Periods of insomnia affect everyone at some point in their lives. For some people, insomnia is a chronic problem, leading to sleep deprivation and difficulty in functioning during daily activities. The risk of accidents while driving or at work increases for insomniacs, along with risks for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Lack of sleep can have a substantial effect on your relationships and well-being in general, making it difficult to function at work and at home.
It is very important to see a licensed physician for on-going insomnia; still not everyone wants to go straight to a sleeping pill to help with sleep. Most prescription sleep aids are addictive and, once you are hooked on them, it is difficult to get off them.
Fortunately, many alternative and natural methods may help you sleep better. Some of these include developing good sleep habits, while others are herbal remedies or exercises that promote better sleep.
Alternative Medicine For Insomnia
The following are some ways you can fall sleep easier without the use of potentially addicting medications:
- Analysis Of The Problem – One of the most effective ways to deal with insomnia is pinpointing the source for the difficulties of getting to and / or staying sleep. One example of this is stress or emotional issues. If either of those is the cause, it is best to address them directly and in this way you can see positive results in unhealthy sleep patterns. Perhaps there has been a recent trauma or upset in your life, and this type of emotional overload has led to insomnia. Financial, work, personal relationships and family worries are just the types of issues that can keep you awake at night. Seeking the help of a licensed therapist or sometimes even talking to a friend can help to ease painful feelings, thereby alleviating stress and anxiety that can allow you to sleep better at night.
- Herbal remedies – Many herbs have been found over the centuries to bring about a quick and restful night's sleep. These include valerian root, which appears through research studies to help people get to sleep and sleep peacefully through the night. Chamomile is often drunk as a tea before bedtime in order to bring on the relaxation necessary to fall sleep. Other herbs that are often used in combination with chamomile or valerian root include hops, passionflower, and lemon balm. There are premade sleep-inducing teas that contain one or more of the above herbal remedies, which act together to promote sleep. Herbs can also be used as essential oils in aromatherapy that allow you to use the power of scent to relax your mind for better sleep.
- Food – Warm milk and tart cherry juice contain tryptophan, a natural compound that induces sleep. Tryptophan is nature's precursor to the neurochemical serotonin, which then converts itself to the hormone known as melatonin. Melatonin rises in the evening after being released from the pineal gland in the brain, inducing a natural sleep pattern. You can drink up to a cup of tart cherry juice, which contains a great deal of tryptophan. Bananas, like cherries, contain tryptophan, which can be metabolized into serotonin and melatonin in the brain. Eat a banana about one-half hour before bedtime to induce a calmer state of mind and a better night's sleep. Eating too close to bedtime can also contribute to insomnia and it is recommended that big meals be taken no later than 4 to 5 hours prior to bedtime.
- Melatonin – As previously mentioned, melatonin is a natural hormone made by the pineal gland and also exists in plants and animals and is believed to set the circadian rhythm (body clock) that is necessary for proper sleeping patterns. Melatonin is helpful in people who suffer from insomnia due to night shift duties and can help people with jet lag get over their symptoms of sleep deprivation. Melatonin can certainly be taken for a short time span; however, more research is needed in order to define whether this natural hormone is safe for long-term usage.
- Acupuncture – Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine often turn to acupuncture as a way to help people get a better night's sleep. This involves the insertion of fine needles into particular acupoints of the skin. The idea behind acupuncture is to improve the flow of your natural body's energy, called qi, which flows along “highways” or merdians on the body. The Chinese believe that balance of the qi and therefore the body can help alleviate all kinds of ailments and that it is imbalance that is the source of all ill health. Acupuncture, when done correctly by trained specialists has been shown in many studies to improve the quality of sleep in patients suffering from insomnia. It has also been shown to work better when used alongside with herbs, and is more effective when used with medication than using medication alone.
- Meditation – Meditation can be done in several ways and has been found to be very effective in decreasing anxiety, facilitating relaxation, and improving sleep patterns when practiced nightly. It can be especially helpful when the source of insomnia is stress from emotional or life situations. In meditation, the muscles of the body are relaxed and the focus is on the simple pattern of the breathing. You can chant a calming mantra or syllable as part of the meditative process. Alternately, you can use meditation as a part of guided imagery, in which you “see” yourself in a calming and relaxing situation. Using meditation and guided imagery, you can relax on your bed, lulling yourself to sleep in a natural and drug-free way. Meditation takes practice but, if practiced nightly, it just may improve your sleep habits within a short time.
- Exercise – Getting at least thirty minutes of exercise daily and on a regular basis helps people sleep better. Studies have shown that moderate aerobic activity like walking is best for insomnia, versus more rigid forms like running. Ideally, any aerobic activity should be done between 4 and 5 hours before going to sleep with the exception of yoga and qi dong, which exercises you can do just prior to sleeping. Yoga is comprised of specific poses along with structured breath work and mindfulness. Yoga is especially good as an exercise for sleep because it relaxes the muscles and improves the flexibility of the trunk and extremities. There are about 15 specific poses known to be effective for insomnia. Research studies have shown that yoga is beneficial for sleep in persons who are older or who have cancer.
- Aromatherapy – Essential oils extracted from plants can be very effective in inducing relaxation that can promote better sleep. Lavender, clary sage, marjoram, ylang ylang, Vetiver, valerian, Roman chamomile, and sandalwood are some of the most popular.
Everyone responds to medical and alternative therapies differently and even alternative therapies can have side effects. You should talk to your doctor whenever you are contemplating any alternative measure for sleep, especially if you plan to take herbal preparations, which may interact with the medications you are already taking.
Speaking to an herbalist can also be helpful when considering an herbal sleep remedy. You may need to try various herbal remedies for yourself to see if they are going to be beneficial to you, but it is always best to do so under the guidance of a professional.