Over 50 million Americans “suffer from sleep disorders, including insomnia, excessive drowsiness, and restless movement during sleep. According to many sleep practitioners of alternative medicine, these disorders often are related to nutritional or behavioral factors, and may be remedied by addressing the various causes and symptoms underlying the condition,” suggests Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide (1993).
So what’s the big deal about sleep?
Well, sleep is a restoring process that recharges us — physiologically and psychologically. As a critical part of the daily human cycle, sleep (quantity and quality) determines our health.
The quantity and quality of sleep vary from person to person, but how well and how long one sleeps is ultimately the result of varying physical and psychological influences, says the Guide.
“Not only can stress, illness, and anxiety contribute to sleep disorders, but so can external circumstances, such as a noisy sleeping room, as well as disturbed biological rhythms, such as those occurring due to night-shift work and jet lag,” says John Zimmerman, Ph.D., Laboratory Director at the Washoe Sleep Disorders Center in Reno, Nev.
Common symptoms of sleep disorders include: shortened attention span, loss of physical strength, and difficulty in responding to unfamiliar situations.
What types of sleep disorders are there?
Insomnia. There are, in turn, three main types of insomnia: sleep-onset insomnia (trouble falling asleep in the beginning of the night); sleep-maintenance insomnia (waking up several times a night); and early-morning-awakening insomnia.
Although insomnia is not a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia, it’s become a mental health problem for an increasing number of Americans.
According to James Marti’s The Alternative Health & Medicine Encyclopedia, it was recently estimated that there are as many as 15 to 17 percent of Americans suffering from chronic, untreated sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
Sleep apnea. This is truly a serious condition, one in which cessation of breathing during sleep occurs, forcing the sufferer to repeatedly wake up to take breaths of air.
Still another is “restless leg syndrome,” a condition in which “periodic leg movement,” or twitching leg movements, can occur during sleep or wakefulness.
So what can we do about our sleep problems?
There are a variety of natural approaches we can take, many of which can be tried in a complementary fashion.
We can tap into the wisdom and solutions offered by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in which many sleep disorders are viewed as originating in kidney dysfunction.
According to Roger Hirsh, O.M.D., as cited in The Definitive Guide, the kidneys, like other organs, store energy. When the kidney’s ability to keep energy in reserve is compromised, sleep disorders can follow.
“Though the energy reserves of the kidney are depleted during the aging process, a person can help preserve or restore energy vital to the sleep process by tonifying the kidneys — this is done primarily with herbal remedies.”
In addition to taking advantage of excellent Chinese herbs, the National Institute on Aging recommends the following sleep strategies for people who have trouble nodding off.
Preventive steps to keep from nodding off
* Exercise in the morning or afternoon, not immediately before bedtime.
* Avoid coffee, colas, or teas within three hours of turning in.
* Avoid alcohol and cigarettes.
* Relax for an hour, or so, before going to bed. Read, listen to music, or take a warm bath.
* Try to adjust your internal sleep clock by getting some exposure to natural light in the afternoon.
* Keep the bedroom quiet and dark, and set the temperature to a comfortable level.
* If a nap is needed, it should be taken in the afternoon, rather than in the morning or early evening.