Spending a night tossing and turning every now and then is one thing. But prolonged bouts of sleeplessness can not only make you feel groggy and out of it in the morning—they can actually harm your mental well-being.
That’s because your brain is active while you’re in dreamland: Solidifying memories, clearing toxins, and sharpening cognition and focus. Getting enough sleep can reduce your risk of depression, allow you to process new information swiftly and even enhance your creativity.
While insomnia seems to be a modern problem, people have had trouble getting to sleep for centuries. That explains why healers have traditionally turned to a number of herbs, including one called lemon balm.
Unrelated to the common yellow fruit, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a southern European native long valued by cooks for its delicate, lemony flavor. But the Greeks also turned to this plant for its healing properties, using it to ease gout and toothaches, calm an agitated heart and regulate the female reproductive system.
Today, lemon balm is often used to encourage sleep and to reduce anxiety and stress. It has also shown antiviral properties, especially against the type of herpes virus that causes cold sores, and to help relieve headaches.
Stopping Stress, Promoting Slumber
Today, we know that lemon balm contains compounds called hydroxycinnamic acids. One, rosmarinic acid, helps fight free radicals and ease inflammation; in two separate animal studies published this year, rosmarinic acid was able to reduce inflammatory reactions similar to those seen in hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.
Natural sleep aids often use a balm extract called Cyracos. Grown in the Provence region of France using environmentally sustainable practices, Cyracos is a unique type of M. officinalis specifically cultivated for its acids content and medicinal properties.
According to research published in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Cyracos was able to lower insomnia among people suffering from stress by 42% without causing drowsiness. It was also able to reduce signs of anxiety—a significant contributing factor in insomnia—by 18%.
Like most herbal therapies, Cyracos works best in unison with other herbs and nutrients. Some are well-known, such as magnesium, a mineral that helps ease anxiety and relax tense muscles, and 5-HTP, an amino acid that increases the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Others, such as hops and chamomile, have long been used as sleep aids but are now known to particularly promote REM, the sleep stage especially crucial to retaining new information.
Surprisingly, tea—known for its caffeine content—yields a compound called L-theanine, which promotes the development of relaxing alpha waves within the brain. Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens) has shown an ability to help protect the nervous system. And alpha GPC provides choline, a nutrient that also has neuroprotective effects.
Drinking a cup of lemon balm tea before bed can be relaxing. But if you want real help in getting to sleep, taking a supplement that includes Cyracos is a better bet.