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BETTER SLEEP TIPS:
Self-Help for Insomnia & Sleep Deprivation

A Self-Help Workbook by Lucinda Sykes , M.D.

Chapter 4

Medications & Natural Sleep Aids

Contents:

What’s the best way to use sleep medications?

Many medications can help you sleep. Usually it’s best to reserve these for sleeplessness caused by a stressful event or other temporary imbalance. Your doctor can advise and prescribe for you.

If you’re sleepless every night because you’re going though a stressful time, talk to your doctor. The doctor might prescribe a sleep medication to help you through this difficult time. Short term use of a sleep medication could prevent your temporary sleeplessness from becoming a habit (as described in Chapter 14).

Sometimes people take sleep medications to avoid making necessary changes to their lifestyle or circumstances. They can ignore the need to change things because the medication solves their insomnia -- at least for now. Unfortunately, such resistance to necessary change can cause future health problems.

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For how long should I take sleep medications?

Sleep doctors usually tell patients to avoid taking sleep medications for longer than 2-3 weeks, unless the medication is to treat a diagnosed sleep disorder. A person who keeps taking sleep medications for longer may find they become adapted to the medication and need it for sleep even after the original stress has gone. Sleep medications don’t likely provide sleep of natural structure or depth.

If your insomnia is caused by a medical condition, you may require medication for a longer time. For example, the insomnia of depression can require months of antidepressant therapy. Some types of sleep disorder also need longer term medication. Your doctor will tell you the purpose of the medication and for how long you should take it.

Sometimes people start taking sleep medications while in hospital for surgery or other treatment. After they go home, they keep taking the sleep medication instead of returning to the natural sleep they had before going to hospital. Research studies show this is a special health risk for older people. (This illustrates how use of sleep medications can become a habit.)

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How can I stop?

If you now use sleep medications every night, you will likely experience “rebound insomnia” when you stop. This means that you could have trouble sleeping for several days or even weeks until your body rebalances.

If you have taken sleep medications most nights of the past few months (or years), talk to your doctor to learn how to discontinue medication safely. The doctor will probably suggest that you slowly “wean” yourself from the sleep medication by taking incrementally smaller doses over time.

This is done by taking pills of smaller dosage, or by breaking the tablet/capsule into smaller pieces and then taking a single fragment rather than your usual full dose.

If you’ve taken the medication for more than a year, this period of gradual withdrawal could continue over several months.

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The use of sleep medications can be a habit.

Sometimes people rely on sleep medications out of habit. Taking the medication becomes a ritual associated with getting a good night’s sleep.

If sleep medications have become a habit, some people find they can take a smaller amount of the pill or capsule to get the same effect. For example, some people break sleeping pills into numerous fragments, and then sleep well after taking only a single fragment!

If you notice that your use of sleep medications tends to be a habit, experiment with other habits for sleep. (Some other sleep habits are described in Chapter 9: Preparing for Bed, and Chapter 14: The Habit of Insomnia.)

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What is a “natural sleep aid”? What is a “natural sleep remedy”?

“Natural sleep aids” can be defined as nonpharmacological modalities that help people sleep. These include massage, “touch healing” & acupuncture.

“Natural sleep remedies” can be defined as nonpharmacological substances that help people sleep. These substances are usually available without prescription.

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Who can advise me about natural sleep aids & therapies?

Medical doctors trained in “integrative medicine” usually offer reliable advice about natural sleep aids & remedies. Integrative medicine combines standard medical treatment with alternative treatments that are backed by scientific research.

Homeopathy, naturopathy, aromatherapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are alternative health disciplines that are systematized and open to scientific investigation. In some jurisdictions, practitioners are formally trained & licensed, and they can counsel you about your insomnia. Your medical doctor may be able to refer you to an experienced practitioner.

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Some Natural Sleep Aids

Weekly massage can lower stress levels and help people sleep, especially when combined with daily stretches. Try a series of treatments. (If weekly massage is beyond your budget, check for massage schools that offer discounts.)

There are many types of massage, including shiatsu, cranio-sacral, reflexology, and the more common relaxation or “Swedish style” massage. Choose an experienced practitioner whom you like and who makes you feel comfortable. Your doctor may have a contact to suggest.

“Therapeutic touch”, “Reiki”, and “orthobionomy” are types of alternative therapy based on “touch healing”. These practices are sometimes offered by health practitioners such as nurses, registered massage therapists, and physiotherapists.

Acupuncture is gradually integrating into medical practice because research has shown that it is a safe and effective treatment for some medical conditions. Depending on your location, you may be able to find a medical doctor or other licensed professional who offers acupuncture treatment. Usually a series of treatments is suggested, perhaps weekly.

 

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Some Natural Sleep Remedies

Most aromatherapists recommend the essential oil of lavender (lavendula angustifolia) as a sleep remedy. Before retiring, place 1-2 drops on your pillow or on a tissue placed a short distance from your head. You may prefer to use a vaporizer or atomizer, or place a sachet of lavender under your pillow. One study found that lavender was effective in combination with chamomile (chamaemelum nobile).

Those who don’t like the scent of lavender might try European basil (ocimum basilicum), or bitter orange, lemon, neroli and other citrus oils. Some aromatherapists also suggest ylang ylang (cananga odorata) or sandalwood (santalum album).

Aromatherapists use real essential oils prepared from the plant rather than artificial fragrances created in the lab. (Unfortunately, oils at your local store may not be genuine.) Don’t take essential oils by mouth or put them on your skin. However, several drops can be added to the bath water.

Several studies have shown that valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is useful for short-term insomnia. It is generally considered safe if taken as a bedtime tea in usual dosage, but check with your doctor to decide if this is appropriate for you. Bring water to a full boil, and then steep the tea for at least 5-7 minutes. (One study showed valerian effective when combined with hops. Another showed that valerian becomes more effective if taken over several nights.)

Some researchers suggest that milk contains compounds that aid sleep. (You might enjoy warm milk at bedtime.)

Chamomile tea is popular and readily available. Many people say it helps them sleep. Several commercial blends contain chamomile and other teas for sleep. Experiment to find what works for you.

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Note: This workbook of “Better Sleep Tips” is included with purchase of the Sleep Meditation CD.

Chapter Selection -> 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8-20   Sleep Meditation CD

sleep meditation cd
  • a self-help CD for people who have trouble sleeping
  • easy to follow even if you’ve never meditated before
  • helps occasional and chronic sleeplessness
  • listen to a sample audio clip

CAUTION:“Self Help for Insomnia” is an educational site about adult insomnia & sleep deprivation. This site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. The site provides general information that might not apply to your particular sleep problem.

If you have chronic trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. Discuss this site’s information & CD with your doctor to decide what’s appropriate for you.

Be sure to read Chapter 2: Sleep Disorders & Other Medical Causes of Lack of Sleep.


Copyright ©2007 Lucinda Sykes
Permission granted for personal, non-commercial use
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