Sleep is a core part of daily life and essential to healthy living. Sleep problems are so common that natural sleep aids have been in use for thousands of years to help people get better quality sleep. This glossary describes key terms and concepts related to sleep and sleep aids.
More commonly referred to as a pain reliever, an analgesic is any type of drug used to provide relief from pain by acting on the nerves. Some sleep aids act as analgesics alongside their sleep-promoting effects.
A substance used to reduce anxiety. Because anxiety can play a major role in poor quality of sleep, anxiolytics are incredibly popular as sleep aids.
Aromatherapy is a complementary way to promote well-being through the use of “essential” oils extracted from various plant parts. Inhaling the aroma of said oils is believed to stimulate brain function and promote feelings of calmness. Extracts of the chamomile flower are popularly used for sleep-related aromatherapy.
The electrical pulses released by brain cells to communicate with the rest of the body are known as brainwaves. Scalp sensors are used to observe their frequency. Certain sleep aids, including L-theanine, were found to promote alpha waves, which are indicative of a relaxed and concentrated mental state. Lemon balm, on the other hand, increases beta wave activity, which is associated with a tranquilizing effect.
A 24-hour biological clock that controls when you sleep and wake. Melatonin plays a big role in healthy circadian rhythm function, which is why it is frequently supplemented in cases where the rhythm is disrupted.
Dyssomnia is a general classification of sleep disorders related to trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as excessive sleepiness. Lemon balm mixed with valerian seems to help with dyssomnia.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, which means it is responsible for reducing neuron activity and as a result promoting relaxation. The sleep-enhancing properties of many popular sleep aids, such as skullcap, depend on their ability to increase GABA activity.
Difficulty falling or staying asleep. Insomnia can have many different causes, including psychiatric conditions and irregular sleep habits, and nearly anyone can experience it. Approximately 30% of all adults are estimated to experience insomnia.
A condition in which the body experiences a shift in its circadian rhythm due to rapid long-distance travel through different time zones. It is a type of travel fatigue with associated symptoms as general fatigue, drowsiness, disorientation, dehydration, and headache.
A nootropic is a substance that may improve various aspects of cognitive function, including memory, concentration, mood, and motivation. Some nootropics – such as L-theanine – can also enhance sleep.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep
Sleep stage that begins roughly 90 minutes after falling asleep and occurs several times throughout the sleeping period. Dreaming occurs during REM sleep, as well as important processes such as memory storage, learning, and mood regulation.
A substance that induces sleepiness. Many sleep aids and relaxants, including hops and passionflower, naturally have sedative qualities, and GABA-affecting compounds can act as sedatives when taken at high doses.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found throughout the body that serves a wide range of purposes, including regulating bowel movements, mood, appetite, and sleep. Serotonin seems to be involved in the induction of sleep by enhancing mood and reducing sleep onset latency.
Sleep Onset Latency
The amount of time it takes to transition from full wakefulness to sleep. One of the main advantages of taking sleep aids is decreased sleep onset latency.
Sleep Wake Cycle
The sleep wake cycle refers to the 24-hour sleep pattern of individuals, which typically consists of 16 hours of being awake and 8 hours of sleep. It is a complex system managed by the body’s circadian rhythm, and is influenced by various hormones such as melatonin.
Slow Wave Sleep
Frequently called deep sleep, this is the third stage of sleep in which the brain and body are relaxed, as indicated by the low frequency of neuronal activity. It is considered critical for memory consolidation and possibly functions as a way for the brain to “recover” from its daily activities.
Social anxiety disorder, or SAD, is the fear of being judged by other people in social situations. More than mere shyness, the symptoms of SAD can affect daily life by making people feel powerless and alone. SAD affects roughly 15 million Americans and is associated with an inability to sleep.
Often called lucid dreaming, vivid dreaming is a state in which a person is aware of dreaming during the process. It is one of the reported, albeit rare, side effects of supplementing with valerian.