Homeopathic Medicine for Insomnia & Sleep DisordersTamara Der-Ohanian July 1, 2010
Sleeping is trusting. In order to get a good night’s sleep, you need to give up control – yield and trust that you will be safe.
Sleep disorders are characterized by the inability to get sufficient and / or restful sleep. The labels range from insomnia, to sleep apnea, to somnambulism, to night terrors, to restless leg syndrome, to narcolepsy, and even sexomnia. Whatever the disorder, the underlying result and complaint are the same: “I don’t get enough sleep!”
The quality, rather than quantity, of a person’s sleep is important. You may be getting eight hours of sleep, but wake up feeling tired. Conversely, some people require only five hours of sleep to wake up feeling energized.
A CASE OF INSOMNIA
JD followed a series of bedtime rituals in order to fall asleep. The 34-year-old school teacher drank warm milk with her bedtime snack, listened to classical music, opened the living room window, and soaked her feet in warm water. After checking and re-checking the front door lock, JD would activate the burglar alarm. She then washed her hands and face thoroughly. The final steps, before resting her head on her pillow, included turning on the night light near her bed and putting in her ear plugs. On a good night, she fell asleep within one hour, and woke up three to four times during the night from the slightest noise, an anxious dream, or the need to urinate.
Each step in her routine was necessary to ensure her quality of sleep, which was mediocre at best. Missing any of the steps or deviating from this schedule guaranteed a restless, wakeful night, followed by an irritable, tired, and angry existence the following day. Travelling or sleeping over at friends’ homes was out of the question for her.
Careful examination of JD’s life story and personality revealed a life-long pattern of feelings of guilt, accompanied by fear of punishment. She also displayed a lot of anxiety relating to the need for order and cleanliness in her surroundings, coupled with the fear of germs.
The homeopathic remedy Syphillinum was prescribed.
Within two weeks of taking the remedy, JD’s ritualistic behaviour pattern began to crumble. She started forgetting to check the door locks and activate the alarm. Soaking her feet had become a nuisance and too much trouble to continue. After five weeks, JD was sleeping more soundly and waking up more refreshed than ever before. Within four months of homeopathic treatment, JD was ready and willing to face the demons that had her chained to her guilty past. She started communicating with her estranged sister and felt confident and hopeful about the future.
Insomnia, as well as other sleep disorders, is a symptom, not a disease on its own. This wakeful state is the result of physical and psychological causes which the organism is attempting to resolve. Just as the body creates fever to defend itself from invading micro-organisms, or diarrhea to rid the intestines of pathogens or irritants, a sleep disorder is a sign that something else needs to be addressed. Sometimes the solution is as simple as giving up coffee or getting regular exercise. In some cases, sleep disorders can be caused by prescription medication side effects, as well as joint pain, physical injuries, fibromyalgia, hormonal imbalance, or injury to the brain stem.
It is common for women to experience periodic insomnia during hormonal shifts such as PMS, pregnancy, and menopause. Chronic insomnia, however, is often due to underlying anxiety, fear, and depression.
Symptoms of insomnia can include difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, having trouble falling back asleep, waking up too early in the morning, sleeping lightly, and waking up feeling un-refreshed.
THE HOMEOPATHIC APPROACH
By analyzing the combined physical and psychological symptoms, a homeopath arrives at one remedy that corresponds to the patient’s state of being. Homeopaths look for a theme that links the person’s physical and psychological states. For example, a person needing the remedy Natrum Muriaticum will have “suppression” as the main theme. They may have unexpressed grief and anger on the emotional level, paralleled with physical suppressions such as fluid retention and constipation. Similarly, a person needing the remedy Causticum will present the theme of “rigidity” running through both physical and emotional states: rigid and unbending ideals about what’s right and wrong, as well as rigidity in their muscles and joints leading to eventual paralysis in the body.
The correct homeopathic remedy generates astounding results. Anxieties start to dissipate, depression lifts, physical symptoms disappear, and the negative life-patterns start to unravel. People feel compelled to make better choices, stay positive, and lead more fulfilling lives.
Parasomnia is a category of sleep disorders that includes any abnormal activity during sleep. It could be as minor as speaking or screaming out in your sleep, or as significant as acting out a complex activity such as wandering into the kitchen and cooking yourself a meal. Other disorders that fall under parasomnia include nightmares, grinding teeth, and restless leg syndrome.
The biggest cause of parasomnia is stress. In a healthy state, the brain mechanisms work to inhibit ‘acting out’ during sleep. When under stress “…their need for control is so intense that it overcomes the usual disengagement of the motor apparatus during sleep.” (1)
A CASE OF PARASOMNIA
“She walked into the bathroom wearing her pyjamas, took a full shower using soap and didn’t wake up,” explained the mother of a 10-year-old patient. Kara had difficulties falling asleep, had restless sleep with nightmares, and occasionally walked in her sleep. She had difficulties falling back asleep when she awoke in the middle of the night. Her nightmares involved being chased or attacked by wolves.
This once happy, bright, and assertive child was experiencing social difficulties. She felt compelled to protect a friend from bullies at school, which caused her to become the target of ridicule by the bullies and their cohort.
The information gathered on Kara’s personality and life history, combined with her physical symptoms, lead to the homeopathic prescription of Belladonna. I spoke with Kara’s mother six weeks later, who reported that Kara was her happy and confident self again. The sleepwalking had stopped and she was sleeping soundly through the night. The bullies, along with the nightmares, had disappeared.
ABOUT SLEEP APNEA
Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious breathing problem that interrupts one’s sleep. These breathing pauses can last from 10 to 30 seconds or longer, causing sufferers to stop breathing from dozens to hundreds of times each night.
Sleep apnea often begins with loud snoring, which is a sign that the airway is partly blocked. This means that less air can get through to the lungs and the oxygen levels drop. Next, the airways close off completely. After 10 to 30 seconds of no air reaching the lungs, the person wakes up with a jolt and takes a big gasp of air. The breathing then resumes, but the cycle starts over again as the person drifts off to sleep. The result is restless and insufficient sleep.
The physical causes of sleep apnea include the throat muscles being too relaxed to hold the airway open, fatty tissue blocking the airway (due to obesity), or the tongue blocking the airway. In most cases, the underlying causes of sleep apnea stem from unresolved emotional pain.
Using the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device is the most common sleep apnea treatment in modern medicine. The machine uses a mask that fits over the mouth and nose (or just over the nose) and gently blows air into the throat. The air pressure is adjusted so that it’s just enough to stop the airway from becoming narrowed or blocked during sleep.
Since sleep apnea (like other sleep disorders) is merely a symptom of a deeper health problem, controlling the breathing or stopping the snoring is only a temporary solution.
Case History – Mark was under a lot of stress when he sought homeopathic treatment as a last resort. His business was slow due to new competition. He was constantly arguing with his wife. He had poor quality of sleep due to sleep apnea, which woke him up 20 to 30 times a night. Due to insufficient sleep, Mark felt tired and sleepy all day long. He was short and irritable with coworkers, and had difficulty focusing in business meetings. Mark was no longer his gregarious and happy self.
Discussions about his childhood and upbringing revealed Mark’s feelings of inadequacy. These feelings were reinforced by his constant struggle and perceived failure to gain his father’s approval. His father’s sudden passing when Mark was 22 left him angry and depressed. After taking anti-depressant drugs for 10 years, he met his wife-to-be and was able to wean himself off the medication.
After a few years of feeling relatively stable, the next 15 were spent struggling with anxiety, depression, and later, sleep apnea. He had consulted doctors and specialists, and tried different anti-depressants and the CPAP machine. None of the treatments had proven satisfactory, hence Mark’s decision to try homeopathy.
After much questioning and listening to his story, I prescribed the remedy Calcarea Phosphoricum. With ongoing use of the remedy, Mark’s sleep apnea was significantly reduced in the first two months and completely disappeared within five months. At the same time, his depression lifted and anxiety disappeared. Both his personal and business relationships improved.
If sleeping is trusting, than its absence must be mistrust – a deep fear of letting go of control. Here is the big question: Why do we need so much control?
One of my favourite quotes from Alice Miller’s 1981 book, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, explains: “The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our perceptions confused and our body tricked with medication. But some day, the body will present its bill. For it is as incorruptible as a child who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.”
(1) Narayan Singh, Ph.D., Messages From The Body