and body work seems to work for sleep also) and “The Path of Silence” are worth exploring.

If neither classical nor New Age music is to your liking, there is always that old standby, “The Slow Ocean.” The sound of the surf is, to say the least, oceanic.

“The Mozart Effect” is not the only book on music therapy. CyberHealth is privileged to have an internationally music therapist among its subscribers, Stephanie Merritt, Ph.D. She is the author of a delightful book about the effects of music on the psyche, “Mind, Music, and Imagery: Unlocking the Treasures of Your Mind,” from Aslan Publishing, 1996. Highly recommended for those interested in the power of music to heal and transform.

If you want to obtain more technical information on brain-wave entrainment through sound frequencies, contact <[email protected]> You can also experience what this kind of sound does to you if you get the tape by Kelly Howell called Sound Healing. Quality stereo headphones are a must. The tape aims at sounding oceanic, but its sensual rhythm tends to make me horny rather than sleepy. Maybe my brain is wired funny, or maybe that’s a normal side effect.

When you consider other sleep aids, there is some worry about long-term use. Carbohydrates can make you fat; valerian, if overused, can supposedly damage certain brain receptors. But we have musical valerian, so to speak, that is pure bliss, and gets ever more blissful the more you surrender to it.


Broccoli sprouts caused a stir of excitement when scientists announced that these lively green goodies contain many times more of the carcinogen-detoxing compounds (isothiocyanates and sulforophanes) than mature broccoli. But the enthusiasm didn’t last long as people discovered that the taste of the sprouts wasn’t too great (somewhat like horseradish), the price was high, and the sprouts were not always fresh. So I was quite excited when Ariel sent us this:

Hot Tip Time…

Trader Joe’s has Broccoli Sprout Extract and it just felt like a good deal to me! One would have to eat quite a lot of sprouts to get the same base as two capsules!


Cancer is rapidly gaining on heart disease, and some predict that in the next century it will emerge as the #1 killer. Yet for all we know, perhaps the humble Broccoli Sprout Extract can provide powerful protection.

Not that you should stop eating broccoli sprouts. They still provide what the capsules can’t provide: ENZYMES. Sprouts are particularly rich in enzymes, and enzymes may turn out to be as important as sulfurophanes and isothiocyanates in providing protection against cancer and other diseases.

Jarrow now has capsules combining Vitamin C and rosemary extract. In animal studies, a fraction of a teaspoon of rosemary leaves added to the diet reduced breast cancer rate by as much as 76%. Of course you can always use fresh or dried rosemary, but since the taste is so sharp and it gets a tad monotonous day after day (I speak from experience), you may welcome the idea of an extract.

Oregano probably has similar anti-cancer benefits, and in addition it is supposed to be an excellent weapon against the common cold and other infections. If you can’t find OIL OF OREGANO at your health food store, call 800-243-5242.

I also strongly recommend home-made cole-slaw (remember: shredded cabbage is a powerhouse of anti-cancer ingredients, and it also provides enzymes and fiber), and all forms of cabbage, including sauerkraut.

* * * CARE OF THE SOUL * * *

One mark of maturity is that we drop the “I am separate, different, and superior” attitude of adolescence and become conscious of being part of a greater whole, the human family.

Ariel has sent this:Right now:


  •  somebody is very proud of you.
  •  somebody misses you.
  •  somebody hopes you aren’t in trouble.
  •  somebody is thankful for the support you have provided.
  •  somebody admires your strength.
  •  somebody is thinking of you and smiling.
  •  somebody thinks the world of you.
  •  somebody wants to be forgiven.
  •  somebody is grateful for your forgiveness.
  •  somebody values your advice.
  •  somebody treasures your spirit.
  •  somebody praises God for your friendship and love.
  •  somebody can’t wait to see you.
  •  somebody loves you for who you are.
  •  somebody loves the way you make them feel.
  •  somebody wants to be your friend.
  •  somebody is alive because of you.
  •  somebody is wishing that you noticed him/her.
  •  somebody trusts you.
  •  somebody needs you to have faith in them.
  •  somebody hears a song that reminds them of you.

Ivy comments:

The longer I live, the more I appreciate the value of being connected with others. Being the lone warrior woman does not really appeal to me — because so much more can be accomplished when you join forces with other warrior women! But it’s also a matter of emotional fulfillment. C.G. Jung said, “The unrelated human being lacks wholeness, for he can achieve wholeness only through the soul, and the soul cannot exist without its other side, which is always found in a “You.”

I was tempted to change “he” to “s/he,” but in the end decided that “he” was more appropriate. Women typically are more related, at least to their women friends. The challenge for a woman in her power years is to expand relatedness, to create an air of nurturing warmth whenever she goes, whoever she interacts with.

Research indicates that the primary factor in health and longevity is neither diet nor exercise, but POSITIVE EMOTIONS. Everyone is familiar with the finding that pet owners are healthier and live longer. The expression of unconditional love between pets and people is considered to be the reason for this. Less known is the finding that women who have children tend to be healthier than those who don’t. This situation is more complex, but still the primary supposition is that the unconditional love between mother and baby has such positive influence on the woman’s biochemistry that in spite of the stress of childbearing and childrearing she still gains the health advantage every time she cuddles the baby.

Women are the chief nurturers, the givers of affection, and rather than complain about it (though I agree that men should work harder at developing those skills), they should glory in their role, in their mission to guide the world away from brutality and toward the path of connection and compassion.

Connecting with others, opening your heart to others, means recognizing the “innocence of others.” With rare exceptions, they are not out to hurt you. They are too preoccupied with their own problems.

That rude clerk has not spent hours plotting how best to annoy you. She probably hates her stressful, low-paying job, is having PMS, her boyfriend has just left her, her car has broken down. If only you look below the surface, you can guess why people act crazy and sometimes fall apart at the slightest annoyance. You recognize that other people’s problems and frustrations are often far worse than your own. Then you begin to feel compassion rather than anger.

In situations like this, do something unexpected. Smile and show empathy. Say something like, “This must be a stressful job.” We suffer not so much because bad things happen, but because we do not get enough empathy. Empathy and compassion are among the greatest gifts that anyone can give.

A smile. A gentle tone of voice. A simple “I hear you, I understand.”

Credits and Disclaimer

This newsletter is presented as a free service for women and health professionals interested in women’s health.

Editorial and research assistants: Gail Peterson, Monica Smith, Pamela Macon The material contained herein is intended as information only, and not as medical advice.

Books by Ivy Greenwell:


  • HORMONES WITHOUT FEAR (available from College Pharmacy, 800-888-9358 x116)
  • HOW TO REVERSE OSTEOARTHRITIS (including extensive information on hormones and arthritis)