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Can’t Sleep?  There’s no Need to Count Sheep When You Have Kava.

Comb the aisles of the self-help section in any bookstore, and you will invariably find books on getting a good night’s sleep.  There is an entire industry devoted to helping people sleep, and for good reason.  A lack of adequate sleep can cause numerous health problems, ranging from high blood pressure to strokes and mental illness. Your quality of life can also suffer, with insomnia eventually impacting your memory, judgment, sex drive, and work productivity.  Thankfully, there is an alternative to sleeping pills and booze: kava. As explained elsewhere on this blog, kava is a traditional drink derived from the roots of the kava plant, which is native to the South Pacific.  Kava’s naturally occurring psychoactive constituents are called kavalactones, which can help promote relaxation.  One of the major brain regions involved in sleep is the hypothalamus, a peanut sized region of the brain that mediates sleep cycles.  Within the hypothalamus is the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), a cluster of brain cells that regulates circadian rhythms by receiving light stimuli through the eyes. The hypothalamus communicates with the brain stem to transition the human organism between waking and sleep cycles.  Both the brain stem and the hypothalamus contain cells that release a neurotransmitter called GABA.  A neurotransmitter is a chemical courier of sorts, carrying messages to and from different neurons within the brain. GABA is known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it dampens the activity of neurons involved with wakefulness and arousal.  Increased GABA levels in the brain are associated with sedation and improved sleep.  This neurotransmitter also reduces anxiety levels, so any insomnia that results from stress will be alleviated as well. Kava’s psychoactive effects originate from 18 different kavalactones, though only six of them account for over 96 percent of the psychoactive effects.  The kavalactones involved with increased GABA levels are yangonin, kavain, dihydrokavain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, and kava pyrones. When consuming kava, it is important to remember that there are over 100 different kava cultivars. For help with sleep problems, a very sedating strain such as Borogu would be suitable, whereas a “daytime” kava strain like Pouni Ono would not help. One of Colorado’s first kava bars, Ohana Kava Bar, was founded by Matthew Clark to provide kava as a healthy alternative to the bar scene of Colorado Springs.  If you are in the area, please stop by Ohana and ask Matt any questions you may have regarding the sleep enhancing properties of kava.  Ohana is more than just kava; the bar has other ethnobotanicals which may help you get a good night’s sleep.  With three locations in downtown Colorado Springs, North Academy Boulevard, and Manitou Springs, Ohana is dedicated to providing the public with safe, natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals for a range of health problems.      

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