Insomnia is our nation’s silent health crisis. Almost half of all adults report having dif- ﬁculty sleeping, but less than 10 percent discuss the issue with their doctor. Almost everyone has suffered from temporary insomnia due to stress, overeating, or consum- ing stimulants before bed and knows how draining and exhausting sleep loss can be. But people who have chronic insomnia—a consistent inability to go to sleep or to stay asleep through the night—are at risk for far more than fatigue. Sleep deﬁciency sup- presses the immune system and the libido, decreases productivity, and can lead to other disorders like depression, chronic fatigue, heart disease, and headaches.
Before the use of electric lighting, the average American got nine hours of sleep a night. Now the average is less than seven hours and still going down, as the distrac- tions of twenty-four hour-shopping and entertainment becomes more widespread. How much sleep is enough? It has become fashionable to proclaim a need for very little sleep. However, studies involving mental function show that most adults do best with eight hours; some may need as many as nine or even ten. Children and teens need more sleep than adults do, and older people often ﬁnd that they simply sleep less than they used to. If you nod off to sleep very quickly—within ﬁve minutes of putting your head on the pillow—or if you feel an urge to nap during the day, you probably need more sleep than you’re getting.
Stress and anxiety are the most common causes of insomnia, but physiological fac- tors often play a signiﬁcant role as well. Stimulants, heavy metals, chronic pain, and breathing problems can keep you from sleeping, as can many medications and disorders.
Sleep apnea affects 5 percent of adults, but most of them will never be diagnosed. During this condition, a person repeatedly stops breathing during the night and wakes up to catch his or her breath. The two consequences of this are a signiﬁcant drop in the blood’s oxygen and severe sleep deprivation. Be suspicious of this condition if you snore, have daytime sleepiness, have high blood pressure, or are overweight. This condition is best identiﬁed during a sleep study that your doctor can order. The recommendations in this section—especially the dietary ones—may help to treat sleep apnea. Weight loss can be an important component, as can avoiding sleeping on your back. One standard treatment is a C-pap machine, which involves a mask that is kept over your face while you sleep. It keeps constant pressure in the airway so that it does not collapse. Orthodontic devices that keep the lower jaw and the tongue forward are sometimes useful. In rare cases, extremely large tonsils or abnormalities in the throat structure may need to be surgically corrected.
Restless leg syndrome is a disorder characterized by unusual or painful sensations in the legs, accompanied by an irresistible urge to move the legs. It’s often brought on by rest and occurs most often in the evening. It can produce difﬁculty falling asleep. Many studies have shown that restless leg sufferers have low or low-normal iron lev- els. Iron supplementation has helped many people, but three months of treatment is usually needed before improvement is noted.
Hormone imbalance can be a root cause of insomnia. This can involve several dif- ferent hormones. It is common for many women experiencing menopause to develop insomnia. This is generally due to changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. The obvious solution is to follow a hormone-balancing program. See the Menopause sec- tion for more information. Likewise, younger women with premenstrual syndrome can experience the same. In addition, low or hyper functioning thyroid can interfere with sleep. We also ﬁnd that elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol interfere with deep REM sleep, which studies conﬁrm. It is not uncommon to ﬁnd seniors with deﬁciencies in DHEA, testosterone, and growth hormone, which can be underlying causes as well. The sleep hormone melatonin can work wonders in selected cases, when supplemented correctly.
If you suffer from insomnia, you may ﬁnd that the gentle treatments in this section help you get a good night’s sleep. If they don’t, talk to your doctor. He or she should review your general health and may also refer you to a sleep disorder specialist. It is not recommended, under any circumstance, that you take over-the-counter sleeping aids. They do not promote deep, restful sleep, and they may also create any of several side effects, including depression, confusion, and dry mouth. Worse, they can be addictive.
• Inability to sleep or to sleep through the night
• Stress and anxiety
• Stimulants, including caffeine,
decongestants, and thyroid
• Lack of exercise
• Restless leg syndrome
• Hormonal changes (e.g.,
• Vitamin deﬁciencies (e.g., B12, iron)
• Breathing disorders, including asthma and sleep apnea
• Other disorders, such as hypothy- roidism and hypoglycemia
he adrenal glands release cortisol as
a response to stress. Cortisol is released by the body in a natural rhythm with the sleep-
wake cycle. Levels
The following tests help assess possible reasons for insomnia: Sleep study—lab setting
Hormone testing (thyroid, DHEA, cortisol, testosterone, IGF-1, estrogen, progesterone)—saliva, blood, or urine
Vitamin and mineral analysis (especially magnesium, calcium, B12, iron)—
Anemia—blood test (CBC, iron, ferritin, % saturation)
Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities—blood, electrodermal
At dinner, eat foods that are high in tryptophan, a chemical that stimulates serotonin, which in turn helps you sleep. Turkey, chicken, tuna, soy products, live unsweetened yogurt, and whole-grain crackers are all good, low-sugar sources.
Complex carbohydrates are also relaxing, so incorporate whole grains, especially brown rice or pasta, into your dinners.
This book does not generally recommend dairy products, aside from yogurt, but a glass of milk before bedtime is a time-honored sleep aid. Try this only if you do not have a sensitivity or an allergy to dairy products.
Deﬁciencies of calcium and magnesium can lead to insomnia. Be sure your diet is high in leafy greens, sesame and sunﬂower seeds, oats, almonds, and walnuts.
The B-vitamins are also essential for good sleep. Brewer’s yeast is the best source. Sprinkle it on your dinner salad or add a teaspoon to a bedtime glass of water or a green drink.
Drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours so you won’t wake up at night with a dry mouth. Have your last glass two hours before bedtime, or you’ll be up for other reasons.
Food to Avoid
The ﬁrst rule for insomniacs is to monitor caffeine intake strenuously. Do not have any products containing caffeine—such as coffee, black tea, or chocolate—for eight hours before you go to sleep.
Drink alcohol only in moderation, and don’t have any within two hours of going to bed. While a drink might make you feel drowsy, the alcohol only disrupts the deep, late-night sleep that is so crucial to rest. If you have a chronic problem with insom- nia, avoid alcohol completely.
increase and peak in the early morning hours as part of the body’s physiological response to awaken- ing. An oversecretion of cortisol at nighttime can interfere with sleep. This is because rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (a process that occurs during deep sleep) occurs primarily when corti- sol levels are decreas- ing. Conversely, the adrenal hormone DHEA has a balanc- ing effect on high cor- tisol levels and has been shown to signiﬁ- cantly increase REM time during sleep.
Food allergies or sensitivities disrupt sleep for some people. See the Food Allergy section to identify possible offending foods.
Sugar is another common culprit in insomnia. After lunchtime, avoid sugary foods, even sweet fruits. Chocolate, with its double whammy of sugar and caffeine, should be considered an enemy of the sleep-deprived.
double-blind trial found that
600 mg of valerian extract taken thirty minutes before bed- time was comparable in efﬁcacy to oxazepam (Serax), a commonly prescribed pharmaceutical for insomnia. Studies have also found that the combination of valerian and lemon balm (Melissa ofﬁci- nalis) works well to treat insomnia, with a comparable effect to the pharmaceutical sleep medication tria- zolam (Halcion). A hangover sensation was noted in people taking the triazolam but not in the lemon balm/valerian users.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Insomnia
Super Prescription #1 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
Take 100 to 200 mg one hour before bedtime. This supplement promotes serotonin production in the brain for relaxation. Do not use if you are currently taking phar- maceutical antidepressants.
Super Prescription #2 Melatonin
Take 0.3 to 0.5 mg one hour before bedtime. This hormone promotes sleep. It is best used on a short-term basis or under a doctor’s supervision.
Super Prescription #3 Passionﬂower (Passiﬂora incarnata)
Take 500 mg or 1 to 2 ml a half hour before bedtime. Passionﬂower is a great sleep aid that relaxes the nervous system and does not cause drowsiness in the morning.
Super Prescription #4 Valerian (Valerian ofﬁcinalis)
Take 600 mg or 2 ml a half hour before bedtime. Several studies show valerian to be effective for insomnia. Note: A small percentage of users may notice a stimu- lating effect from valerian.
Super Prescription #5 Calcium/magnesium
Take 500 mg of calcium and 250 mg of magnesium each evening. Both minerals help relax the nervous system. Some people have better results taking one of the minerals alone in the evening and the other earlier in the day. Experiment to see what works better for you.
Super Prescription #6 Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Take 500 mg or 1 to 2 ml a half hour before bedtime. Hops is a nervine that relaxes the nervous system.
Super Prescription #7 Vitamin B12
Take 1,500 mcg in capsules or 400 mg of the sublingual tablet form daily. This vita- min is more commonly deﬁcient in seniors, and a deﬁciency may contribute to insomnia.
Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that promote sleep. Take 50 mg daily.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) relaxes the nervous system. Drink a fresh cup of tea in the evening or take 300 mg of the capsule form.
Saint-John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) acts as a nerve tonic and can ease mild cases of depression and related insomnia. Take 900 mg daily of a 0.3 percent hyper- icin extract. Do not take Saint-John’s-wort if you are on medication for depression.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. Take a 6x, 12x, 6C,
12C, or 30C potency twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results.
After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Con- sultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Aconitum Napellus is a remedy for people who have just experienced a terrifying situation and who develop insomnia. Restlessness, fear, and panic attacks may wake a person up.
Arsenicum Album is for people who have tremendous anxiety and restlessness. They often wake up between the hours of midnight and 2 A.M. They tend to be per- fectionists and have many insecurities and fears.
Cocculus is a good remedy for people who can’t sleep after staying up too long. As a result, they may feel weak and dizzy, have trouble thinking, and be irritable, as well as sleepy.
Coffea Cruda is very speciﬁc for people with insomnia that’s caused by overstim- ulation. They are wide awake at 3 A.M., with a racing mind.
Ignatia (Ignatia amara) is a speciﬁc remedy for insomnia caused by emotional upset—usually grief or a loss. There can be uncontrollable crying, loss of appetite, and mood swings. The person often sighs a lot during the day and muscles may twitch during sleep.
Kali Phosphoricum is for insomnia as a result of nervous exhaustion caused by overwork or mental strain. The person is extremely sensitive, and depression and anx- iety are common.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum) is for people with insomnia as a result of fear and stress. They usually have poor conﬁdence, which further worsens stress levels. Digestive problems, such as gas and bloating, are usually present. There is a craving for sweets.
Nux Vomica is for insomnia after indulging in rich, spicy food or alcohol. The sleep problem may be the result of overwork. The person is irritable and impatient, wakes at 3 A.M., thinking about business, and is highly sensitive to light, noise, sound, and other stimuli.
Sulphur is a good remedy for insomnia that comes on from itching at night or from feeling too heated at night. The person throws the covers off at night or sticks the feet out. There is a strong craving for ice-cold drinks and spicy foods.
Zincum Metallicum is for people who are very restless from being overworked. Their legs and arms are restless, and it’s hard for them to lie still in bed.
See pages 668–675 for information about pressure points and administering treatment.
• Pericardium 6 and Lung 1 will reduce anxiety and heart palpitations.
• Another point to reduce tension is Conception Vessel 17.
• If indigestion is a problem, you should make it a habit to avoid greasy and spicy
foods. If you do indulge, Spleen 16 will help you digest the food properly.
• Large Intestine 4 is a good general point for pain relief. Try it if arthritis or other aches keep you up at night.
Any kind of massage will help you relax and unwind. Most people with insomnia would beneﬁt from a professional massage as well as home and self-care techniques. Use some relaxing essential oils for an even more potent effect.
See pages 686–687 for information about reﬂexology areas and how to work them.
To relax your nerves, work the diaphragm and the solar plexus.
Before sleeping, take a ten-minute hot footbath to draw blood out toward your limbs and away from your head.
If you need to relax, take a hot bath—but make sure to do it at least two hours before bed. Otherwise, your body temperature will be too high to allow sleep.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
Many people who have trouble sleeping rub their heads in frustration. Try to avoid this temptation. You’ll only increase the blood ﬂow to your brain, which can make sleeping even more difﬁcult.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy can be very effective for insomnia. See a qualiﬁed practitioner.
Essential oils can have a dramatic relaxing effect. Many can help you get to sleep, but lavender, neroli, chamomile, and ylang ylang are some of the best. Add some to a bath or a massage, or sprinkle a few drops on your pillow. You might also like to add the oil to a diffuser in your bedroom.
Marjoram is another sleep-inducing oil that has the additional beneﬁt of warming and relaxing the muscles. You can use it in any of the previous preparations, but it may be most effective in a bath or a massage.
Lavender sachets are a time-honored sleep aid. Tuck one under your pillow for all- night insomnia relief.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Make nightly meditation sessions a habit. Try to devote twenty or thirty minutes (some of you may need even more) before bedtime to cultivating a relaxed focus and a sense of detachment from the day’s worries. You’ll ﬁnd that you’re much more likely to sleep.
Most of us have lain awake in bed at some point, trying to nod off by counting sheep. But, as you’ve probably experienced, unlimited counting can lead to panic, especially as you reach the higher numbers. By the time you’ve reached one hundred, you may be frantic with the awareness of how much sleepless time has passed since you’ve begun the exercise, and a sense of futility sets in. Instead, try this meditative technique when you can’t sleep. Breathe calmly and deeply from your abdomen, and count each breath. Give one count to each inhalation and one count to each exhala- tion. When you reach ten, start again at one. Don’t keep track of how many series of ten you’ve done; simply use the numbers as a means of focus, rather than as a means of marking time. This technique will help you avoid frustration and will often send even seasoned insomniacs off to sleep within minutes. And even if you can’t get to sleep, you’ll feel much more relaxed and rested than if you spent the night sweating over sheep counts.
Bach Flower Remedies
See the chart on pages 648–650 to ﬁnd the remedy that best suits your personality and tendencies. Once you’ve chosen a remedy, place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold them in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
Stress often triggers insomnia, but sometimes insomnia itself can bring on a panic attack. If this happens to you, take some Rescue Remedy for an instant calm- ing effect.
For insomnia caused by the “mind chatter” of an overactive brain, take White Chest- nut. It will release you from the grip of persistent, circular thoughts or worries.
If your sleeplessness is brought on by worries for other people, Red Chestnut will help.
Take Mimulus for generalized fears or fears you can’t name. Mustard will help relieve insomnia due to depression or sadness.
If you overwork yourself but still fear failure, take Hornbeam. It will help you face your daily challenges calmly.
If sleep evades you due to shock from a serious illness or an accident, use Star of
• Get into a sleep routine. Create a bedtime ritual to help yourself quiet down and to signal your body that it’s time to rest. Have a cup of herbal tea, or prac- tice one of the relaxation techniques listed in this section. Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same hour each morning. Do not change this routine on the weekend.
• Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable. Invest in a good mattress and pillow, and have several covers available to suit various nighttime temperatures.
• Use the bed for sleep and sex only. Everything else, including reading, writing letters, and making phone calls, should take place off the bed, preferably in another room.
• If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and move to another room, if possible. Try not to dwell on your insomnia; instead, read a magazine or a light novel, or engage in some other quiet activity.
• Don’t smoke or expose yourself to secondhand smoke. Nicotine, like alcohol, has an initial calming effect but ultimately disrupts sleep.
• Many nonaspirin pain relievers contain caffeine. If you have chronic pain and need relief to sleep, check for brands that don’t list caffeine as an ingredient.
• Get exercise during the day, even if long nights awake have left you tired. Peo- ple who exercise regularly report better and deeper rest than those who don’t. Do not exercise within two hours before bed, however, as your body may be too stimulated to sleep.