I had my first taste of insomnia in university. It began with a few restless nights, tossing and turning and watching the clock. And then it turned into trouble falling asleep followed by waking up early, and then everything in between. Soon, I worried about not sleeping at all and wondered how it was going to affect my performance at my upcoming board exams. This worry led to even more sleepless nights. Some nights, I would lie wide awake all night and then, just as I would finally drift off at 5 a.m., I would hear my early-to-rise neighbour (let’s call him Ned Flanders) grinding coffee in the apartment below. Friends told me to take Gravol, while others tried to console me saying, “Don’t worry, my boyfriend has had insomnia for 10 years. You’ll get used to it.” Well I can tell you right now, and any insomniac will tell you, you never get used to it. I fought it tooth and nail and this is the paradox with insomnia. You can’t try to fall asleep. As badly as you may want it, you can’t make it happen. One cure for my insomnia was to let go and this meant embracing the insomnia. What you resist persists, so they say.
Although there is more to insomnia than just letting go. In fact moving apartments improved my sleep significantly and not because the new residence was free from noise. Ned Flanders was now replaced by a combination of combat boots and stilettos on my head in the early hours of the morning. However, the old residence was forever associated in my mind as the “house of bunked sleep,” to borrow a quote from the entertaining and elucidating memoir, “Wide Awake: What I Learned About Sleep from Doctors, Drug Companies, Dream Experts, and a Reindeer Herder in the Arctic Circle,” by Patricia Morrisroe. Indeed there was a powerful psychological component to changing residences, which led to more sleep time. Combined with some homeopathic remedies, which I discuss in more detail below, I eventually had a complete resolution of symptoms.
Walking into any health food store, one might get the impression that we are dealing with a nation of insomniacs and they would be right. According to a Université Laval study, “sleep disorders affect 40 percent of Canadians” (2011). The question I always received when working at a health food store was, “which one works the best?” while the customer pointed at the towering wall of sleep remedies and supplements. If only there was a one-size-fits-all approach, I thought to myself. Homeopathic remedies, in particular, are very individualized. Here are some of the more common remedies to help you get some zzzs:
· Coffea: It sounds counterintuitive to recommend coffee to help you sleep, but homeopathic remedies are based on the law of similars (like cures like). If you are exhibiting the symptoms of someone who has had one cup of java too many, then this might be the remedy for you. Some key characteristics include over activity of the mind or insomnia after hearing good or bad news, or from other sudden emotions, or insomnia after drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
· Arsenicum: That’s right! Arsenic, but don’t worry. It is in such a diluted dose that it will have no toxic effect on the body. Symptoms include sleeplessness because of anxiety and fears; driven out of bed by anxiety, or feels anxious while sleeping. Another common symptom is feeling too tired to sleep (e.g. after mental or physical exertion).
· Ignatia: This is one of my favourite remedies for insomnia. Often this remedy is given for insomnia which comes from grief. Grief doesn’t necessarily come from major changes in life like a death or a move or a divorce. It can also be due to seemingly minor changes. Frequent sighing or yawning can be an indication for this remedy. Sobbing or whimpering during sleep is another characteristic symptom. Also a great remedy for anxiety.
· Nux Vomica: This is a fantastic remedy whenever you have overindulged on alcohol, coffee or rich foods. It is also helpful if such overindulgence has resulted in insomnia. It is even helpful for a long period of mental strain or excessive study. Irritability or hypersensitivity to the slightest noise or distraction can be an indication for this remedy.
· Passiflora: The homeopathic form is particularly good for an overactive mind. The herbal form is called Passionflower and can also be beneficial.
· Chamomila: This remedy can be beneficial for people with insomnia due to irritability or insomnia for physical pain or insomnia in people dependent on sedatives.
· Pulsatilla: This remedy is indicated if you are kept awake by one specific thought. Some confirmatory symptoms include weeping because of the inability to go to sleep or hands held over the head during sleep.
There are many other homeopathic remedies that may be more suitable for targeting your sleep issues. It is important to discuss this with your practitioner if you are unable to find relief, especially if it has been going on longer than a couple of weeks. It’s important to review proper sleep hygiene habits and review other lifestyle habits. Nutritional deficiencies can affect sleep. For example, magnesium acts as a natural tranquilizer and can help stabilize mood. You can increase your intake of magnesium by eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds or take 300-500 mg or magnesium in the evening. Also, adequate amounts of tryptophan are needed to make you feel sleepy. Foods high in tryptophan include cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds or milk. Some people suffer from insomnia due to an imbalance with sleep neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin. This can be aided with the proper balance of supplemental melatonin and 5-HTP, but finding the proper dose for you is something to be determined with your health practitioner. Alternatively, exposing yourself to natural light first thing in the morning can help to increase serotonin, while dimming the lights in the evening can assist with melatonin production and can help make you feel sleepy.
Women can be especially susceptible to insomnia, due to hormonal fluctuations throughout the month. Perimenopausal women might notice the peaks and dips are even more dramatic during the month than when they were younger, leading to inconsistent sleep patterns especially when estrogen (estradiol) drops. A familiar symptom I hear from women, especially women between the ages of 40-50 years old, is that they find themselves waking up every hour. For menopausal women, there could be even more hot flashes which can make sleep virtually impossible. Balancing hormones with homeopathic remedies, supplements, healthy diet and stress reduction can do wonders for turning sleepless nights into restorative nights.
On a final note, adrenal support is especially important for both women and men who are desperate for a good night’s sleep. The adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys, are responsible for producing a number of hormones including cortisol, adrenalin, noradrenalin and DHEA. Prolonged stress, however, can impair the adrenal glands’ ability to produce these hormones in sufficient amounts which can lead to anxiety, depression and, you guessed it…insomnia! I will talk in more detail about how to support the adrenal glands in future blogs, since it is so crucial to hormone balance and general vitality.
Cummings, Stephen, and Dana Ullman. “Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines.” 1997.
Holford, Patrick. “New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind.” 2009.
Université Laval. “Sleep disorders affect 40 percent of Canadians.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 September 2011.