Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep. Disrupted sleep patterns that last up to a few weeks are considered acute insomnia; it becomes chronic if sleep is affected for more than one month.
Stressful situations can trigger acute insomnia, so treatment may focus on resolving those triggers. Prescription medications can also help break this temporary sleepless cycle—but should be used for only a few weeks. For chronic insomnia, modifying habits often does the trick: Go to bed only when you feel sleepy. Do not lie in bed for more than 20 minutes if you cannot fall asleep. Use your bed for sleep and sex only. Get up at the same time every morning and do not consume caffeine or exercise for four or five hours before bedtime.
—Ashwin Gowda, MD, specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center of Central Texas in Austin
If your insomnia is caused by physical restlessness (such as after a hard day of muscle work), take 2 grams of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) daily, and 500 to 750 mg of the nerve-calming herb kava (Piper methysticum) at bedtime.
To relieve mental restlessness, or worries, I recommend taking the herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis) as a glycerite. Four to five droppersful at bedtime often provide relief within three to four days. Some people may need to use it for several months for improved sleep. If you are waking up hungry, try eating a little protein at bedtime—a handful of almonds or a small glass of warm soy milk.
Chronic insomnia may be due to sleep apnea, or episodes of disrupted breathing during the night. Regular cardiovascular exercise and doing conscious breathing exercises may help.
—Emily Kane, ND, Juneau, Alaska-based author of Managing Menopause Naturally (Basic Health Publications, 2004)
Homeopathy most effectively treats acute or chronic insomnia that has been brought on by specific circumstances. The remedy Coffea cruda is great for the kind of insomnia that causes you to wake up at 3 a.m. with your eyes wide open, thinking about creative ideas. That’s an over-stimulated, hyperactive, excited mind. Nux vomica may offer relief if you tend to wake up thinking about business, particularly if you tend to be a work-aholic, competitive, and irritable. Try Ignatia amara if you can’t sleep after a breakup or the death of a loved one, or if you lack appetite and have recurring crying spells. Arsenicum album works well if you are experiencing a lot of anxiety, accompanied by fear, restlessness, and constant concern about health.
—Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, ND, of Edmonds, Washington; board-certified diplomat of the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians and coauthor of Homeopathic Self-Care (Three Rivers Press, 1997)