Store shelves are full of competing items claiming to produce the same benefits. Sometimes such similar products are made with similar formulations. Other times, completely different ingredients are used to elicit a similar effect.
Kirkman® recently introduced a product called Restless Sleep Herbal Blend (0539-060). However, we were already offering Sleep Support Chewable Tablets (0486-090). Both are intended to help with sleeplessness, but how do you know which one is right for you, and what are the differences between the two?
“Sleep Support is all chemical type ingredients. It’s got tryptophan, theanine and melatonin in it,” explains Larry Newman, chief operating officer, Technical and Regulatory Affairs.
“Those are all synthetic chemicals and some people don’t like to put that kind of stuff in their bodies. Conversely, the Restless Sleep is a combination of four natural herbal extracts,” he says.
The differences don’t stop there, however. In fact, this is where it gets complicated.
For herbal supplements, it can be tricky to determine exactly what the active ingredients are. Many herbs and botanical products had been used for medicinal purposed for centuries, even millennia, before it was even possible to analyze the chemical components. Obviously, living things (including the plants that are utilized in herbal medicine) are made up of numerous compounds. So even if a particular herb has been shown to produce a certain effect, it may still be unclear which chemical component (or components) is producing the effect.
“These four herbs have been around forever, and they have multiple effects—some of them do affect the brain, some affect other parts of the body,” says Newman.
From the main herbal ingredients of Restless Sleep Herbal Blend (0539-060)—chamomile, lemon balm, passiflora and skullcap—certain compounds have been isolated and studied, with several showing relaxation effects.
Though it is possible there are other compounds that contribute to chamomile’s relaxing effect, three in particular—luteolin, apigenin and quercitin—are particularly likely to be the primary active components.
Luteolin is a flavonoid that has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. Studies have also shown that it improves memory, so clearly luteolin has some effect on brain chemistry.
The flavonoid apigenin has been shown to reduce anxiety1 as well as stimulate the growth of neurons.2
Among the many beneficial effects of quercitin researchers have found, it has a blood pressure reducing effect, which possibly contributes to the relaxing effect of chamomile.3
Like chamomile, lemon balm also contains luteolin. It also contains triterpenes, which have been shown to have both anti-depressive and anti-convulsive properties.
Passionflower contains naturally occurring serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to a person’s mood and well-being. Low serotonin levels have been correlated with sleep problems. Passionflower has also been shown to contain GABA4, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which causes neurons in the brain to turn off, allowing for a relaxed state. Passionflower also contains maltol, which has also been show to promote relaxation.
The main sleep promoting compounds in Skullcap are likely baicalin and wogonin. Baicalin has been shown to have anti-anxiety effects and also increases both slow wave and REM sleep. Wogonin produces anticonvulsant effects and also is a positive allosteric modulator of the benzodiazepine site of the GABA receptor, meaning it will tend to amplify the effects of GABA.
These are just the compounds present that have been shown to have sleep supporting effects. Due to the complexity of plant life, there may be other active compounds in these ingredients. Or perhaps the combinations of compounds produce an effect. The number of possible explanations for the effectiveness of a single herb is fairly staggering. And this product is made up of four herbal ingredients.
By contrast, Sleep Support Chewable Tablets (0486-090) are fairly straightforward. The active ingredients are compounds that have been isolated in a laboratory before they are combined into the final product. Rather than four ingredients, each with an indeterminate number of active compounds, this product contains only three active ingredients: melatonin, 5-HTP and L-theanine.
Melatonin occurs naturally in the body and regulates our internal clocks. It’s production increases after nightfall, leading to a relaxed state, conducive to sleep. It is possible for this natural cycle to be thrown off, however. Some people simply have low levels of melatonin. Others expose themselves to too much light too close to bedtime, interfering with the release of melatonin.
5-HTP is used by the body to manufacture serotonin. It has been shown to be more effective in promoting sleep than melatonin. L-theanine has been shown to relax the brain with no sedative effect.
In short, it seems the Restless Sleep Herbal Blend (0539-060) has more ingredients that function as anti-anxiety and anti-depressants, while the Sleep Support Chewable Tablets (0486-090) increases the body’s quantity of compounds (melatonin and serotonin) that are required for quality sleep.1. Kumar, S., Sharma, A., Apigenin: The Anxiolytic Constituent of Turnera aphrodisiaca. Pharmaceutical Biology. Vol. 44 , Iss. 2,2006 2.Taupin, P. Apigenin and related compounds stimulate adult neurogenesis. Mars, Inc., the Salk Institute for Biological Studies: WO2008147483 3. University of Maryland Medical Center. Quercitin. Accessed 1/22/17 from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/quercetin 4. Elsas S-M, Rossi DJ, Raber J, et al. Passiflora incarnata L. (Passionflower) extracts elicit GABA currents in hippocampal neurons in vitro, and show anxiogenic and anticonvulsant effects in vivo, varying with extraction method. Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology. 2010;17(12):940-949. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2010.03.002.