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Holistic Approaches to Insomnia

by Janette Stroud(more info)

listed in sleep and insomnia, originally published in issue 37 - February 1999

There is only so much insomnia that one person can take. The moment that I decided to get the better of it a major insight occurred. I realised that for most of us it is a self esteem issue that needs to be dealt with and that it could be tackled in a variety of ways.

I began to address my 'I can't cope' syndrome which embraced anxieties about past and future events. I reminded myself that I had successfully survived my mother's alcoholism, a divorce and a fight against cancer using alternative therapies.

Calming picture of the sea

By repeating this to myself especially at bedtime, I convinced myself that the world would not fall apart whatever it threw at me next. It's a good idea to substitute counting sheep with counting your achievements.

My confidence was given a much needed boost two years ago when I had hypnotherapy. This uncovered nooks and crannies of my emotional life of which I'd been unaware. This kind of help can help clear out buried issues and leave you free to move on. Working with a loving therapist was also very healing. I believe this help is still unfolding in me and has enabled me to find ways of ending my insomnia.

In order to help yourself it's necessary to identify what is fuelling your insomnia. There are two main reasons, stress and depression. If you are stressed you are likely to be unable to get off to sleep. Depression on the other hand usually results in an initial ability to fall asleep and then a waking up in the early hours of the morning and sleeping very fitfully afterwards.

If stress is the problem it may be caused by unsatisfactory relationships. These can either be discarded or repaired, perhaps through counselling. Counselling may also help you with your relationship with yourself which in turn will help you to resolve problems.

If there are stresses at work there will be strategies to deal with them. Sometimes just a change in attitude can defuse a situation. The problem may stay the same but if you can see it in a different light it will be less threatening.

For instance I was finding the behaviour of some of the children I taught stressful and challenging until I began to think more about the children and their difficulties at home. I worked with them in a calmer way. The children seemed to pick up that I cared about them and their behaviour improved. Other stresses can be minimised using a similar approach.

Both stress and depression can be relieved by being kind to yourself. Often we take care of others as the expense of ourselves or it may be that taking care of yourself is a whole new area for you. Find as many ways as you can to make your life pleasanter and more joyful.

Be a child again, sing, dance - I often have a one woman party in my kitchen. Take up a new interest, do something unpredictable.

Spend time with family and friends who love you and let them know that you love them. Laugh as much as you can. A smile uses less muscles than a frown. Even a forced smile can start to change your mood.

If you live alone, make that a time to nurture yourself. Here are some suggestions. Treat yourself to special healthy food and drinks. Borrow books, CDs and videos from the library to make your leisure time more enjoyable. Phone friends and make your surroundings pleasant. Light a candle and focus on its light and warmth. Add your own ideas to this list.

And so to bed. Put your clock where you can't see it. It is important not to have a clock with an electronic display or an electric blanket as these affect your magnetic field. During the day we build up electrical charges which can be earthed literally by walking on soil or grass. Watching you do this will give the neighbours a new interest.

Looking after yourself at bedtime is particularly important. Try having an aromatherapy bath with one of the following essential oils. All of them are known for their calming effect. Put 6-8 drops into 10ml of grapeseed oil and sprinkle some in your bath. Light candles in the bathroom and enjoy the sensuality of it all. The oil can also be used for massage or put on cotton wool to inhale at bedtime.

A drink of chamomile tea or honey and lemon can further calm you at bedtime. When possible go to bed as early as nine o'clock. This will be psychologically beneficial as you will know that you have plenty of time ahead of you to rest if not sleep, before embarking on another day.

Once you are in bed, reassure the child within us that it has all the resources needed to cope with future events. If necessary write down a list of your concerns and tell yourself that you will cope with them later. I tell myself that this is a time for rest and healing. There are some excellent tapes specifically to help insomnia.

I have found the meditational practise of focusing on the breath very beneficial. Try noticing how the breath feels as it enters and leaves your body. As you inhale, silently say, 'in' and as you exhale say, 'out'. By repeating these two words you are closing off your mind to other thoughts. If they return just go back to focusing on the breath again. You will get better at it with practice.

Alongside this it's useful to join a meditation group or to try it alone. This got me into the habit of being still even when my thoughts were racing. Gradually my mind slowed down to match my body. Modern life is full of people running around like headless chickens. Although we may lead busy lives, an ability to meditate can be used in a few snatched minutes even in the busiest day if we are looking after ourselves.

As well as helping ourselves mentally we can also use physical intervention. I tried using herbal preparations for insomnia for a while but although they were of some help, I was becoming increasingly sleepy throughout the day. If, however, you are drawn to herbal medicine you might like to make infusions of valerian or passionflower to drink at bedtime.

I finally decided to explore the homoeopathic option and found that there were remedies to suit different types of insomnia. Homoeopathy is a safe non addictive way to quieten the mind and induce deeper sleep. My sleep is now deeper and longer since using it. Another bonus is that I feel more alert during the day.

You can try these in strength 6X or if you think you need a higher dosage try 30X. Take two in the morning, two in the early evening and two at bedtime. If you wake up in the night take two more. Allow a few days for them to work. It is very important to combine this with changing your mental state. Here is a menu to help you.

Some of what you eat and drink may also be keeping you awake. Try decaffeinated drinks and avoid alcohol and sugar. You may have an undiagnosed wheat allergy which can affect your ability to sleep. Eat a healthy diet of as much fresh and organic fruit and vegetables as you can. Try making delicious fruit and vegetable juices with a blender or juicer.

Avoid processed foods which are full of chemicals which may be affecting you. Non organic dairy products are also full of hormones, antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides. These can all damage your overall health and are best avoided. Eating well is part of looking after yourself. A good multivitamin and additional vitamin B and magnesium are also recommended

A final consideration is exercise. This releases endorphins which are antidepressants. Exercise also relaxes muscles and promotes deeper breathing. It can energise you. It will improve your mental outlook and all your bodily functions. It is also enjoyable.

It is wonderful to feel that life is so much more enjoyable again. I hope some of these ideas will help you too. Good luck, goodnight and sweet dreams!

Essential Oils for a calming bedtime bath

Lavender • Rose • Sandalwood
Lemon • Geranium • Ylang Ylang
Marjoram • Valerian • Neroli Cypress

IGNATIA for grief or fear that you'll never sleep again
ACONITE for fear
ARNICA for shock
COFFEA for racing thoughts and sensitivity to noise
PHOSPHORUS for nightmares
SULPHER if you are easily awakened by noise
ARG NIT for exam and interview nerve
NUX VOM if you initially fall asleep, wake in the early hours and fall asleep at getting up time
PULSATILLA restless sleep, feeling hot, then cold after throwing off the bedding
OPIUM very tired but unable to get off to sleep
ARSEN ALB inability to fall asleep, waking in the early hours, restless- ness, a need to get up and walk about

Suppliers

Hambledon Herbs 01823 401205
Ainsworth's Homoeopathic Pharmacy 01883 340332

Further Information

Cancer Self Help Directory available from Janette Stroud, 16 Alvington Road, Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight PO30 5AR. Price £3.50

References

The Family Health Guide to Homoeopathy. Dr B Rose. Limpsfield & London, 1992. ISBN 1 850281645
The Complete Family Guide to Alternative Medicine. Ed N Shealy. Element, 1996. ISBN 1 852308737
The Reader's Digest Family Guide to Alternative Medicine. Ed P Pietroni 1991. ISBN 0 276420101
Gentle Medicine. A Smyth. Thorsons, 1994. ISBN 0 58331774
The Aromatherapy Workbook. S Price. Thorsons, 1993 ISBN 0 722526458
Stress Busters. R Holden. Thorsons, 1992. ISBN 0 722526326

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About Janette Stroud

Janette Stroud BA is a supply teacher and aspiring writer. She has successfully used alternative therapies to beat cancer and has written a Cancer Self-Help Directory as a result. Tel: 01983 521 001.

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