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Insomnia and Sleep Disturbances: Homeopathic Approaches

by June Sayer(more info)

listed in homeopathy, originally published in issue 193 - April 2012

At the end of a busy day we get ready for bed knowing that a good night's sleep will refresh us and that when we waken we will be bright and ready to face the day's activities. But for many people, adults and children alike, a full night's sleep is something of a rarity. Various sources suggest that within the course of a year, up to thirty percent of the population will suffer from sleep disturbance and that psychological factors such as anxiety and depression are likely to account for up to 50% of insomnias.

There are five stages of sleep that the body goes through, known as rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM so once you lay your head on your pillow you enter the first stage of non-REM sleep. During this stage your eyes will move slowly and muscle movement ceases yet as you drift in and out of sleep, you can still be easily disturbed. The second stage of non-REM follows, whereupon you are fully asleep and unaware of your surroundings. During this stage your body temperature drops, your breathing and heartbeat regulate, your brainwaves slow down and your eye movements are almost non-existent.

The third stage of non-REM takes you to a much deeper sleep, the brainwaves are even slower than they were in the second stage, the muscles are very relaxed and it would be much harder for you to be woken from this phase of sleep. It is suggested that this is the stage when a child might wet the bed. The fourth stage of non-REM is the deepest sleep you will experience - there will be no sporadic bursts of brainwave activity, and once again it would be very difficult to wake you from this phase of your sleep.

The fifth stage of sleep is known as REM and it is at this stage that you will be dreaming. Even though the eyes are closed, the eye movement is rapid and your breathing pattern is irregular, rapid and shallow. During this phase your heart rate and blood pressure will begin to rise, but the large voluntary muscles of your body will be in a state of paralysis so as to protect you from acting out your dreams. Consequently there is a contrast between the high amount of brain activity and physical immobility.

Of this sleep pattern there can be up to 5 sleep cycles per night, and whilst the first cycle of REM sleep may be just 10 minutes long, the latter cycle of REM could be up to 90 minutes duration, although the length of this sleep can be affected by psychological and physical factors.

Young babies and children have a much longer REM cycle that decreases during adolescence and further still in old age. Disturbance of the REM cycle can affect a person's memory and possibly difficulty in learning new things.

There are two types of insomnia referred to as sleep onset and sleep maintenance insomnia. Someone with sleep onset insomnia may find it difficult to get to sleep while someone with sleep maintenance insomnia will find it difficult to maintain sleep.

In today's society we spend a lot of time in front of computers, watch television and use mobile phones, eat sugary foods and consume alcoholic drinks or those that contain stimulants, all of which can have an effect on the ability of the body to relax. Caffeine can cause insomnia and alcohol can disrupt serotonin levels. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that initiates sleep. Eating foods such as nuts and seeds and green leafy vegetables will provide the body with calcium and magnesium that in turn have a calming effect on the system.

I have worked with clients who have suffered with disruptive sleep patterns; as homeopaths we are trained to find the cause in order that we can select the appropriate remedy. The main reasons that I have come across are anxiety in children and adults, menopause and depression.

Recently I have had cause to work with two young boys of almost identical age (21 months) with disturbed sleep patterns. The first child had developed an extremely good sleeping pattern once the need for his nightly feeds had ceased. A few weeks ago he became unsettled and nothing seemed to comfort him, but as with all children who are not proficient in telling their parents what causes them discomfort, the parents have to work intuitively and eliminate all areas that they believe could be causing the disruption. A couple of weeks after the disruption began, the child developed a severe case of measles and with the aid of homeopathic remedies and lots of tender loving care, he recovered well. However, the disruptive sleep pattern continued, with the child waking during the early hours of the morning and the parents being unable to re-settle him so that their day was beginning at 4am. They called me to discuss the situation and the child was given his constitutional remedy Calcarea Carbonica; he has now returned to his normal sleep pattern much to the delight of his sleep deprived parents.

Calcarea Carbonica is used for children who have the characteristic chubby, round facial features. They are very obstinate when tired, and instead of falling asleep they will whine and cry and cannot be calmed and will force themselves to stay awake. They are very contented, independent little ones who will do things in their own time and in their own way, but during illness they are known to cling to their parents for security and stability. At some stage in their lives they may experience night terrors and wake screaming with fear. These children become very irritable during illness, accompanied by whining and indecisiveness.

The second child that I have had cause to be consulted about has never been able to settle into any form of sleep pattern. Firmly placing the child in his cot and giving him plenty of reassurance had no effect to the point that he would scream incessantly. Naturally the parents do not wish to distress him further and on examining the case to see if I could determine any underlying reasons for his inability to settle down, I discovered that aside from the parents moving home, he had also been subjected to three different childminders once the mother had returned to work. The child is a very happy-go-lucky little boy with bright eyes and fair hair and plays well with his toys, his siblings, family pets and is developing very well. Discussing this with the parents we concluded that he may be experiencing separation issues; with this in mind I decided upon the remedy Pulsatilla. The parents have reported back that his sleep pattern has begun to improve.

Pulsatilla is suited to children who are very friendly and need lots of affection. They are highly sensitive children who have a perception of being abandoned by their parents so need to be very close to them and are fairly clingy when unwell. They are like an April day, sunshine and rain alternately. They can turn on their tears to demand attention, only to have these tears turn to smiles when they are picked up and cuddled and fussed over. This child refuses to go to sleep alone, needing to have a parent with them for reassurance.

Whilst the examples given above refer to young infants, the effect of being awake for either a child or a loved one can deplete your energy level, leaving you feeling tired and irritable, so if you are experience sleep problems, a homeopathic approach may be just the answer.

Murray M, Pizzorno J. Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine 2nd Edition. Three Rivers Press. 1997.
Herscu P. The Homeopathic Treatment of Children: Pediatric Constitutional types. North Atlantic Books, 1993.
Murphy Robin ND, Nature's Materia Medica 3rd Edition. 2005.


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About June Sayer

June Sayer DHom (Med) MARH MRHom DNTh DIridol Homeopath Nutritionist Reiki Master/Teacher became fascinated by homeopathy after seeking treatment for her children and herself some 23 years ago; this dramatic change in their overall health led her to train as a homoeopathic practitioner. She qualified from the Hahnemann College in 1992 and has been in practice since that date. She is one of the founding directors of the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths and has a practice in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex where she enjoys training individuals in the art and practice of homoeopathy. She may be contacted on Tel: 01621 730664;   


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