Mainstream western medicine is good at fixing things, but for chronic conditions (which are by definition conditions that can’t be fixed), people seek out alternative therapies, where they find practitioners who take more time with them and who approach insomnia as though the body – our hormones, the foods we eat – plays a part in the problem.
I’ve tried (nearly) everything anyone has ever told me worked for them, and it’s taken me some strange ways: lathering myself in sesame oil, brewing a Chinese herbal tea so foul that my dog fled the kitchen when it steeped, concocting a magnesium supplement that hissed and spat like something out of Harry Potter. I’ve driven across two counties to a guru who claimed to have the secret of sleep. I’ve tried valerian, kava kava, chamomile, skullcap, passionflower, homeopathic concoctions, l-tryptophan, 5-HTP, GABA, melatonin… I took the talking cure with a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and though the psychologist helped me sort things out, she hadn’t a clue why I sleep so badly or what I should do about it. I’ve tried most of the benzodiazepines…all the non-benzodiazepines… I’ve tried acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, hypnosis, self-hypnosis, relaxation tapes, ayurvedic medicine, adrenal support supplements, blackstrap molasses, wheat germ, bananas by the bunch, licorice root, SAME, St. John’s Wort, yoga positions, and at one point, I was swimming 3-4 miles a day. I’ve worn a magnet necklace. … I thought I’d tried everything there was to try, but when I started talking to insomniacs, I realized I’d missed a few: I have not consulted a psychic, hung in a flotation tank, done cranial electrical stimulation, slept with a cathode ion collector dish by the bed. I have not tried chelation treatment (getting the lead out), colostrom (don’t ask), sleeping with my head pointed north, or west, or Ordeal Therapy, unless you call vacuuming the house at 4 AM, which I used to do, “ordeal therapy.”
Vitamin therapies that have worked?
Herbs which are known to help sleep include passionflower, also called helmet flower, hoodwort, and mad-dog weed; skullcap, a member of the mint family (mint also may have sedative properties); hops, rich in vitamin B; chamomile, kava-kava, lemon balm, Reishi mushroom, and valerian. These are often combined in supplements available in health food stores.
Traditional remedies, Ayurvedic and acupuncture?
People find help in odd and interesting places, so it’s good to keep an open mind.
I hear about success with aromatherapy, especially lavender and cedar. I hear about a gizmo that tickles your scalp and makes you yawn, a shower with hard pounding nozzles in your back, and a jacuzzi. I hear about what one woman delicately refers to as “self-organized orgasm.” I hear about Infra red sauna therapy, which raises the body temperature 3 degrees for at least 10 minutes… I hear of successes with Craniosacral Therapy (cranio meaning head, sacral meaning the base of the spine). This is a technique that is said to manipulate the sutures of the skull, where the bones meet, to ease pressure in the craniosacral system.
Transcranial magnet stimulation (TMS), which uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate neural activity in specific parts of the brain,
cranial electrotherapy stimulation, a technique begun in the Soviet Union in the fifties, the so-called “sleep machine.”
Brain music is made with a special computer program and the patient’s EEG. The EEG patterns are converted into music recorded on a compact disk; some say it helps you sleep.
EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a fascinating therapy that originated in 1987 for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapists use hand movements or a flashing light to provide side-to-side stimulus for the eyes to follow; sometimes they use auditory stimuli, tones or tapping, that are made to alternate from ear to ear. While this is going on, the patient talks about the traumatic events, and somehow in the process, comes to see them in a less threatening light. Some say it’s worth months of talk therapy. Some say it helps sleep.
Mind machines, which provide goggles which flash lights and earphones which thrum and hum. Some say this is good for a racing mind.
Biofeedback devices give “feedback” through auditory tones or visual signals, on what’s going on in you physiologically, so you can learn to consciously regulate unconscious functions such as heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, muscle tension; they teach you to bring the autonomic nervous system under voluntary control.
I have heard insomniacs swear by hypnotherapy.
Brain music or other music therapies—anybody had any luck with these?
“Created to meet the needs of sleep sufferers, “Bedtime Beats®” was carefully programmed in accordance with research from Case Western Reserve University, which found that soothing music — specifically music with a tempo of 60-80 beats per minute (BPM) — resulted in significantly better perceived sleep quality, longer sleep duration, greater sleep efficiency, and more. The music featured in each set is specially sequenced and mastered to deliver a highly tranquil experience. People of all ages can benefit from the music, provided they listen daily for at least two weeks at the outset and begin listening to the CDs at least 15 minutes before bedtime.