There may be nothing more maddening than ongoing sleep difficulties. It can be hard to break the insomnia cycle: long nights of unsatisfying or insufficient sleep followed by even longer days of exhaustion and stress.
The good news for people who need more restful sleep? A wide range of complementary medicine options — non-invasive and non-habit forming — can be used alone or in combination with standard treatment for insomnia. Research suggests they are effective for many people, with more than 50 percent of study participants finding them very helpful in maintaining health and well-being.
“Complementary therapies provide high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness,” says Tanya Edwards, MD, MEd, Medical Director, Center for Integrative Medicine.
Dr. Edwards say that the mind is so important when it comes to sleep that mind-body techniques should be one of the first strategies people try. Examples include meditation, tai chi and yoga, which calm people’s thoughts. These are particularly helpful for elderly people.
Body-based therapies can relax the body enough so that it is ready for sleep. These include massage, acupuncture and energy techniques for stress reduction, such as Reiki, Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch. Massage can benefit everyone — from infants to the elderly to cancer patients. Acupuncture enhances sleep quality, especially if pain is involved. Therapeutic Touch and Reiki improve patients’ sleep quality index.
Biologically based therapies
Biological supplements aren’t sleeping pills. They help to balance your body’s chemistry and rhythm naturally, making it easier to fall asleep. Dr. Edwards reports that the most effective and popular biological treatments are:
- Melatonin, a natural sleep hormone produced by the body
- Valerian root tea
- Chamomile tea
- Magnesium, a mineral supplement
- I-theanine and 5-HTP, naturally occurring amino acids
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is a group of strategies used to help people fall asleep faster, stay asleep and improve the quality of their sleep — all while increasing the overall amount of time they sleep. It is effective in the short- and long-term with minimal side effects.
Dr. Drerup suggests the following for improving sleep:
- Limit the time you spend awake in bed. If you find yourself still awake after 15 to 20 minutes, leave the bedroom and return when you feel tired. You should associate your bedroom only with sleep — not TV, emails from work or worry.
- Create a sleep schedule—and stick to it! Wake up at the same time each day, no matter your nightly experience. This will help your body regulate its internal 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, otherwise known as your biological clock or circadian rhythm.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Part of getting good sleep is having healthy habits. Get regular exercise (but not too close to bedtime), develop a pre-bedtime relaxation routine, avoid or limit caffeine, avoid or limit naps to 30 minutes, and limit alcohol intake.
- Study up on sleep. The more you know about how and why people sleep, and which beliefs, behaviors and outside influences affect your sleep, the easier it will be to change sleep habits.
- Consider cognitive therapy. Insomnia is influenced by five main mental processes: worry, selective attention and monitoring, distorted perception of sleep and daytime deficits, unhelpful beliefs about sleep and counterproductive safety behaviors. Cognitive therapy helps you to reverse these mental processes and is especially helpful in preventing relapse.
- Relax. This is often easier said than done, which is why relaxation training from a sleep psychologist or a professional trained in services such as meditation, guided imagery or hypnosis may be helpful. Results are not immediate, but last a lifetime.