Often patients go to the doc­tor with com­plaints of chron­ic sleep dis­or­ders asso­ci­at­ed with var­i­ous exter­nal fac­tors and stress. Some of them are rec­om­mend­ed to take drugs that depress the func­tions of the ner­vous sys­tem — ben­zo­di­azepines. How­ev­er, although the pills have a pos­i­tive effect on insom­nia, in many patients they are addic­tive and have side effects. Their effect on the brain, espe­cial­ly when com­bined with cer­tain oth­er drugs, can become over­ac­tive, and it is impor­tant to try to resolve sleep prob­lems as much as pos­si­ble with­out such drugs.

When are benzodiazepine class drugs used?

Ben­zo­di­azepines are a class of drugs that depress the func­tions of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. These med­i­cines are used in the treat­ment of insom­nia, sleep dis­or­ders, anx­i­ety, mus­cle spasms, acute alco­hol intox­i­ca­tion, seizures, and some oth­er sit­u­a­tions. The most com­mon­ly used drugs are fenozepam, alpra­zo­lam, clon­azepam and lorazepam, and they are among the ten most com­mon­ly pre­scribed psy­chi­atric drugs.

In a report by A. Lem­bke, head of the addi­tive med­i­cine divi­sion at the Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter, infor­ma­tion was made pub­lic about the dan­gers of these drugs. In the Feb­ru­ary 22, 2018, issue of the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, Dr. Lem­bke report­ed on the neg­a­tive effects of ben­zo­di­azepines — addic­tion and an increased risk of fatal com­pli­ca­tions.

Insomnia and pills

The num­ber of adults receiv­ing ben­zo­di­azepine pre­scrip­tions for sleep dis­or­ders increased by near­ly 67% between 1996 and 2013. Pre­scrip­tion dosages tripled. The death rate from over­dose of these pills has also risen sharply. But at the same time, not all peo­ple who received the drugs improved their sleep. Worse, these pills are some­times pre­scribed with opi­oids, which increas­es the risk of seri­ous and life-threat­en­ing side effects.

Dr. Lem­bke notes: “Ben­zo­di­azepines have proven to be use­ful when used inter­mit­tent­ly and for peri­ods of less than 1 month. Usu­al­ly sleep is nor­mal­ized and there are no seri­ous health prob­lems. But when they are used dai­ly, for extend­ed peri­ods of time, the ben­e­fits of ben­zo­di­azepines decrease and the risks asso­ci­at­ed with their use increase.

Many patients on ben­zo­di­azepines do not real­ize that the pills can be addic­tive and, when tak­en dai­ly, can exac­er­bate anx­i­ety and con­tribute to per­sis­tent insom­nia. Oth­er risks asso­ci­at­ed with ben­zo­di­azepines include cog­ni­tive impair­ment, acci­den­tal injury and falls, high­er rates of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion and emer­gency calls.” Doc­tors rec­om­mend choos­ing oth­er meth­ods of treat­ment for sleep dis­or­ders, often with­out tak­ing pills.

The effect of drugs on the brain: where are the side effects?

The effect of drugs on the brain: where are the side effects?

The drugs sup­press brain func­tion by affect­ing the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter GABA (gam­ma-aminobu­tyric acid). GABA works in the brain by inhibit­ing or sup­press­ing nerve impuls­es. It is believed that ben­zo­di­azepines acti­vate the action of GABA, form­ing anti-anx­i­ety and seda­tive effects. Med­i­cines of this group are nec­es­sary in seri­ous sit­u­a­tions, in patients with severe sleep dis­or­ders and strict­ly accord­ing to indi­ca­tions.

If a per­son suf­fers from episod­ic sleep dis­tur­bances due to the fact that the brain is over­loaded with infor­ma­tion, there are mus­cle spasms or increased anx­i­ety as a result of stress, using these drugs is not the best option. Some patients can solve the prob­lem through non-drug mea­sures and lifestyle changes.

The Brain and Stress: Nutrients for Relaxation

Relax­ation and stress resis­tance of the body are pro­vid­ed by the healthy func­tion of GABA and recep­tors in the brain. If these recep­tors are mal­func­tion­ing or impaired due to nutri­ent defi­cien­cies and oxida­tive stress, GABA can­not ade­quate­ly trans­mit impuls­es to pro­vide relax­ation and inhi­bi­tion to the brain. In addi­tion, the excitabil­i­ty of cell mem­branes and nerves or their relax­ation, elec­tri­cal activ­i­ty depend on the con­tin­u­ous sup­ply of nutri­ents. Stress is sup­pressed by omega‑3 polyun­sat­u­rat­ed fat­ty acids togeth­er with elec­trolytes (mag­ne­sium and potas­si­um). They are nec­es­sary to reduce the excitabil­i­ty of nerve cells and the sta­bil­i­ty of mem­branes.

The brain requires the pres­ence of mag­ne­sium for the accu­mu­la­tion of glu­ta­mater­gic exci­ta­to­ry stim­uli, it helps to release GABA and reduce the con­cen­tra­tion of stress hor­mones in the brain.

The use of lemon balm helps in relax­ing the body and reliev­ing stress. Ani­mal stud­ies show that lemon balm extract reduces stress and increas­es GABA lev­els in the brain. In addi­tion to lemon balm, oth­er herbs are tra­di­tion­al­ly used, they help relax­ation, sleep, fight stress, and main­tain the con­cen­tra­tion of GABA in the brain. These include pas­sion­flower, hops, chamomile and oth­ers. Research shows that these herbs help relieve stress and improve sleep nat­u­ral­ly and safe­ly.

Flavonoids in sleep correction: fisetin

Flavonoids in sleep correction: fisetin

Nat­ur­al flavonoids have been found to help pro­mote sleep. Fisetin, which belongs to this group and is found in straw­ber­ries, blue­ber­ries, and cucum­ber skins, may also help nor­mal­ize GABA recep­tors through­out the body. Researchers have found that fisetin helps main­tain and pro­tect nerve func­tion due to its antiox­i­dant effect.

A 2016 study found that fisetin has an affin­i­ty for GABA recep­tors in the spinal cord, which can help with relax­ation, pain man­age­ment, stress man­age­ment, and sleep.

One of the first signs that the brain is oper­at­ing under con­di­tions of low nutri­tion­al sup­port are changes in ener­gy pro­duc­tion and mood. There is unmo­ti­vat­ed anx­i­ety, irri­tabil­i­ty and bad mood. Sleep often suf­fers, it becomes inter­mit­tent, super­fi­cial, falling asleep is dis­turbed. In these cas­es, you need to start by replen­ish­ing the lev­el of mag­ne­sium and potas­si­um, tak­ing seda­tive herbs and enrich­ing food with flavonoids. If this does not help, then the issue of tak­ing med­ica­tion is decid­ed.

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