Saturday, 9 January 2010

Insomnia & Sleeplessness Part I

It is hard to understand the consequences of insomnia in one's life. It affects everything - your thoughts, feelings and mood, ability to function, your work, your happiness. It wears you down making all problems  seem larger and more unmanageable than they actually  are. It affects your relationships as the 'negative' side of one's personality emerges because of this 'overwhelm'. Of course, sleep deprivation has always been considered a good method of torture - as the thought processes become disturbed and the unconscious blends with and bursts into conscious life, changing one's perspective on 'reality' and revealing deep vulnerability.

"I reached for sleep and drew it round me like a blanket muffling pain and thought together in the merciful dark"

Mary Stewart 

Imagine if you can't do what Mary Stewart said?

What are the different types of insomnia?

Sleeplessness can be mild or severe. Mild sleep disturbance can involve frequent waking. The waking can be as a result of physical symptoms such as the need to go to the toilet, from body temperature- coldness or overheating,  thirst, hunger, or pain, or conditions such as arthritis for example. When a person wakes too often, the length of time experiencing quality sleep is reduced. Falling asleep after waking may be difficult. So a full night's rest becomes impossible. And of course all those mothers out there with small or older children often have interrupted nights when their children come in needing company, because they are frightened or simply because they are early wakers!
Sometimes people are able to fall asleep with no problems but wake later in the night as a result of anxiety, stress or an overactive mind and racing thoughts - making plans for the next day, going over conversations in their minds, pondering a life problem. Once wide awake, they do not sleep again.
Some people cannot get to sleep no matter how they try and  they lie for hours trying to relax but becoming more and more tense, imagining what it will be like to go through yet another day- unrested.
Insomnia can come in phases - it can last a week or three weeks. For some people, it is not a constant in their lives just a temporary guest. For others, it is more serious and chronic an always an issue.

What causes it?

There are as many different causes as there are sufferers! But to name a few: poor indigestion, kidney and bladder problems, pain, illness, stress (a broken down nervous sysem) , anxiety, grief, parenting, interrupted circadian rhythms from shift work, travel, over-tiredness and exhaustion, back problems, cold and heat, night sweats, nightmares, excessive dreaming or lack of REM sleep, poor mattress and bad quality bed, geopathic stress (e.g. poor bedroom layout , furnishings and too much electrical equipment), disharmony with sleeping partner, pregnancy and the list goes on..............

What help is there?

Conventionally - for severe insmonia, the help has consisted of sleeping tablets. Or for mild insomnia the advice  "get on with it - it's not that bad" seems to suffice (usually given by a person who has never had the experience)! I actually am not completely against sleeping tablets in emergencies but it is not a cure nor is it a long-term solution. Sleeping tablets are addictive. Also, you will never dream during sleeping-tablet-induced-sleep; it shuts off a particular part of your psyche. Many people report unrefreshing sleep (which means they do not feel as though they had slept properly)  and many other side -effects such as being generally slowed down the following day, unable to concentrate etc.

In the world of alternative medicine and natural health - there are so many potential solutions.These have no side-effects, are safe to use, and address the causes rather than the symptoms .That way, you know that it is a more permanent solution. Insomnia is the end-result, not the original problem.  Be aware of the uniqueness of your particular experience  and  choose what is right for you, and understand why you have insomnia. And do not lose hope.

Here are some  tips to start with, from my experience. Bear in mind, that I have divided this topic into several posts, as it is so comprehensive. Stay connected for the upcoming posts - follow me or subscribe to this blog.  If you have a question or wish to describe your particular form of insomnia, I may be able to give you more individualised advice! Feel free to comment.


1. For over-tiredness from a build up of exhaustion, mainly physical, try taking the homeopathic remedy of Arnica before sleep. You will know you need this one in particular, if you have the sensation your bed is too hard at night-time. Take this if you have returned from a long journey (this is good for jet-lag) or have pains and aches in your body preventing sleep. It can relax muscles. Take this if you can't sleep as a result of injuries.

2. If you have exhaustion from travelling through time zones, try the homeopathic remedy Cocculus Indicus.  Cocculus also helps people who are Carers. If you are a person who has been either caring for an elderly person, or a sick family member and as a result have been very fequently up at night,  this will help you. If you are a therapist or counsellor suffering from burn-out, you should consider this. If you are a nurse working night shifts this will also be useful. This remedy is for people who consider others' needs before their own and are now running out of steam.  If your job involves shift work and you cannot readjust to normal hours -then try this.

3. If you have weak kidneys which involve getting up at night to urinate ad thus interrupting your sleep, there are a number of options homeopathically (especially regarding women). So I will give you some herbal recommendations instead. To strengthen your kidneys and reduce the frequency of urging: try taking Berberis 6x 1-2xdaily for a month. Alternatively, use Bioforce Solidago every day. For men whose sleep disturbance from needing to urinate is a result of prostate problems - take the herb Saw Palmetto. This is very effective.

4. If you find it difficult to sleep from an over-active, over alert mind, with many thoughts jumbling around take the homeopathic remedy made from coffee - Coffea Tosta. You know how you feel after drinking coffee? Well some people feel this way after lying down in bed! This will also come in handy if you feel over-stimulated in your thoughts by alcohol, or have had an adrenaline rush from being excited about work or any projects, or over-stimulation as result of being happy and excited. And most obviously, this remedy will help people who have drunk alot of coffee during the day just to keep going but find then they cannot then relax and are caught in a vicious cycle.

Another remedy for too many thoughts keeping one awake is the Bach Flower Remedy: White Chestnut. Measure 4 drops into a glass of water and drink before bed and during the night if necessary. (Have a look at my bookshop for suggestions of how to educate yourself and self-prescribe Bach Flower Remedies. It is easy and you need no qualifications except the wish to help yourself!)

My heart goes out to anyone whose life is affected by insomnia and I hope you will find this useful and reassuring. More to come........

"Oh Sleep! It is a gentle thing           
Beloved from pole to pole "

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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