Are you trying desperately to get better sleep at night? You might want to consider complementary medicine as another way to help you get back to restful slumber.
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Complementary medicine refers to forms of non-invasive therapies that a patient can use alongside conventional Western medicine. Nearly 40% of Americans use this approach for specific conditions or overall well-being, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Many complementary therapies have been shown, through high-quality scientific evidence, to be safe and effective in helping people sleep better,” says integrative medicine specialist Melissa C. Young, MD.
Complementary therapies for insomnia are comprised of four categories:
- Mind-body therapies.
- Body-based therapies.
- Biologically based therapies.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Here’s a rundown of the four categories and how you can leverage them to get back to sleep.
The mind is a key player when it comes to how easily you fall asleep and stay asleep. This is why people should try mind-body techniques first when they experience insomnia, Dr. Young says.
Examples of mind-body techniques include meditation, hypnosis, guided imagery, tai chi and yoga. These practices can help to calm people’s thoughts and help them relax. They are particularly helpful for older adults.
Body-based therapies can relax the body enough so that it is ready for sleep. These include massage and acupuncture, as well as energy techniques for stress reduction. Massage benefits everyone from infants to older adults and cancer patients. Acupuncture enhances sleep quality, especially if you’re feeling pain. Energy techniques include reiki, healing touch and therapeutic touch.
Biologically based therapies
Biological supplements aren’t sleeping pills. They help to balance your body’s chemistry and rhythm naturally, and make it easier to fall asleep.
Dr. Young says the most effective and popular biological treatments are:
- Magnesium, a mineral supplement.
- Melatonin, a hormone that plays a role in sleep.
- Chamomile tea.
- I-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is a set of behavioral strategies and cognitive interventions that when implemented can help you to fall asleep faster, stay asleep and improve your sleep quality. At the same time, these strategies may also increase the overall amount of time you sleep. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective in the short- and long-term, and has minimal side effects.
Dr. Drerup gives these suggestions:
- Limit the time you spend awake in bed. If you find yourself still awake and feeling anxious after 15 to 20 minutes, get out of bed and stop “trying” to sleep. Instead do something relaxing like reading a book and return to bed when you feel drowsy again. This will help you to associate your bed with sleep only – not being awake, watching TV, answering work emails or worrying.
- 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 your intake of alcohol.
- Study up on sleep. It’s easier to change sleep habits when you know how and why people sleep, and which beliefs, behaviors and outside influences affect your sleep.
- Consider cognitive therapy. Five mental processes influence insomnia: 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. Cognitive therapy is especially helpful in preventing relapse.
- Learn relaxation and meditation strategies. This is often easier said than done. This is why relaxation training from a sleep psychologist or a professional trained in services such as meditation and guided imagery may help. Results are not immediate, but can be used for a lifetime and unlike medications, your “prescription” for relaxation will never expire.