Have you ever had one of those nights where you get caught on a worry wheel and can’t fall back to sleep no matter what you try? Or maybe, with all that’s on your mind, you have trouble falling asleep in the first place. And then there’s the way that stress can have you wide awake at 4 AM with no hope of falling back to sleep. However stress interrupts your sleep, it’s painful and frustrating when it does.
CDC research shows at least one in three folks don’t get enough sleep on a daily basis. And that chronic lack of Zzz’s has a way of catching up with us: Nearly 40% of adults say they accidentally fall asleep during the day at least once a month.
Maybe you’ve tried prescription meds, but either the cost or the side effects put you off so you turned to a natural cure, like melatonin, only to find that it causes some very unpleasant side effects. (For more on the possible dangers of melatonin, keep scrolling.)
Fortunately, there’s a new kid on the natural-sleep-cures block: Affron. And it looks as though it could be much more effective than melatonin, especially for people who suffer from racing thoughts and are plagued with worries.
What is affron?
Affron is a potent, concentrated extract of the vividly-hued spice saffron. It comes from the purple crocus sativa flower, which grows in the middle east as well as countries like India, Greece and Morocco. It’s even been grown in the US since the 17th century since Pennsylvania Dutch farmers first cultivated here.
Saffron and its extracts are rich in antioxidants that support 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 has been effective in treating mild to moderate depression in clinical trials. That’s where clinical psychologist and researcher Adrian Lopresti, PhD’s, research into the spice as a health-booster began.
Can affron improve sleep?
While studying affron for depression, Lopresti found patients were giving feedback that the supplement was having a positive effect on sleep, too.
“We decided to conduct a clinical trial investigating its effects on sleep in people experiencing sleep disturbances,” 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 insomnia. And these improvements were seen in as little as seven days.
In their second study, Lopresti and his team found similar results in people who took 28 mg. of affron once daily an hour before bed, as opposed to two smaller doses over the course of the day.
How does it deepen your Zzz’s?
“There are several factors that can influence sleep,” Lopresti says. It could be a disruption in sleep-inducing neurotransmitters or hormones such as serotonin, adenosine and melatonin. Or, could be a disturbance in sleep-suppresing neurotrasmitters and hormones, such as cortisol and noradrenaline, he explains.
“Affron has been shown in animal studies to have a positive effect on serotonin and cortisol,” Lopresti says. In other words, affron helps ensure relaxing serotonin levels increase and sleep-sapping cortisol levels decrease when bedtime rolls around. But that’s not all.
“Inflammation in the body and excess free radicals can also affect sleep,” Lopresti says. “Affron is an anti-inflammatory and strong antioxidant, so it may work via these mechanisms,” Lopresti says.
“We also found that affron can increase levels of melatonin in the evening,” he adds. “This may be another mechanism associated with affron’s sleep promoting effects.”
Rising melatonin levels in the evening are what prime the body to fall asleep and stay asleep. If your melatonin levels are not high enough when you turn in, it will take you longer to fall asleep and your slumber won’t feel as deep and restful.
Subjects in Lopresti’s studies reported improvements in their self-reported sleep quality, as well as said they felt more alert and refreshed upon awakening. That’s opposed to the “melatonin hangover” effect from melatonin supplements, which can leave you groggy the next day.
Can affron shut off ‘monkey mind’?
If you’ve ever been exhausted and eager for sleep but your mind wouldn’t stop whirling — a phenomenon dubbed ‘monkey mind‘ for the way you bounce from one thought to another — affron can help.
It has a proven ability to curb sleep-disrupting stress and improve mood. In a study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, those who took 28 mg. of affron daily for four weeks experienced up to 77% fewer symptoms such as tension, depression, fatigue and anger. Plus, 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, it improves your ability to relax and doze off.
How do you get the sleep-enhancing benefits?
To doze off faster and snooze more deeply, take 14 mg. of affron twice daily or 28 mg. of affron one hour before bed. Both methods showed positive results in Lopresti’s research.
His study subjects took affron for 28 days, which is what Lopresti suggests if you want to try it. Though he notes some people began to see improvements in their sleep after just seven days.
“I would suggest that people take it for at least a month,” Lopresti advises. “If their sleep improves, they can stop. 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, study-proven extract 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 might not be right for you
In the last 20 years, use of melatonin supplements in the United States has increased by a whopping 525% . Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. So it makes sense that people would reach for over-the-counter melatonin supplements when they’re struggling to nod off.
And while intermittent use of melatonin in small doses can prove helpful, a recent JAMA study found that melatonin gummies sold over the counter can contain up to 3.5 times as much of the hormone as they say they do. And more doesn’t always equal better.
“Taking more melatonin does not result in additional benefits for sleep,” 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 grogginess.”
“Melatonin is used to help gradually shift the body clock for people who need help adjusting their sleep schedule,” Dr. Shelby explains. “We do this using tiny doses of melatonin (½ to 1 mg. at most) multiple hours before bedtime.” But that’s not what most folks do: They often start with 3 mg. or more — and that can cause the side effects mentioned above.
How else can you improve sleep naturally?
Aside from taking affron, Lopresti says good habits like self-care, stress management and healthy lifestyle can improve sleep.
Harris also recommends the following smart steps:
- Maintaining a consistent sleep/wake schedule
- Limiting electronics before bed
- Creating a relaxing bedtime routine
- Exposing yourself to bright light in the morning
- Avoiding caffeine for at least eight hours before bed
“All of these can all help improve sleep and enhance your body’s natural melatonin production,” says Harris.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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