Friday, 3 August 2007

Insomniacs Turn to Mind-body Techniques and Herbal Therapies

Publication: Los Angeles Times

Whether meditating before bed or sipping a kava kava nightcap, more than 1.6 million Americans use some form of alternative medicine when they have trouble sleeping.

In analyzing data from 31,000 Americans interviewed for the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, researchers found that nearly one-fifth of adults reported difficulty sleeping in the last 12 months, and of those, about 5 percent used complementary and alternative medicine to treat their sleeplessness. The majority of those who tried the therapies said they helped, with nearly half saying they helped “a great deal.”

Nearly 65 percent of people using alternative methods to help them sleep used “biological therapies,” such as herbs or supplements, and 39 percent used “mind-body therapies,” such as self-hypnosis, guided imagery or other relaxation techniques.

The report, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was part of a larger look at U.S. sleep habits. Researchers also found a strong connection between reports of insomnia or sleep troubles and other health conditions, such as obesity, hypertension, congestive heart failure and anxiety or depression.

Although the report didn’t rank the popularity of specific herbal or behavioral remedies, doctors who recommend complementary and alternative medicine said some therapies — such as melatonin, kava kava and valerian — can be effective in treating sleep problems and are typically safer than sleep drugs.

Dr. Jay Udani, who runs the Integrative Medicine Program at the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, said he would recommend anyone with sleep problems start with mind-body techniques such as self-hypnosis, meditation or guided imagery. If that were not sufficient, he might recommend mind-body techniques combined with an herbal remedy — and melatonin would be his first choice. Even a low dose (1 to 5 milligrams) of melatonin can be effective, he says.

But doctors cautioned against mixing sleep-inducing herbs or supplements with sleep drugs. Consumers should talk with their physicians first, they said.

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