A Holistic Approach to Sleep Disorders

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A Holistic Approach to Sleep Disorders


S ince the beginning of recorded time, people have been plagued by sleep disorders. Hippocrates, the Greek physician, wrote about sleep often and used sleeping patterns to diagnose illness.

We are no different today. The Institute of Medicine (2006) reports that “daily sleeping and waking patterns are no longer driven by the light and dark cycle, but, rather, by work schedules, economic interests, and increasing globalization.”

The body needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Approximately 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders. Sleep disorders occur in all age groups. Females are more likely than males to suffer from insufficient rest or sleep, and non-Hispanic blacks are more likely than any other racial/ethnic group to suffer from insufficient sleep. Only one-third of adults say they get enough sleep every night (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2014; Lake 2007).

Sleep disorders are common complaints and they include difficulty falling asleep, early awakening, and interrupted sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one-third of adults say they get enough sleep every night.

There are several types of sleep disorders. The two main disorders include dyssomnias and parasomnias, and additional types include secondary insomnia, acute insomnia, chronic insomnia, breathing related sleep disorders, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, and narcolepsy. It goes deeper still into more classifications if you wish to look into a particular sleep disorder you or a loved one may be experiencing.

Many integrative (nonconventional) approaches to sleep disorders have been substantiated by research and extensive clinical use. Others do not have as much substantiated research concerning outcomes, while others (such as lifestyle modifications) are now considered conventional therapies because of their widespread use and acceptance by healthcare providers of all types. Before using integrative approaches for sleep disorders, individuals should check with their integrative health practitioner or physician.

Dietary modifications include; not eating 3 hours before bed, including; alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or refined sugars. Eating before bed can cause reactive hypoglycemia during sleep caused by late-night snacking and dietary intake of refined sugar are significant risk factors for insomnia.

Vitamins and Minerals: A deficiency of specific vitamins and minerals may result in fatigue or insomnia. For example, abnormally low levels of vitamins C, E, and some B vitamins (thiamine, panetothenic acid, folic acid, and B12) may result in fatigue. A deficiency of iron, folic acid, and B12 can cause anemia, fatigue, and insomnia. Depression, which is associated with insomnia, is frequently associated with a folic acid deficiency. Low levels of magnesium are often associated with anxiety and insomnia (Lake, 2007).

Melatonin: Melatonin is a neurohormone synthesized by the pineal gland in humans and produced in animals as well as plants. Melatonin helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin (via supplements) has been shown to be an effective treatment for chronic insomnia, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, and insomnia of varying disorders. (Lake, 2007; Weiner, 2010). Melatonin has not been shown to be effective in alleviating the sleep disorders associated with jet lag and shiftwork (Buscerni et al., 2004). Some experience side effects of melatonin and there are also some drug interactions with melatonin so please consult with your health care professional before trying melatonin. Melatonin should also not be taken for more than 2 months.

Valerian Root: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a medicinal plant that has been used in many traditional systems of medicine for more than a thousand years to promote restful sleep. Valerian is an effective and safe treatment of chronic insomnia, especially when insomnia

Exercise: Regular exercise is widely recommended as an approach for reducing stress and improving both the quality and duration of sleep.

Mind Body Approaches: Mind-body approaches are most beneficial for treating mild to moderate situational insomnia. Many techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, massage, and meditation, have been investigated in controlled trials of insomnia (Lake, 2007).

Bright Light Therapy: Bright light therapy has proven effective for people with circadian rhythm disorders. Most protocols recommend 30 to 40 minutes of bright light exposure daily in the early morning and the avoidance of light in the evening for a beneficial effect in shifting circadian rhythms and changing sleep-wake cycles.

Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a technique in which the patient is trained to improve his or her health by developing an awareness and voluntary control over the physiological processes affected by stress.

Acupuncture: Widely used in the treatment of insomnia in countries where Chinese medicine is practiced (including the United States), acupuncture has analgesic and sedating effects (Lake, 2007).


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Allison Feehan
Allison Feehan
N.D., D.Psc, CRMT Owner of Integrative Healing and Wellness 732.202.6797 523 Main Avenue Bay Head, NJ

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