If you are always sleepy, you are probably looking for some sleep remedies. In your quest to cure insomnia, you may want to consider yoga, meditation, and other alternative sleep remedies.
Pharmaceuticals may be among the most common treatments for insomnia, but alternative approaches have also been shown to be effective in addressing the problem.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), more than 1.6 million Americans treat their insomnia or sleep disorders with a form of complementary and alternative medicine. Still, “most Western doctors have been slow to accept those modalities,” says Carol Ash, DO, medical director of Sleep for Life in Hillsborough, N.J.
Insomnia: Alternate Sleep Remedies
NCCAM is sponsoring research from across the country that looks at alternative therapies for sleep disorders, such as insomnia. These sleep remedies include:
- Meditation. The practice of meditation can reduce stress, which helps promote healthy sleep, but it also can affect the pattern of sleep, resulting in more restful snoozing. “When you look at monks who have perfected meditation, we see the cerebral parts of their brains are highly developed,” Dr. Ash says, noting that this may help explain part of the connection. Meditation may actually develop parts of the brain that help regulate physical health, including healthy sleep.
- Light therapy. As a sleep remedy, light therapy takes advantage of the fact that our sleep-wake cycle is driven by light and dark (called the circadian rhythm). In light therapy for a sleep disorder, there may be a mismatch between a person’s internal clock and his environment, for example, so exposure to light is carefully regulated until the misalignment is fixed. In one study, people who basked in two weeks of bright light early in the day and avoided light in the evening fell asleep sooner and were more alert in the morning. Such a regimen is normal, though there are no set standards for the length, intensity, or type of light wavelength used. One problem with such light therapy is that it’s difficult to avoid evening light in a typical artificially illuminated environment.
- Melatonin. The hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle is called melatonin, which drops during the day and rises at night. Scientists do not know exactly how it works, but melatonin seems to be effective in treating conditions in which the body’s internal clock is out of sync with the light-dark phases of the environment, as happens with people who work at night and sleep during the day. There’s evidence that melatonin receptor drugs can help restore sleep cycles disrupted by jet lag.
- Yoga. Yoga uses breathing exercises, meditation, and philosophical principles to enhance a person’s mental and physical well-being. In a recent study, about 70 retirement home residents took up yoga, Ayurveda (an herbal approach to restore health that incorporates principles similar to yoga), or did nothing. The residents practicing yoga experienced better sleep than those in the other two groups. The residents practicing yoga fell asleep more quickly (about 10 minutes earlier), slept longer (about one hour), and reported feeling more restful than the other groups.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture involves the stimulation of various points throughout the body. It’s difficult to assess the connection between acupuncture and insomnia, as most studies on the topic rely on subjective measures or don’t have a placebo control. One study without a placebo showed that acupuncture spiked the level of nighttime melatonin and reduced stress and anxiety. Other studies have focused on using acupuncture for sleep apnea and insomnia related to stroke or menopause.
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback involves the use of devices to help patients learn to control body functions like heart rate and temperature. A National Institutes of Health consensus panel said that this mind-body therapy, among others, could produce significant changes in some components of sleep. It’s not clear, though, that the changes had a practical implication for patients.
Other non-pharmacological sleep remedies for solid shut-eye are available and probably will become more important as researchers understand how and why they work to treat insomnia. “To continue to ignore those modalities is to ignore modalities that really can be very helpful and beneficial,” Ash says.[/list_item]
By Elizabeth Connor – Medically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD