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 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
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.