Healing Path, Inc.

Finding Balance
Chapter 2.17 - Insomnia

In this chapter, Dr. Donache presents Complementary/Alternative Medical (C.A.M.) Therapies for the prevention and treatment of sleeplessness, or insomnia.

The chapter includes an overview of the disease's symptoms, conventional treatment methods, and alternative therapies, including Bio-Energetic therapies, Bodywork and Movement therapies, and Mental / Emotional treatments.

This chapter is taken from Dr. Donache's upcoming book, Finding Balance - Integrating Complementary/Alternative Medical (C.A.M.) Therapies for the Prevention of the Top 30 Diseases in America. Each section of chapter 2, which describes alternative treatments for each of the top diseases, is available for download on this website.

Table of Contents
Chapter Excerpt
Glossary of Terms Used in this Chapter
Additional Disease Descriptions and Treatments Available for Download

Table of Contents

      • Medications
      • Managing Stress
      • Issues and Answers
      • Nutrition and Supplements
        • Nutrition
        • Supplements
        • Enzymatic Therapies
      • Rainforest and Western Herbs
        • Rainforest Herbs
        • Western Herbs
      • Homeopathic Remedies
      • Essential Oils
      • Therapeutic Bodywork and Massage
      • Traditional Chinese Medicine
      • Hatha Yoga Postures
      • Meditation
      • Visualization
      • Affirmation

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Chapter Excerpt

Insomnia--difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep--affects nearly everyone at some time in their life. An estimated 15 to 17 percent of the population suffers from insomnia at any given time.

Women and elderly people are especially likely to experience the problem, but anyone, regardless of age, sex or race, can have problems sleeping. People differ in the amount of sleep that they need. Most adults need about 7 or 8 hours of sleep.

Millions of Americans consciously choose to skimp on their sleep in the mistaken belief that sleeping fewer hours allows them to be more productive. Many people even look on the fact that they can "get by" on so few hours of sleep as a badge of honor. In fact, however, they are likely doing themselves a great deal of harm in the long run. Moreover, the night owls who sleep less to accomplish more are actually less creative and less productive than those who get adequate amounts of sleep. Dr. Richard Bootzin, professor of psychology and director of the insomnia clinic at the University of Arizona Sleep Disorders Center, conducted long-term research into normal sleep habits and patterns. He discovered that people who get seven to eight hours of sleep each night live longer, happier, healthier lives than those who skimp on their sleep.

However, the important thing is not how much sleep you get but how you feel. Lack of sleep can cause: irritability; drowsiness, inability to concentrate, slowed reaction, impaired judgment. Insomnia has been shown to more than double the likelihood of falling asleep while driving then having an accident. Not everyone experiences insomnia in the same way. There are three types of insomnia: Transient insomnia, lasting up to a week; Short-term insomnia, lasting up to 4 weeks, Chronic insomnia, lasting months or years. An electroencephlograph (EEG), a machine that measures electrical activity in the brain, can track how brain activity changes. When we are awake, the brain produces short, spiky waves called alpha waves. Deep sleep is associated with bigger, slower waves called delta and theta waves. When we dream, the waves speed up. The dream stage of sleep is called REM because of the rapid eye movement that occurs under the dreamer's eyelids. Insomnia--typically a symptom, not a disease in itself--can be brought on by:

  • Psychological factors, such as stress; psychiatric illness, most commonly depression.
  • Lifestyle, including use of caffeine, nicotine or alcohol; an erratic schedule or travel across time zones; some medications.
  • Environmental factors, such as noise, light, heat, an uncomfortable mattress or a snoring and/or restless bed partner; hormonal changes associated with puberty, menopause or pregnancy; medical conditions such as arthritis, lung disease, heart disease or ulcers.
  • Using certain Drugs, such as decongestant pseudoephedrine (found in many cold and allergy remedies), most appetite suppressants, many antidepressants, beta-blockers (medications used for high blood pressure and heart ailments), the antiseizure medication phenytoin (Dilantin), and thyroid hormone replacement drugs.

Insomnia can also be associated with sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome or circadian rhythm disorder.

  • Sleep apnea
  • Anyone who snores excessively should be evaluated for sleep apnea and evaluated for treatment. Many cases of sleep apnea respond to measures such as allergy treatment, weight reduction, or a simple laser surgery procedure to remove obstructions in the nasal passages. Others can be helped by using a ventilation device while they sleep.

    This potentially serious disorder can create repeated waking during the night. In sleep apnea, breathing actually slows for as long as two minutes at a time, while the individual is asleep. When breathing stops, the level of oxygen in the blood stream drops, resulting in oxygen deprivation. The individual suddenly awakens, startled and gasping. A person with sleep apnea may awaken as many as 200 times throughout the night. The affected individual may not remember these awakenings. Aside from disrupting normal sleep and causing extreme sleepiness during the day, sleep apnea is associated with other more serious health problems. People who suffer from sleep apnea tend to have higher than normal blood pressure and are more likely to have strokes than the general population, and face an increased risk of heart disease, although the reason or reasons for these links are not known. People with sleep apnea also seem to have a higher than normal incidence of emotional and psychotic disorders. Experts attribute this to what they call a "sleep deficit" - a lack of rapid-eye-movement sleep, the stage of sleep in which dreaming occurs. Prolonged periods of REM sleep deprivation can induce various psychoses and other serious emotional disorders.

  • Restless legs syndrome
  • For reasons unknown, when these people are in bed, their legs twitch, jerk, and kick involuntarily. Restless leg syndrome has also been linked to the painful nighttime leg muscle cramps that afflict so many people.

    Various treatments have been attempted for restless leg syndrome, including massage therapy, but nothing seems to work consistently for everyone. Some research strongly suggests that anemia may play a major role in this annoying disorder. We believe that taking the proper vitamin and mineral supplements is the best approach to this problem. The supplements that help this condition more than anything are calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

  • Circadian rhythm disorder
  • Many people who suffer from insomnia resort to sleeping pills, whether over-the-counter or prescription medications. Sleeping pills do not cure insomnia, however, and they can interfere with REM sleep. The continued use of pharmacological sleeping aids can eventually lead to disruption of all the deeper stages of sleep. Researchers have found that up to 50 percent of people who take sleeping pills on a regular basis actually find that their insomnia becomes worse. The persistent use of sleeping pills also leads to dependency, either psychological or physical. The use of sleep medication should therefore be reserved for those whose insomnia has a physical basis, and then only as a temporary solution.

    Doctors might recommend bright light therapy, which involves exposing patients to artificial light for short periods each day.

Depending on the causes of your insomnia, you may simply be given suggestions for changing lifestyle and sleeping habits. If there is an underlying medical or emotional condition, you may be referred to another doctor, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) or a pulmonologist (lung specialist). You may be referred to a sleep center, where specialized health professionals and equipment for studying sleep are located. You may be required to spend a night or two at the center so your sleep can be monitored. A polysomnograph records your pattern of sleeping and waking throughout the night. It measures such factors as brain wave activity, eye movements, muscle tone and heartbeat. In addition to avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and not eating a heavy meal within 4 hours of bedtime, you should also evaluate your sleeping area for factors that may be keeping you awake. Consider these steps:

  • Take a hot bath (not a shower) an hour or two before bedtime.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex - not for reading, working, eating, or watching television.
  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy. Do not stay in bed if you are not sleepy. Get up and move to another room and read, watch television, or do something quietly until you are really sleepy.
  • Eliminate any light or noise that might interrupt your sleep. Keep the bedroom comfortable and quiet. If too much quiet is the problem, try running the fan or playing a relaxing CD very softly in the background. There are also devices available that generate "white noise" sounds like the ocean surf or a steady rain that helps people who are "quiet-sensitive" to sleep.
  • Keep your clock out of sight, so that you won't be tempted to check the time every few minutes. Do set the alarm for the clock and get out of bed at the same time every morning, no matter how you slept the night before. Once normal sleep patterns are reestablished, most people find that they have no need for an alarm clock.
  • Check the temperature of the room. Is your bedding appropriate, or are you too warm or too cool? Does your bedroom have good airflow?
  • Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable. You may need to use more than one pillow or a contoured pillow.

Experts say that vigorous physical activity in the evening, close to bedtime, may make it harder to fall asleep. You may find it helpful to stick to a regular routine; going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day helps many people with insomnia.

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Glossary of Terms

A relaxation training technique in which patients are connected to a machine that records bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and skin temperature.
Chronic Insomnia
An ongoing disorder that lasts 4 weeks or longer.
Circadian Rhythm Disorder
A sleep disorder in which a person's internal clock is not synchronized with the normal 24-hour cycle; often characterized by difficulty falling asleep at night and trouble rising in the morning.
Electroencephalograph (EEG)
An instrument that records the electrical activity of the brain.
Guided Imagery Techniques
Relaxation techniques that involve imagining yourself in a pleasant situation and visualizing the experience in detail.
A hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain; sold as a sleep aid in many pharmacies and healthfood stores.
An instrument that records body functions, such as brain wave activity, eye movements and heart rate, during sleep.
Rebound Insomnia
A 1- or 2-day period of sleeplessness that occurs after a person stops taking medication for insomnia.
Restless Legs Syndrome
A condition in which uneasiness or an itchy feeling in the muscles prompts a strong impulse to move the legs; often associated with difficulty in falling asleep.
Short-term Insomnia
A sleeping problem that lasts 1 to 4 weeks.
Sleep Apnea
A condition in which airflow is interrupted briefly as many as hundreds of time a night. The person gasps for air and falls back to sleep, usually without being aware of the problem; often causes extreme daytime sleepiness.
Transient Insomnia
A lack of sleep that lasts less than a week and is usually caused by stress.

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