If you are among the 20-30 percent of the population who suffers from insomnia there is a host of natural remedies that can help you. Missing out on some shut eye can put your health at risk. Sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety, depression, concentration problems and a lack of energy. You may also be at increased risk for lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart attacks. While medication has been a common treatment for insomnia current medical practice is moving toward natural remedies.
Many insomniacs are taking higher doses of sedatives than is necessary and should reduce their doses, according to Consumer Reports’ Evaluating Newer Sedative Drugs to Treat Insomnia. For mild insomnia, non-drug alternatives are recommended. All insomnia drugs, concludes the report, have side effects—which may include depression, and psychomotor and cognitive impairment—and can lead to dependency.
Research into natural remedies to treat insomnia, on the other hand, is demonstrating improved efficacy and safety. Insomnia is characterized by difficulties falling asleep, repeated arousals from sleep and less time spent in deep sleep–all of these factors are influenced by our circadian rhythms which, in turn, are influenced by secretions in the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. During the day, our serotonin levels are higher, providing us with energy and those feel good hormones after exercise. At night serotonin turns to melatonin, a natural sleeping pill.
In defining the right treatment for your insomnia, look to natural remedies, which promote the long-term regulation of your natural sleep-wake cycle.
Acupuncture can stimulate and balance the release of the neurochemicals serotonin and melatonin, thereby helping to regulate your circadian rhythms. The Chinese claim acupuncture can cure insomnia. A number of recent trials in the Western world have backed up that claim by reporting a 90 percent or higher success rate.
Herbs have longed been used for relaxation and to bring about sleep, including the use of chamomile and hops by Native Americans. Ayurveda uses ancient Indian remedies including ashwagandha (Indian ginseng). A popular Chinese formula is Suan-zao-ren-tang, which includes native jujube seed and anemarrhena rhizome, a wild ancient Chinese herb that is part of the lily family. Many cultures use valerian, an herb that has proven as effective as drugs in clinical trials to treat insomnia but without the side effects. Some herbs used for insomnia, such as Kava Kava, can cause side effects and be highly addictive. The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine’s Oral Nonprescription Treatment for Insomnia report provides a technical review of the efficacy of herbs and vitamins used in insomnia treatments. The safest course is to consult an accredited specialist.
Relaxation Techniques (Meditation, Yoga)
In achieving overall well-being, relaxation techniques can replace artificial mood enhancers such as coffee, alcohol or drugs, which upset our sleep-wake cycle. Importantly, they can reduce arousal and anxiety. Aromatherapy, biofeedback and hypnosis are other methods of relaxation used to regulate sleep patterns.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
A whole host of psychological and behavioral factors can contribute to insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps reduce stress and anxiety by changing our behavioral patterns. CBT, for example, can regulate behaviors such as consuming high sugar foods or alcohol before bedtime or ruminating on negative events for hours at bedtime. CBT alone has proven to be more effective than CBT administered with a drug therapy program.
The average adult should get between seven and eight hours of sleep per night. A healthy lifestyle with wholesome foods and daily exercise is the most effective cure for insomnia.