September 21, 2008

Curing Insomnia … And It’s Not Counting Sheep

By Rajen M.

YOU need sleep like you need food, water and air. It is as natural as that. Yet, we humans willfully withhold sleep and deprive our bodies of its natural mechanism for rest and restoration.

Sometimes too much stress and lack of exercise can also cause sleep disturbance.

Somnipathy is a medical term for disorders of natural sleep patterns. Some sleep disorders are serious enough to interfere with normal physical, mental and emotional functioning. A polysomnogram test is used to identify sleep disorders.

The medical importance of sleep is recognised today with the rapidly increasing knowledge about sleep, including the discovery of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep - which is a normal stage of sleep characterised by rapid movements of the eyes.

Indeed, sleep medicine is now a recognised subspecialty within internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, otolaryngology, psychiatry and neurology in North America and Europe.

Sleep disturbance is usually treated with powerful drugs like anxiolytics and sedatives that alter brain chemistry and have potential for addiction and a host of side effects.

Before resorting to this, it may be wise to look to nature and natural approaches to get a good night's sleep. The list below is by no means comprehensive but indicates the deep reservoir of know-how that helps kings and noblemen sleep over the ages.

- Simple regular exercise deepens sleep in young adults with or without sleep disorders. It makes you tired and hence go into a period of rest that involves various levels of sleep.

In addition, several studies show that exercise can improve sleep in older adults, too. Recent studies show that even the low-to- moderate Tai Chi and Tibetan Yoga practices enhance effective sleep in older persons.

Techniques aimed at relaxing muscles (progressive muscle relaxation and biofeedback) and quieting the mind (meditation) have been found to be effective treatments for insomnia.

Several studies show that regular meditation practised alone or as a part of Yoga practice, results in higher blood levels of melatonin, an important regulator of sleep.

- Acupuncture is often used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of insomnia. It involves the insertion of very fine needles (sometimes in combination with electrical stimulus or with heat produced by burning specific herbs) into the skin at specific acupuncture points in order to influence the functioning of the body.

- Melatonin is a hormone made by a part of the brain called the pineal gland. It may help our bodies know when it is time to go to sleep and when to wake up.

The deficiency may cause sleep disorders, immune deficiency conditions, and depression.

Another hormone, progesterone, may also help post menopausal women get enough sleep.

- Sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals also play a role in preventing insomnia. People who don't have enough calcium have two sleep-related problems:

- difficulty falling asleep (due to low tissue calcium which causes irritability).

- muscle cramps at night (calcium and magnesium imbalance cause muscles to be in constant contraction).

Magnesium supplements may be helpful for relieving restless leg syndrome and treating insomnia.

This mineral is needed by every cell of the body for bone, protein, and fatty acid formation, making new cells, activating B vitamins, relaxing muscles, clotting blood, and forming ATP - the muscle's energy source.

Niacin is a member of the Vitamin B-complex. It is also known as Vitamin B3. Like most of the B-vitamins, niacin is primarily required for energy metabolism, specifically converting carbohydrates into energy.

Proper intake of niacin keeps the skin healthy. It can also be used therapeutically to control cholesterol levels, maintain proper circulation, act as an anti-inflammatory to ease arthritis and balance blood sugar levels for the prevention of diabetes.

It can be used to stimulate a healthy nervous system, easing symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia.

- Herbs like chamomile flowers are used in alternative medicine as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, nervine, stomachic, tonic and vasodilatory.

It has a mild tranquilising effect (hence its use as a claming tea).

Passion flower is the herb of choice for treating insomnia.

It is a naturally grown medicinal herb, approved by the German Commission E in the treatment of insomnia and nervousness.

It is also used as a sedative in nervous disorders (including gastrointestinal complaints of nervous origin), difficulties in sleeping, and anxiety or restlessness.

It also seems to have an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscles within the body, including the digestive system, promoting digestion.

Valerian is a member of the Valerianaceae family. It has been used for thousands of years as a folk remedy, tranquiliser, and sedative for disorders such as restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia; it has been proven to be a safe and effective anti-anxiety agent and sedative.

Valerian is a common ingredient which is used as a mild sedative and sleep aid for nervous tension and insomnia.

- Nature is the most natural cure for sleep disorders. After all, a lot of sleep problems are the result of our deviation from the natural principles of living.

We don't hear of cavemen or animals being troubled by sleep disorders.

* Datuk Dr Rajen M. is a pharmacist with a doctorate in holistic medicine. Email him at [email protected]

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