Insomnia and sleep disorders By Dr Barbara Lewis BSc, DHom, DHerb, MNIMH Dr Barbara Lewis is a registered herbalist and homeopath in practice for the past 24 years. She has taught homeopathy at the Durban Technicon, and has recently coauthored a self-help book on homeopathy. Dr Lewis practices at the Refuah Healing Centre in Sea Point and in Rondebosch, Cape Town, tel. 021-433 2858.
Sleep disorders form a large part of many homeopathic practices, and while the treatment may often be 'constitutional', i.e. pertaining to the whole person and his or her underlying imbalances, there is much that one can do at a self-help level to achieve peaceful sleep.
Infants respond particularly well to constitutional homeopathy. Newly occurring insomnia responds very positively and rapidly to homeopathy, but long-time sufferers who have become accustomed to taking sleeping pills are difficult to treat and often need enormous personal willpower. They need to wean themselves slowly from their sleeping pills and take the homeopathic remedy only or if they are on vacation, throw away the sleeping pills and be prepared to stay awake all night for several nights until natural sleep comes again.
The most common causes of insomnia are due to tension, anxiety or depression, but various foods, drinks and medications can interfere with normal sleep. In relieving insomnia one should eliminate sleep inhibitors for that individual, which may include cold feet, coffee, soft drinks, tea, cocoa, alcohol or nocturnal hypoglycaemia (low night-time blood glucose level). A complex carbohydrate snack before bed such as an oat muffin can promote sleep by raising brain serotonin levels. Bed socks, teddy bears or hot water bottles can help some chilly or lonely mortals sleep. Deep breathing and relaxation exercises can be very effective in reducing tension. As you will have seen in the previous articles on homeopathy, one needs to match as many of the particular individual's symptoms of the ailment to the picture of the individual homeopathic remedy. To that effect, I have described the insomnia picture of some acute remedies below.
It would be recommended that one takes 3 pellets or tablets of the remedy at a 9CH or 30CH strength at bedtime, and repeat the dose after about an hour and again on waking in the middle of the night.
Nux vomica is a wonderful remedy for insomnia caused by stress and overwork. One typically falls asleep in front of the TV after supper, but can't fall asleep once one is in bed, or wake up at 03h00 with a rush of ideas and are not able to fall asleep again until early morning, just before the alarm clock is due to go off! Nux vom constitutional types may also be sleepless from overeating or drinking too much alcohol. The dreams are anxious, often of being pursued by animals and they may talk in their sleep. Nux vom taken before bed will help a stressed individual in transition from a 'flight and fight' syndrome to one of 'rest and recuperation'.
Potentised Coffea cruda or unroasted coffee calms the nerves of oversensitive people suffering from hyperactivity of mind and body and intolerance to pain. The insomnia is characterised by a rush of thoughts and ideas, an over-sensitivity to slight noises and like Nux vom they can only doze after 03h00. Coffea can be used for the effects of drinking too much coffee or for the effects of hearing good news or insomnia from nerve pain or toothache.
Staphysagria has been described before as a remedy for the ill effects of suppressed anger and humiliation. One may lay awake going over the story in one's mind thinking of all the things one should have said! These people may be sleepy all day and awake all night with body aches all over. There may be an increased tendency to masturbate.
Calc carb and Sulphur are frequently used remedies for insomnia used by professional homeopaths. Sulphur people like to catnap and often don't need much sleep, but do want their hot feet uncovered to cool them off, while the Calc carb constitution tends towards insomnia from worry and the same disagreeable ideas rouse one from a light sleep. Calc carb children tend to dream about monsters or suffer from night terrors.
Stramonium constitutional types suffer frightful night terrors. The child wakens terrified, screaming with fright and knows no one although he will cling to anyone near him. His dreams may be of sharks, crocodiles and 'baddies'. These children can't bear solitude or the dark and must have a night-light. Even though one reassures them, they don't feel reassured.
Belladonna constitutional types are closely related to Stramonium and see unpleasant images when closing their eyes. Although they are drowsy they can't fall asleep. Belladonna children moan and jerk during sleep, and become flushed and hot before a fever that typically starts at 03h00.
Pulsatilla is for those who often can't fall sleep because a repetitive silly phrase from a story or image from a movie goes round and round in their head. 'Baa baa black sheep, baa baa black sheep!' They may be irresistibly sleepy in the afternoon and wideawake in the evening. They often sleep with their hands above their heads, and may chatter in their sleep. Pulsatilla patients are frequently thirstless, mild mannered and want company. Aconite is used for the effects of fright, anxiety and shock, and can be successful in insomnia of the aged.
People needing Aconite tend to be restless and toss about and have anxious dreams.
Those with a Gelsemium constitution are often very drowsy with flu and fall into a heavy stupid sleep. Anxious students feel sleepy, but cannot get fully to sleep or there may be insomnia from exhaustion, mental excitement, thinking too much or from too much tobacco. They tend to yawn a lot.
Ignatia types have insomnia from grief and if they fall asleep, the sleep is so light that they hear everything around them. Ignatia individuals suffer enormously as a result of wounded pride and may dream the same horrible dream over and over, whereas the dreams of Nat mur individuals will continue on from where they left off after waking and then falling asleep again. Nat mur may sob or jerk in their sleep from grief or dream of robbers, which they fear greatly.
Cocculus indicus is a remedy for caregivers for the exhaustion suffered from the loss of sleep from nursing loved ones. These sympathetic people feel hollow, dizzy and empty from the fatigue of 'night-watching' and are sleepless from mental exhaustion. There is a frequent tendency to car or motion sickness too.
Zincum met is useful if one cannot fall asleep because of a constant need to move 'restless legs'. If there is no family history of restless legs, check whether the patient is anaemic by checking ferritin levels. Extra folic acid also helps.
Other restless remedies include Arsen album and Rhus tox. Arsen alb types must get out of bed and sit up or even go and lie on the couch for a while before moving back to their own bed. The sleep is anxious, disturbed and restless, and the dreams may represent their great fear of death. When one needs Arsen alb one often wakes at about midnight to 02h00 and wanders about for a while.
Rhus tox always feels better for movement and worse while immobile. Overexertion and muscular fatigue will cause a very restless insomnia with much stretching. They awake tired, stiff and sore.
Kali brom 6CH is very useful for frightful nightmares if taken before bed for a few nights. Eschscholtzia or California poppy is a harmless poppy used as a nerve sedative to promote restful sleep. It is indicated in insomnia from anxiety.
Arnica's insomnia is caused by overexertion and money worries, or after an injury when they awake at night and the bed feels too hard and they cannot get comfortable. Arnica dreams are anxious and terrible and after waking from them, the dreamer is unable to fall asleep again.
Cina is for insomnia from the itching caused by worms. The itching is usually worse at full moon when the worms come out of the anus to lay their eggs. Children needing Cina are very twitchy, touchy and irritable and restless, may bed wet, talk or scream in their sleep or suffer from night terrors. They tend to pick at their noses incessantly.
Sleep apnoea is usually treated with the remedy Opium, but this is in the realm of the professional homeopath.
Herbs for insomnia Valerian is one of the best-known mild sedatives to improve the quality of sleep. Clinical trials have proved its efficacy for insomnia, nervous tension and anxiety. Valerian should not be taken with antidepressants. Fifteen drops in a little warm water can be taken before bed. Cats react to valerian like catnip and are entranced by it.
Humulus lupulus (hops) helps in falling asleep, while Avena sativa (oat straw) strengthens the nervous system and promotes restful sleep.
Passiflora helps sleep and is mildly euphoric and calms general nervous agitation. It works particularly well together with 5HTP.
Drinking chamomile tea nightly before bed is calming to tummy and head, and is a very effective carminative for some people.
Lavender oil in the bath or rubbed on the feet, is also gently calming for many people.
Calcium tablets should be taken at night as calcium promotes good sleep.
Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, is effective as a sedative only when melatonin body levels are low, which is common in the elderly.
Supplementation can then be very effective. As can be seen, there are many natural herbal and homeopathic ways to help one drift off into restful sleep, but one needs to persist for a while as natural methods restore the natural balance and that may take a little longer to achieve but ultimately will be far more healthful.
Further reading: 1. Bloch R, Lewis B. Homoeopathy for the Home. Cape Town: Struik, 2003. 2. Castro. Complete Homoeopathic Handbook. London: Pan MacMillan, 1996. 3. Lockie A. The Family Guide to Homeopathy - The Safe From of Medicine for the Future. London: Elm Tree Books, 1989.