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Classical Homeopath
Articles by Tamara Der-Ohanian, DSHM

Homeopathy for Insomnia; Treating the Cause

As published in the April 2004 issue of Vitality Magazine

Vitality MagazineYour partner sleeps four hours each night, never seems to run out of energy, and is chipper most of the time. You sleep eight hours every night, wishing you had ten, and drag yourself through the day. Who has the sleep problem? Actually, you do.

What is Insomnia?

Simply put, insomnia is the inability to get sufficient and/or restful sleep.

Its symptoms include one or more of the following:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at bedtime, despite feeling tired;
  • Waking up frequently during the night and having trouble falling back to sleep;
  • Waking up too early in the morning;
  • Not getting "quality" sleep that enables you to feel refreshed the next day, even though you slept for an adequate amount of time.

The quality, rather than the quantity, of a person's sleep is important. When we drift off to sleep, we either fall into a deep, restful sleep, or into a shallow, light sleep. One who normally requires eight hours of sleep, but sleeps lightly, will most likely awaken feeling tired. In contrast, if the same individual sleeps fewer hours, but lapses into a state of deep sleep, she may awaken refreshed and rejuvenated.

Some people consider themselves insomniacs, simply because they only require five or six hours of sleep. Essentially, they are high-energy people who don't need a lot of sleep. Some people's body rhythms are such that they experience their highest and most creative energy period late at night. The wakeful state they experience is not a sign of illness; it may simply be a signal that the person should use this time to do some creative work.

There are different types of insomnia: transient - if it lasts from one night to a few weeks; chronic - when it persists almost nightly for a minimum of one month; intermittent is the kind that returns periodically over months or years. Perhaps the best way to determine if you're getting enough sleep at night is if you feel rested and refreshed upon waking. Whether you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, this is one problem whose solution cannot be found by sleeping on it!

Why We Sleep

We spend approximately 25 years of our lives sleeping. While it is a common belief that we sleep to restore our body and mind, scientists don't actually have proof as to why we sleep. If you continuously deprive rats of sleep, they die after 14 days, but autopsies fail to reveal the cause of death.[1]

Deprive yourself of sleep and your attention and learning abilities will diminish quickly, your metabolic rate will increase, your body will be unable to regulate its temperature and at some point you will start hallucinating. The human record for no sleep is 11 days and is held by a student. He had no discernable ill effects apart from feeling sleepy, but in the end he just could not stay awake, which does not tell us much about why we sleep, only that we have a very powerful mechanism to make us sleep.[2]

Many theories have been proposed, but the primordial function of sleep remains a partial mystery. Some speculations suggest that the brain is testing, strengthening, or improving our neurons during sleep. Among the most common theories of sleep are 'energy conservation' and 'energy restoration'. The old myth that sleep is a rest period for the brain is definitely not correct. In fact, the brain is extremely active during sleep.

The brain is what tells us when it is time to sleep. Sensation of light taken in from the retina is transferred through the nerves to the hypothalamus. This hypothalamus determines the amount of light exposure and adjusts the body accordingly. This is all part of the circadian rhythms and the body's sleep-wake cycle.[3]

One complete sleep cycle lasts about 90 -100 minutes; therefore during an average sleep period a person will experience 4 to 5 complete sleep cycles. The sleep cycle begins with four stages of NREM (Non-REM) sleep. These stages then quickly reverse, and are followed by the first REM (Rapid Eye Movement) period, roughly 90 minutes after falling asleep. Thus, the first REM period will last for about 10 minutes, as a new cycle begins about every 100 minutes. As the night proceeds, the length of stages 3 and 4 (also called delta or deep sleep) begins to wane, and the length of REM sleep increases, up to one full hour in length after a number of cycles. Therefore, as the night goes on, you dream for longer periods of time. [4]

Although not completely understood, there seems to be a biological and a psychological need for REM sleep. Many spiritual disciplines and schools of psychology view the symbolic meaning of dreams as dealing with or working out of an individual's conscious or unconscious problems. Here are some of the many theories on the purpose of REM sleep:

  • Braindevelopment
  • Restoration of brain chemicals and neuron proteins
  • Development of oculomotor (eye movement) coordination
  • Memory storage and organization (Elimination of unneeded information in the sleeper's memory, to "clear out space" for new memory & consolidation and incorporating new learning into old memory)
  • Dealing with stress or problems in dreams. [5]

Why We Don't Sleep

Insomnia affects 22.7% of the Canadian population, according to a 2002 poll conducted by Leger Marketing. Of this group, 9.3% take sleeping pills; 6.7% prescribed by a doctor and 2.6% over the counter medication. It may be reassuring to know that you are not alone. This awareness however does not make falling asleep any easier, especially in light of the fact that we have an undeniable need for sleep. Emotional or psychological aspects are the number one cause of insomnia; anxiety regarding business and family, depression over relationship problems, tension over money matters, worries about health and disease, specific fears, such as darkness, ghosts, or not being able to fall asleep. Physical pain or discomfort in the body, such as colic, injuries or joint stiffness can give rise to sleeplessness. Another physical factor that interferes with sleep is connective-tissue disorders, such as fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia, more common in women, is characterized by intense pain and hypersensitivity throughout the body. In rare cases, insomnia results from injury to the brain stem.

"What's very, very common is restless-leg syndrome", says Meir Kryger, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Manitoba "It's so common that when I speak to 10 people, one or two have the problem. It occurs in both men and women, although women's hormonal makeup is a factor. Progesterone, a female hormone that is present in many birth-control and hormone-replacement therapy formulations, can trigger restless legs" "Low iron also has been associated with restless legs", she continues.

Studies show that bouts of insomnia may predispose individuals to depression, or vice versa. The correlation between sleep disorders and mood disorders holds true across age and gender lines.

How Homeopathy Can Help

Whether your insomnia is a result of anxiety, depression, aches and pains or other ailments, homeopathy has the ability to remove the root cause and restore harmony between body, mind and spirit.

Case #1: Samantha, a 26 year old woman, was unable to sleep without the aid of prescription sleeping pills each night. "I was afraid of falling asleep since I was a young child", she said to me during her first visit in early 2002. Without the drug, extreme anxiety and the fear of not being able to fall asleep would keep Samantha awake for hours. To alleviate some of her anxiety, Samantha would hold onto a stuffed animal or blanket, and make sure she was facing her bedroom door. Details of her medical history and personality led me to prescribe 2 doses of Arsenicum Album during a 6-week period. At our second meeting, Samantha was considerably calmer and commented on how her friends had also seen the difference in her demeanor. She reported being able to fall asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, without experiencing anxiety or needing drugs. Incidentally the number of epileptic seizures she had between visits had diminished dramatically.

Case #2: Mark, an active 75 year old man, who initially came to me with a digestive concern was also experiencing sleepless nights. He would fall asleep easily only to wake up 3-4 hours later and be unable to fall back asleep. His unique digestive symptoms, the rotten tasting post-nasal drip, combined with his "type A" personality traits pointed to the remedy Nux-vomica. Five days and 2 doses later, Mark called to tell me that his sleeping time had increased by one half-hour increments each night to a total of 7 hours. His digestive problems were also considerably better.

Case #3: "I fall asleep easily, but wake up every 2 hours; I can set my watch by it", Barbara complained. The insomnia, coupled with migraine headaches had begun at age 51, the onset of menopause for the 59 year old. Aside from the sleep disorder and the headaches, Barbara was perfectly healthy, and despite her conscientious efforts of finding a natural solution through teas, baths and meditation, she was unable to correct her sleep problem. Within 2 weeks, with the remedy Carcinosinum, Barbara was waking up once or twice, and her headaches were 50% better. With 3 months of continued treatment, Barbara was headache free and sleeping through the night.

Allopathic drugs, with sedatives, are habit forming and have side effects such as intellectual impairment, rebound insomnia, constipation, blood pressure alteration, confusion, etc. In addition, sedatives disturb deep sleep, leading you to wake up unrefreshed. Homeopathic medicines, on the other hand, are absolutely safe, non-toxic, non-addictive, and free of any known side effects or contraindications. A homeopath, while exploring the patient's case history, tries to determine the anxiety factor, the core disturbance, in the patient. Thus the remedy is prescribed for the root cause, the anxiety factor, rather than the insomnia, which is a mere symptom. When the correct homeopathic remedy is matched with the patient's constitution, the result is total freedom from tensions, worries anxiety and a good night's sleep.

If you're suffering with mild or transient insomnia, here are some techniques that may help with falling asleep:

Relaxation: Engage in yoga, meditation, listen to soothing music or ask your partner to give you a foot massage. Don't have a (willing) partner? Get regular massages by an RMT. There are plenty of Registered Massage Therapists with just the right touch. Take a soothing bath with essential oils such as orange blossom, meadowsweet, or hops. Use a mantra when meditating; a one or two syllable word that you repeat over and over again to help calm the mind and encourage sleep. You don't have to use Sanskrit words as a mantra. You can use words like: "one," "God," "love," or even "sleep."

Herbal sedatives: Steep one teaspoon each of valerian root, scullcap, and catnip for 20 minutes. One cup of this tea will relax the body and calm the mind. Another good combination of herbs is chamomile, passion flower, and hops.

Don't count sheep, count on sheep's wool: Wool blankets regulate skin and body temperature better than synthetic blankets.

Avoid stimulants: Products with caffeine include coffee, black tea, colas, aspirin and diet pills. Nicotine in cigarettes is also a stimulant that can keep you up at night. Alcohol may make you drowsy, but it disrupts sleep patterns and creates shallow unrefreshing sleep.

Warm milk rarely works: Despite folklore that has long suggested that warm milk helps people to sleep, research has shown that it is rarely helpful. In fact, non-fat and low-fat milk can actually stimulate the brain's activity.[6]

Avoid exercising close to bedtime: While regular exercise can calm the body and promote natural sleep, late-night aerobic activity can generate too much energy and prevent sleep.

Let your bedroom be your sanctuary: Avoid working in your bedroom or engaging in stressful activities like paying bills. Let your bedroom be a soothing, quiet, and relaxing place that helps you retreat from the worries of the outside world

Un-medicate yourself: Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including decongestants and aspirin, can disturb sleep. Talk with your doctor about reducing the dosage or changing the prescription. Drugs that have insomnia listed as one of their side effects include:

  • Analgesics (pain killers)
  • Antidepressants
  • Arthritis medications
  • Asthma medications
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Cold/allergy medications
  • Diet pills
  • Alertness medications

Eight hours isn't necessary: Research has suggested that insomniacs actually need less sleep than others. Don't feel pressured to get a full eight hours every night; you may experience less anxiety and be able to sleep better, even if you do sleep less.

Try Homeopathy: If you've a chronic insomnia sufferer and you've tried the above methods without any success it may be time to give homeopathy a chance. Homeopathy is a holistic and deep acting medicine that aims to treat the whole person rather than just the physical symptoms. It works on the principle that the mind and body are so strongly connected that the physical condition cannot be successfully treated without taking into consideration the person's emotional state and character. Whether you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, whether your insomnia is a result of emotional or physical ailments, homeopathy has a solution.

[1] Dana Ullman, M.P.H. The One Minute or So Healer: 500 Quick and Simple Ways to Heal Yourself Naturally, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1991.
[2] Outside Link - Insomnia Article
[3] Outside Link - Insomnia Article
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] Dana Ullman, M.P.H. The One Minute or So Healer: 500 Quick and Simple Ways to Heal Yourself Naturally, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1991.


Tamara Der-Ohanian, DSHM, is a Homeopathic Physician practicing in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 385-1001, or visit her web site at www.tamarader-ohanian.com


Winner! 2012 Best of Canada natural health awards

Tamara Der-Ohanian - Classical Homeopath
Classical Homeopath

305 Sheppard Ave. East, Toronto, ON, M2N 3B3 - CANADA
(416) 385 1001
Tamara Der-Ohanian - Classical Homeopath