Sleep is an essential part of life, with most people needing seven or eight hours each night in order to stay healthy. It is a natural recurring state that helps to restore hormonal and immune systems, stabilise mood and cognitive functions, and rejuvenate the body and mind. Despite its essential nature, however, getting enough sleep can be a challenge in the busy modern world. Sleep deprivation leads to a range of problems, from specific physical complaints through to emotional issues like stress, anxiety, and irritability. Sleep deprivation is often a vicious cycle, with a lack of sleep likely to induce unwanted emotional and cognitive changes that make it harder to relax. Rather than getting caught up in this unhealthy pattern, considered lifestyle and diet changes can help to break the cycle. Some natural compounds can be taken to promote sleep, including several members of the Passiflora genus known as passionflower.
What is Passionflower?Passionflower is the name given to Passiflora incarnata, a fast-growing perennial vine often used to treat sleep problems and associated conditions. There are around 500 known species of passionflower, with the entire family of plants known as Passiflora. Many of these species have been used historically as a herbal medicine to treat sleep disorders and related problems. These plants are native to the Americas, and have been used by the Cherokee for thousands of years for food and medicinal purposes. Passionflower is now used as a health tonic around the world, and is included in the European and British Pharmacopoeias. Many studies show that certain species of the plant have medicinal benefits, especially in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. According to a study by the European Medicines Agency, it "can be used for the relief of symptoms of mental stress and to aid sleep."
The importance of sleep and relaxationSleep is defined by inhibited sensory and reduced muscle activity, with a repeated and prolonged period of rest needed to help the body function at its optimal level. Sleep is essential for every aspect of life, with even a single night of bad sleep likely to adversely affect your work performance, relationships, and state of mind. Whether it's the result of specific sleep disorders like insomnia and hypersomnia, or simply trying to do too much, lack of sleep is associated with a range of physical and mental problems. In order to understand how passionflower aids sleep and promotes relaxation, it's important to understand the four stages of sleep and the difference between REM and non-REM sleep cycles.
The 4 stages of sleepWhile it's somewhat of a continuum, there are generally believed to be four separate stages of sleep. The first three stages are known as non-REM sleep (NREM), and the final stage is known as REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement, with this deep stage of sleep distinguished by fast, random eye movements, low muscle tone throughout the body, and vivid dreams.
- Stage 1 is the lightest stage of NREM sleep, with this period distinguished by drowsy feelings, slow eye movements, and slowing brain wave activity. Some people experience hypnotic jerk movements during this stage, with subjective drifting feelings also common.
- Stage 2 is the first stage of real defined NREM sleep. Common features of stage 2 sleep include slowing brain waves, sudden bursts of oscillatory brain activity mixed with K-complex EEG waveforms, and dropping heart rates and temperatures.
- Stage 3 is known as deep NREM sleep, with this restorative stage defined by delta wave brain activity that is much slower than the previous two stages. Awakenings are rare during this stage, which is also when sleepwalking or sleep talking occur.
- REM sleep is the deepest stage of sleep, with vivid dreaming common, eyes moving fast from side to side, and the brain much more active than the previous three stages. Getting enough REM sleep is essential for your general health and wellbeing.