Have you ever had one of those nights where you get caught in a wheel of worries and can’t get back to sleep no matter what you try? Or maybe, with all that on your mind, you’re having trouble falling asleep in the first place. And then there’s the way stress can cause you to wake up at 4 in the morning with no hope of ever getting back to sleep. However stress interrupts your sleep, it’s painful and frustrating when it does.
Research from the CDC shows that at least one in three people don’t get enough sleep every day. And that chronic lack of Zzz has a way of reaching us: Nearly 40 percent of adults say they accidentally fall asleep during the day at least once a month.
Perhaps you’ve tried prescription drugs, but the cost or side effects have put you off, so you’ve turned to a natural cure, like melatonin, only to find that it causes some very unpleasant side effects. (For more on melatonin’s possible dangers, keep scrolling.)
Luckily, there’s a new kid on the block for natural sleep cures: Affron. And it seems that he could be much more effective than melatonin, especially for people who suffer from frantic thoughts and are tormented by worries.
What is Affron?
Affron is a powerful and concentrated extract of the brightly colored spiced saffron. It comes from the purple crocus sativa flower, which grows in the Middle East and in countries like India, Greece and Morocco. It has even been grown in the United States since the 17th century since Pennsylvania Dutch farmers first grew it here.
Saffron and its extracts are rich in antioxidants which support the healthy functioning of the immune system. It also has properties that research suggests may counteract the effects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
And it was effective in treating mild to moderate depression in clinical trials. It is there that clinical psychologist and researcher Adrian Lopresti, PhD, began researching the spice as a health enhancer.
Can Affron improve sleep?
While studying affron for depression, Lopresti found patients giving feedback that the supplement also had a positive effect on sleep.
We decided to conduct a clinical study to investigate its effects on sleep in people suffering from sleep disorders, explains Lopresti.
What he and other researchers found: In their first study, subjects who supplemented with 14 mg. of affron twice daily experienced significant reductions in sleeplessness. And these improvements were seen in just seven days.
In their second study, Lopresti and his team found similar results in people who took 28 mg. of affron once a day one hour before bedtime, instead of two smaller doses throughout the day.
How does it deepen your Zzz’s?
There are several factors that can affect sleep, Lopresti says. It could be a disruption of sleep-inducing neurotransmitters or hormones such as serotonin, adenosine and melatonin. Or, it could be a disturbance in neurotransmitters and sleep-suppressing hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine, she explains.
In animal studies, Affron has been shown to have a positive effect on serotonin and cortisol, says Lopresti. In other words, affron helps ensure that relaxing levels of serotonin rise and sleep-sapping cortisol levels fall when bedtime arrives. But that is not all.
Inflammation in the body and excess free radicals can also affect sleep, Lopresti says. Affron is an anti-inflammatory and a strong antioxidant, so it may work through those mechanisms, Lopresti says.
We’ve also found that Affron can boost melatonin levels in the evening, she adds. This may be another mechanism associated with affrons sleep-promoting effects.
The increase in melatonin levels in the evening is what prepares the body to fall asleep and stay asleep. If your melatonin levels aren’t high enough when you deliver, it will take you longer to fall asleep and your sleep won’t be as deep and restful.
Subjects in the Loprestis studies reported improvements in their self-reported quality of sleep, as well as feeling more alert and rested upon waking. This is the opposite of the melatonin hangover effect of melatonin supplements, which can leave you groggy the next day.
Can Affron turn off the monkey mind?
If you’ve ever been exhausted and longing for sleep but your mind wouldn’t stop spinning a phenomenon dubbed the monkey mind for the way you bounce from thought to thought, affron can help.
It has a proven ability to curb sleep-disrupting stress and improve mood. In a study of Complementary therapies in medicine, those who took 28 mg. of affron per day for four weeks experienced up to 77% fewer symptoms such as tension, depression, fatigue and anger. Additionally, they saw their overall energy levels increase.
It only makes sense: When your mind isn’t racing because of a stress-inducing, never-ending to-do list, your ability to relax and snooze improves.
How do you get the benefits that improve sleep?
To fall asleep faster and sleep deeper, take 14 mg. of affron twice daily or 28 mg. to face an hour before bedtime. Both methods have shown positive results in Loprestis research.
His study subjects took affron for 28 days, which is what Lopresti suggests if you want to try it. Though she notes that some people have started seeing improvements in sleep after just seven days.
I’d suggest people take it for at least a month, advises Lopresti. If their sleep improves, they can quit. There are no withdrawal effects. If they have future episodes of poor sleep, they can start saffron again.
When choosing a supplement, look for one that has affron on the ingredient label. This is the copyrighted extract, proven by the study and is different from other generic saffron extracts on the market. One to try: California Gold Nutrition Saffron Extract with Affron (buy from iHerb, $26).
Why melatonin may not be right for you
Over the past 20 years, the use of melatonin supplements in the United States has increased by a whopping 525%. Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. So it makes sense for people to seek out over-the-counter melatonin supplements when they’re struggling to fall asleep.
And while intermittent use of melatonin in small doses may prove beneficial, a recent JAMA study found that melatonin gummies sold over the counter may contain up to 3.5 times more of the hormone than they say they do. And more doesn’t always equal better.
Taking more melatonin doesn’t carry any additional sleep benefits, says clinical psychologist and sleep medicine expert Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis. Too much can have negative effects such as nightmares, vivid dreams, headaches and lightheadedness.
Melatonin is used to help gradually shift the body clock for people who need help adjusting their sleep schedule, explains Dr. Shelby. We do this by using small doses of melatonin (up to 1mg maximum) several hours before bedtime. But that’s not what most people do – they often start with 3 mg. or more and which can cause the side effects mentioned above.
How else can you improve sleep naturally?
In addition to taking affron, Lopresti says good habits like self-care, stress management, and a healthy lifestyle can improve sleep.
Harris also recommends the following smart steps:
- Maintain a consistent sleep/wake schedule
- Limit electronics before bed
- Creating a relaxing bedtime routine
- Expose yourself to bright light in the morning
- Avoid caffeine for at least eight hours before bed
All of these can help improve sleep and enhance your body’s natural production of melatonin, says Harris.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor before pursuing any treatment plan.
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