Sleep is an important part of living a healthy life. Sleep allows us to improve our overall immune function, it boosts our memory, helps our metabolism, helps to improve our ability to learn and other important functions. However, over 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic long term sleep disorders according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. There are many different kinds of sleep disorders. Some of the most common sleep disorders are: insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, night terrors/night mares, sleep walking, and teeth grinding.
Insomnia is where a person cannot fall asleep or if they do fall asleep they wake up often or wake up tired. Worry about work, relationships, the economy, etc. may make it hard for a person to fall asleep. Stress is a big factor in the cause of insomnia. Insomnia can either be acute, meaning short term, or chronic, meaning long term. An acute bout of insomnia comes and goes. Some causes of acute insomnia include: temporary emotional upset such as a divorce, loss of a loved one, or a job change, a temporary illness, environmental factors such as too hot or too cold, medications, or interruption of normal sleep cycle such as jet lag. Insomnia is considered chronic when it lasts for 3 nights out of a week for a month or longer. Some causes of chronic insomnia include: depression, anxiety, long lasting stress, or pain. Symptoms of insomnia include: problems concentrating, poor memory, irritability, fatigue, and tiredness throughout the day.
Treatment of insomnia includes medications and lifestyle and behavioral changes. If there are any underlying pain issues or depression those are treated first. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can help a person change the way they are thinking and this may help them reduce stress and improve sleep. Exercise and avoiding television before bed can help a person sleep better. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine as they can prevent you from proper sleep. Medications such as Ambien are often prescribed for insomnia. However, these medications are toxic to our bodies and have side effects that include: dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, headache, muscle pain, loss of coordination, weakness, and lightheadedness.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is where a person cannot get comfortable due to strange sensations in their legs (or arms or other parts of the body). They may have a sense of “ants crawling on them”, “pins and needles”, or “itchy” and they only way they can get relief is to move their legs. The sensations are typically worse when they are lying down or sitting down and usually worse at night. This causes people to have a hard time falling asleep. Symptoms of restless leg syndrome can be mild to severe and can come and go so it can be hard to get it diagnosed. Restless leg syndrome is seen in both sexes but is more common in women. RLS may be caused by genetics because it does seem to run in families. However, other causes of RLS include chronic diseases such as diabetes, iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, medications, and pregnancy (usually in the last trimester and goes away after birth). Lack of sleep can cause RLS symptoms to be worse.
Treatment of RLS includes avoiding things that may stimulate the system such as caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine. Also review the medications that you are currently taking to see if any of them could be causing the problem. Additional vitamins and minerals may be taken if there is a deficiency. And any underlying conditions should be addressed such as anemia, diabetes, varicose veins, kidney disease, or Parkinson’s disease. Exercise and stress relief techniques are helpful too.
Sleep apnea is where a person stops and starts breathing repeatedly throughout the night. If you snore loudly you may be affected by sleep apnea. There are three kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea is where the throat muscle relaxes closing the throat, central sleep apnea is where the brain is not sending the proper signals to control the breathing, and complex sleep apnea syndrome is where a person has both the obstructive and central sleep apnea. Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea include: loud snoring, a person witnessing the cessation of breath, morning headache, dry mouth upon waking up, insomnia, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Sleep apnea is more likely to be seen in men than women and in the older population. Some other risk factors include, obesity, nasal congestion, smoking, excessive use of alcohol or other sedatives, and a family history of sleep apnea. People who have heart disorders or whom have had a stroke are more likely to experience central sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is most commonly treated with a positive airway pressure machine. The mask pressurizes the airflow preventing the sleeper’s airway from collapsing. The good news is these machines also eliminate snoring. If a person is overweight it is recommended they lose weight as this may also help stop the sleep apnea. Medications may be used to help a person stay awake during the day.
Narcolepsy is a serious neurological disorder where a person is extremely tired and can fall asleep at any time without notice. A person who has narcolepsy enters into the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep immediately and can do so without notice. Narcolepsy can appear at any age, but usually is first appears between the ages of 15-25. Researchers believe that genetics may play a role in whether or not a person gets narcolepsy. The genes control our production of chemicals which control the sleep and wake cycles. Some symptoms of narcolepsy include: excessive daytime sleepiness (which is where a person is so tired they can’t focus, they have poor memory, and they are depressed and exhausted), hallucinations, sleep paralysis, or cataplexy (where a person experiences loss of muscle control).
People who have narcolepsy cannot control their sleep attacks and other symptoms which making it hard from them to enjoy a “normal” life. Their relationships may suffer due to low libido, low self-confidence, and the embarrassment of attacks. All too often this can lead to depression and withdrawal from all activities. Therefore part of the treatment of narcolepsy involves counseling, medication, and lifestyle changes. Stimulants and antidepressants maybe used for treatment. These medications are toxic and come with side effects such as insomnia, low libido, restlessness, headaches, and digestive problems.
Night terrors occur in children usually between the ages of 3 and 12. They are different from nightmares. Night terrors are usually frequent bouts of crying and fear while the child is sleeping and they cannot be woken up. The child may flail around on the bed or sit up and look like they are awake but does not respond to parents comforting them. They often occur at the same time of night and can last anywhere from 1-2 minutes or up to 30 minutes. The child usually does not remember the event in the morning when they wake up. Night terrors are disturbing to the whole family. Night terrors affect girls and boys equally. Thankfully, children usually grow out of having night terrors by their teen years. Night terrors can be caused by stress, too little sleep, fevers, or medications. Recommendations for treatment are to wake up the child before the time a night terror usually happens to establish a new sleep cycle. Avoid stress and anything that may stimulate the child before going to bed. In rare circumstances medication is used.
Sleep walking is a disorder where a person gets up and starts walking around while they are still sleeping. Sleep walking usually occurs when a person is going from a deeper sleep state to a lighter sleep state. Sleep walking usually occurs in children ages 4 to 8, but can also be seen in some adults. Sleepwalkers may have their eyes open and look like they awake as they walk around and may even respond when questioned. However, they may not remember the walking event in the morning when they wake up. Genetics may play a role in whether or not you are a sleep walker as researchers found people who have a family member that sleep walks is 10 times more likely to sleep walk. Other conditions that may lead to sleep walking are: too much alcohol, stress, too little sleep, or medications. Medical conditions that are linked to sleep walking include: fever, nighttime seizures, nighttime asthma, heartburn, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and other psychiatric disorders like PTSD, multiple personality disorder, and panic attacks. Treatment for sleep walking is usually medications, reduce a person’s stress, and avoid watching the television or the computer before going to sleep as they can be too stimulating. To protect oneself while sleepwalking be sure to sleep on the ground floor of the house, perhaps put an alarm on the door and make sure windows are locked.
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is often done while sleeping so people do not even know they are doing it. Usually the person sleeping in the same room as them will tell them they grind their teeth. People who grind their teeth may wake up with a sore jaw or a headache. Or a dentist may say something if they notice changes in the teeth. If teeth grinding is really bad it will damage teeth and cause oral health issues. People who grind their teeth may loosen teeth or wear them down enough that they will need dentures. Severe teeth grinding may also lead to TMJ or facial structure changes. Stress and anxiety can cause teeth grinding so exercise and stress management classes may be suggested. The most common fix for teeth grinding is to have the person wear a mouth guard. It is also suggested to not drink alcohol, as that can worsen the grinding, avoid caffeine which may increase stress levels, and do not chew gum which makes your jaw used to the clenching motion.
About one third of the population has at some time in their life not been able to fall asleep due to stress. According to the CDC insufficient sleep is a national health epidemic. Lack of sleep causes car accidents, industrial accidents, health care accidents, and losses in productivity. Poor sleep also leads to more chronic health issues such as: depression, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and a higher mortality rate. http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/. The economic cost of sleep disorders in the United States is well over 8000 million dollars a year. Sleep disorders affect men and women and children from all walks of life.
Complementary and alternative models of healthcare can help people reduce stress and improve the quality of their sleep. Here are some examples:
Gemmotherapy: remedies are made from plant buds so are safe and nontoxic with no side effects. Lime and Fig tree are combined to treat insomnia. A few drops in the mouth or in water before bed may help a person sleep better.
Homeopathy: an energetic form of medicine that treats a person as a whole. Founded by Samuel Hahnemann over 200 years ago, homeopathy is based on the law of similars. A substance such as Ipecac in its original form will make a person vomit, but the homeopathic version of it will stop someone from throwing up. The practitioner finds out what your symptoms are and who you are to find the best matching remedy. Homeopathic remedies are made from plant, mineral, and animals. They are highly diluted meaning by the time a person takes the remedy the only thing left on the pellet is the energetic imprint of the original substance. Therefore homeopathic remedies are nontoxic and do not have side effects. There is not one remedy that fixes all sleep disorders, again the person is treated as a whole. The first consult usually lasts an hour to 1.5 hours and can cost $135 or more. Follow up visits are required and they are every 3 -4 weeks.
Yoga and Meditation: breathing techniques, postures, and meditation combine to help a person reduce stress and improve their sleep, especially if done at night. Focusing on one’s breath can help relax the nervous system. It can be as simple as sitting up straight, crossing one’s feet, closing the eyes, and breathing. Or you can get more complicated and do some inversion moves, but either way, the slowing down of your breath can help relax the entire body.
Reiki: a Japanese healing technique where the practitioner lays hands on and over a person to activate the natural healing processes of the client’s body. This helps to restore physical and emotional well-being. It improves the body’s immune system and promotes relaxation.
EFT: Is a combination of acupressure and neuro linguistics programming (NLP). A person taps on certain key meridians while repeating key phrases to clear emotional traumas. It is based upon the premise that disease is created by emotional upset. Once the emotional trauma is cleared your body can be at peace and heal. EFT can be done on a continual basis as there is always emotional trauma to be healed. There are many books written about EFT and how to do it , or you can watch YouTube video’s, or you can visit a practitioner. Practitioners can be helpful for asking the right questions to determine what the underlying emotional trauma is.
Diet and Exercise: Exercise 30 minutes a day can help a person sleep better. It produces endorphins in the body which are the feel good hormones. Exercise will help the body be tired at the end of the day as long as you don’t do it at night before going to bed. There are also vitamins and minerals to help improve sleep. Calcium and Magnesium are known to help the body relax. It is recommended that you take each 45 minutes before going to bed. The ratio is usually 2:1, meaning take 500 mg of Calcium and 250 mg of Magnesium. Vitamin B6 (50 to 100 milligrams/ day) can help with insomnia. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has been shown in studies to help a person fall asleep faster and wake less often. It is important to also take niacin, vitamin B, and magnesium to help the body convert 5-HTP to serotonin. Melatonin is known to help people fall asleep, but only if their melatonin levels are low. The elderly generally have low melatonin levels, so it may help them.
Acupuncture: a Chinese medicine where needles are placed along key points of the meridians clearing blocked energy. Each person is treated as an individual based upon their symptoms. So two people who have acupuncture for better sleep, will have needles placed at different locations. The needles are left in for a period of time (30 to 60 minutes). Most times patients will fall asleep while they have the needles in place because they are so relaxed. Acupuncture has been shown in studies to be more effective than medications for inducing sleep. Acupuncture has also been shown to help relieve chronic pain and anxiety which can cause insomnia and other sleep issues.
As you can see there are many alternative and complementary forms of healthcare to help treat sleep disorders. A lot of them are not covered by health care insurance meaning you will have to pay out of pocket. Repeated visits are necessary to see marked improvement in symptom relief.
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