Sleep is something the majority of people take for granted, that is of course until the day they find themselves with a bad bout of insomnia. Then it can become an ongoing daily battle, with obsession sometimes setting in, in turn leading to a whole new set of problems such as depression, breakdown in relationships, loss of libido, reduced performance at work and an overall disruption to daily life. It can be so debilitating that a person can stop taking care of their appearance, give up home cooked healthy meals in favour of the local take away or TV dinner, and turn down any social invitations till the point that they alienate themselves from friends and family. Life simply becomes about waiting for the next opportunity to sleep. The life of the insomniac can become a living hell, something that was summed up well in the movie Fight Club. Over time it’s like the person is never actually awake and rarely asleep, teetering in an in-between world of anxiety and exhaustion.
Getting over one or two bad night’s sleep may be easy enough to do, yet when the problem is ongoing, anxiety can build to such an extent that this pressure alone can perpetuate the issue and a vicious cycle ensues. In turn, what results is the person starts to associate bedtime with such negative associations that it becomes as if they have forgotten how to sleep. This seemingly natural process is also a learned behaviour, and just as the process of sleep can be learned, the reverse is also true.
It is at this point someone suffering from newly found insomnia would be wise to seek help before it turns into a chronic problem and their day is spent ruminating on what could be keeping them awake. In fact their whole day can revolve around this subject, an obsession only serving to make the problem worse till eventually the problem becomes chronic and there may seem no way out for the person who now accepts the label of insomniac.
Insomnia is not a one size fits all problem and there is no one size fits all treatment. As yet there is no one magic potion or even sleeping pill that is a guaranteed cure. There are virtually as many reasons for not sleeping as there are stars in the sky and it’s up to the practitioner to unravel this puzzle by taking an accurate overall case history including mental, physical and spiritual aspects.
Even patients who try sleeping pills may later try an alternative approach once they have had enough of the side effects of medication or the pills no longer have an effect. So, what’s an insomniac to do once they have decided to take the holistic journey? Well there’s a range of treatments from acupuncture, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), meditation, hypnotherapy to naturopathy which is an umbrella term to say the practitioner is qualified in a range of modalities including homoeopathy, massage, counselling, iridology, nutritional and western herbal medicine.
In my opinion, it’s not as straight forward as choosing one modality and sticking to it. As a former chronic insomniac, who’s trialled a myriad of treatments, I’ve discovered that many approaches can work together in order to find a solution. As well as naturopathy, I look at a person’s basic sleep hygiene (such as making sure the person only uses the bedroom for sleep and sex, not drinking stimulants during the day, turning off electronic equipment in the bedroom, having regular sleep/wake pattern and limiting alcohol intake as just a few of these tips), uses counselling when there is an emotional issue and even looks at the person’s physical environment to ensure a restful night. Diet also plays a major role. Transforming the way someone eats can greatly improve chances of getting quality rest. Helping a person understand which foods enhance sleep (including foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan, foods that help with serotonin production, and foods rich in magnesium being just a few) and which foods to avoid including overly spicy, anything containing msg, preservative laden foods and even stimulants such as garlic which can be surprising for some people due to how healthy garlic is for the average person.
Besides the emotional benefits of a good night sleep, health benefits are equally as enticing including improved immune function, healthier heart, younger skin, slowing of the aging process, improved concentration, weight control and improved libido. So don’t lose hope, there is always something you can do and many people have come through the nightmare that is lack of sleep. The worst thing you can do is worry about it…Easier said than done.