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A Holistic Approach to Insomnia

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When the clock's ticking and you can't get to sleep, there are alternatives to pills to get a good night's rest

Each of us at some point in our life has experienced a night where we just could not seem to fall asleep. Whether from excitement, worry or too much caffeine, we know the drain the lack of a good night’s sleep can have on our energy level and our mental and emotional state. Imagine experiencing that on a regular basis. Based on 2007 figures from the US Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 64 million Americans suffer from insomnia on a regular basis each year, and it seems to be 1.4 times more common in women than men.

By definition, insomnia is a symptom of a sleeping disorder characterized by persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep even though one has the opportunity to do so. It typically results in the individual experiencing some form of functional impairment while awake. Insomnia sufferers may also complain of an inability to close their eyes or “rest their mind” for more than a few minutes at a time. There are various types of insomnia. They include the following:

Transient—may last from a few days to weeks and may result from changes in environment (i.e. time zone), schedule, depression, or stress.

Acute—characterized by inability to sleep well for a period of three weeks to six months.

Chronic—characterized with inability to sleep consistently for over a year’s time.

In any of these situations, the insomnia may be the primary concern or it may be a symptom of another disorder of a physiological or mental/emotional nature. There are a variety of possible causes for insomnia. As stated earlier, stress in the form of anxiety, depression, or even excitement can be a significant factor. Caffeine intake can also contribute to insomnia. Chronic pain can also contribute to disturbed sleep. This is widely reported in patients suffering from fibromyalgia, for example. Insomnia can also be associated with various hormonal imbalances effecting the thyroid, the adrenal glands, estrogen levels, or combinations thereof. Neurological disorders may also present with sleep disturbances as can certain digestive and intestinal conditions.

Because insomnia is associated with so many different conditions, it is a good idea to first try to identify the underlying cause or contributing factors when seeking treatment.

From a naturopathic perspective these underlying concerns may be addressed in a variety of ways, such as altering diet and lifestyle habits, incorporating certain stress management techniques, and utilizing nutrition and botanical medicine to balance any deficiencies or dysfunction in the body.

For example, a simple consideration for insomnia of any type is evaluating one’s everyday dietary habits. First, consider your caffeine intake over the course of a typical day or week. Between coffee, tea and soft drinks alone, the amount of caffeine an individual ingests on a regular basis can be quite surprising and be more of a factor than you might expect. Second, high intake of processed foods fraught with artificial preservatives, food colorings, trans fatty acids, and refined sugars can also contribute indirectly to insomnia. In sensitive individuals these substances can act as stimulants or at the very least serve to increase inflammation that may contribute to chronic muscle pain, increased fatigue, and even depressed mood—all of which can affect sleep quality. Another factor is simply the lack of water intake. Although not directly associated with insomnia, adequate hydration is a key component to helping decrease inflammation, which can present as muscle pain and stiffness, headaches, and irritability.

If you would like to get more information on other natural approaches you can use to improve the quality of your sleep, please contact me, Mario Roxas, ND, for a consultation at 208-946-0984, or send an email to info(at)drroxas.com.

From an Acupuncturist Perspective: Tess Hahn, OMD, L.Ac.Diplomate Ac., (NCCAOM)

208-683-5211

Insomnia refers to a variety of patterns characterized by the inability to remain asleep long enough for adequate sleep.  Like a thief in the night, it steals precious energy needed for the next day. The condition can vary greatly from difficulty in falling asleep, difficulty in staying asleep or getting back to sleep, restless sleep or in severe cases, not sleeping at all through the night. 

 Traditional Oriental medicine maintains that normal sleep is the result of balanced regulation of yin and yang in the body.  In the natural environment, there is a constant succession of day following night; the activity of day is said to be governed by yang and the peace of night by yin. Since yang governs awakening and yin governs sleep, most insomnia is a case of inadequate yin energy. Insomnia results in a vicious cycle because sleep is vital to nourish our yin energy.

 Sleep is not merely rest caused by cessation of activity. It is a different form of being. It nourishes the nervous system and the mind, imagination and feelings. There is no substitute.

An acupuncturist will further differentiate your insomnia into its specific pattern in order to choose from among about fifty possible points which may balance your nervous system and promote yin functions. By asking related questions about your general body warmth, abdominal discomfort, palpitations, dizziness, etc., the acupuncturist tailors the choice of a few select points appropriate to treat the individual patient. Looking at the patient’s tongue and feeling the wrist pulse are also important in the process of obtaining clues of which pattern of points will be most effective. For instance, a very pale tongue will suggest quite a different set of points than a tongue with an extremely red tip.

 Because the treatment is specific for the individual’s functional imbalance, patients usually find that some other symptoms besides the insomnia are relieved in the process. In cases of extreme imbalance, the acupuncturist may also suggest a specific combination of Oriental medicinal herbs which the patient may take in convenient pill, powder or liquid form. For thousands of years, doctors in the Orient have eased their patient’s insomnia and balanced their yin with a combination of herbs and acupuncture.  Why not see how restful your own journey into the restorative world of yin can be?

 For further information and to make an appointment, please contact me

Treating Insomnia With CranioSacral Therapy

Ilani Kopiecki, Integrated Body Work and CranioSacral Therapy, 208/610-2005

There can be many reasons for a person tossing and turning through the night, and never getting a decent night’s sleep. Emotional worries, nervous system problems and hormonal imbalances can be a few contributing factors. In my experience as a craniosacral practitioner, one reason for insomnia stands out very clearly. I call it the red flag syndrome. It is when the client’s reticular alarm system (like a danger sensor) is stuck on high and is unable to slow down.

This symptom happens when life’s stresses are too much for the nervous system to process and it goes on overload. Then the RAS can’t seem to differentiate between a true emergency and normal sensory input. The heart beats faster than normal, thoughts race, the slightest noise seems unbearable to endure, and even a light touch can make the person jump. In many instances the client also suffers from lack of sleep.

CranioSacral Therapy can be very beneficial to red flag syndrome and the sleeplessness it causes. CS focuses on releasing deep holding patterns anywhere in the body. As these tight areas unwind and balance, the body relaxes and over-stimulated nerve endings calm down. As a result, the entire nervous system can finally enter into a deep rest and the client can sleep! When I am in session with clients, it is truly amazing to see this unwinding process take place. In many instances, it takes only a session or two to help the client get a good night’s rest.

From the Perspective of an Herbologist/Reflexologist, Penny Waters, Relaxation Destination, 208/597-4343

When I first began to work as a Reflexologist, almost 24 years ago, I thought there must be something wrong with my technique as I found 30 to 40 percent of my clients had an unbalanced thyroid reflex.

However, there was nothing wrong with my technique. I learned that an underactive thyroid gland is extremely common and frequently goes undiagnosed as blood tests are highly unreliable. An overactive thyroid gland is also possible, but is not as prevalent as an underactive thyroid.

 What does this have to do with insomnia? Well, the thyroid gland produces a hormone which affects all the cells in our body and their ability to perform their tasks adequately. An underactive thyroid can be the reason you suffer from fatigue, depression, the aches and pains of fibromyalgia, have deteriorating arteries contributing to hypertension and heart disease, constipation, diarrhea, and many more of our ‘modern’ ills that plague our society today, including arthritis, cancer and diabetes. Sleeplessness is another result of an underactive thyroid.

I urge you to read Solved: The Riddle of Illness, by Stephen E. Langer M.D. (President of the American Nutritional Medical Association) and James F. Scheer. They explore and expand the brilliant work of Dr. Broda O. Barnes on the thyroid. It is clear, thorough, and supported by decades of medical research. You are given the tools to discover if you have low thyroid function and how to manage it with diet and professional help.

Perhaps you are plagued with worry, guilt, grief, fear, depression or sadness as you lie in bed waiting for sleep. Your digestion may be in an uproar from poor eating and alcohol habits. Your body may ache or fidget, keeping you from dropping off or staying asleep. These causes of insomnia can be examined and supported by therapy and lifestyle changes. They can also be grossly exacerbated by an imbalanced thyroid.

When a client comes to me for help with any health complaint, I always use reflexology to check for thyroid function. Regular reflexology usually brings the thyroid to proper functioning. I show the client how to work the reflex at home, too, for ongoing support. This is why I love reflexology so much. It can always find the true cause of any health complaint and bring the imbalance to balance. It is nothing short of miraculous when the thyroid begins to function properly. Do not accept insomnia or any other health concern until you have checked your thyroid function and received the support that is available to return you to radiant well-being.

From a Rolfer’s Perspective. Owen Marcus, MA, CAR, Rolfing, align.org, 208/265-8440

When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep? If you’re like the 64 million Americans suffering insomnia on a regular basis, it might have been a while. I’ve had a lot of clients come to me for help alleviating their insomnia. Fortunately, they realized that to treat chronic insomnia, they have to tackle the cause: stress.

There are several causes for insomnia: too much caffeine; drugs (such as long-term sleep medication); hormones; parasites; and even eating late at night. Another cause is stress. If you spend day after day wound up, lying in bed might not be enough to slow you down.

Studies have supported what I have observed clinically: what some people think is relaxation is actually exhaustion. When you push yourself beyond your limit, your adrenals kick in. Then you’re so wired that you can’t turn off your brain at night.

Exercise can help insomnia­—if you’re not doing it while exhausted! When I had my clinic in Scottsdale, I treated a lot of exhausted runners. Their pattern was: wake up exhausted—run to get going—push all day—come home exhausted, but wired—sleep poorly… Needless to say, they weren’t healthy or well-rested.

When you’re continually stressed, stress chemicals (such as adrenaline) never leave your system. The hormones are at such high levels, and the organs that neutralize them are so burned out, the chemicals stay in your blood even when you don’t need them. Additionally, the constant stress makes you so tense that even when the stress is gone, your body remains tight.

If you‘re stressed during the day, you’ll need to de-stress before bed. Light yoga, a hot bath, or a massage from your partner can help relax you, and help break the cycle of insomnia.

New Habits = Better Sleep. If you really want to overcome insomnia, you have to be willing to change your habits. Years ago, a client came to me because getting to sleep was difficult for him, and when he did finally fall asleep, it wasn’t restful. One of my first questions was when he ate dinner. It was after 9 pm. I asked him why so late; he said that was the only time he was hungry. I explained to him that waking up not hungry was due to eating late, and he was only hungry at night because he was rushing around all day. I told him that without changing his eating habits, no treatment was going to work. I said I would not continue to see him until he changed. He never came back.

How do you break your cycle? Change the behaviors that are keeping you from sleeping. Eat early in the evening. Get exercise when you’re rested. Cut back on caffeine. Take time to really relax before you go to bed. And learn to breathe.

Proper Breathing Is a Short-Cut

The simplest behavior change is learning to breath. Breathing naturally prevents stress from accumulating, and releases chronic stress. I have seen thousands of clients, including Olympic runners, and not one of them was breathing at their capacity.

Learning to breathe a relaxed breath, and learning to really relax, is one of the major benefits of Rolfing or other good bodywork. Most of my clients come back after their first session and tell me they are sleeping better than they have in years. Bottom-line: When the body relaxes, the mind relaxes. When you’re relaxed, sleep is easy.

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Sandpoint Wellness Counci Sandpoint Wellness Counci The Sandpoint Wellness Council is an association of independent, complementary wellness practitioners located in Sandpoint dedicated to holistic health care. Pictured are: Owen Marcus, Penny Waters, Robin and Layman Mize, Ilani Kopiecki, Krystle Shapiro and Mario Roxas

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