Alternative therapies for insomnia

Alternative therapies for insomnia

Insomnia resulting from an anxious, stressed, or worried mind can often be addressed by learning ways to release physical tension, reduce arousal, and by effective relaxation. Relaxation techniques should be undertaken outside the bedroom, prior to going to bed, to avoid actively “trying” to relax, which can interfere with sleep.

Meditation therapies

As a holistic and complimentary medical treatment, meditation is being used effectively in the fight against many types of ailments and diseases, including insomnia. Regular practitioners of meditation believe earnestly in the mind-body unity and that the ability to overcome physical problems is in one’s own hands. Meditation when practiced correctly has been successful at quieting the thought process and physically relaxing the body, the two conditions required before we can be receptive to sleep.

A variety of meditation techniques may be successfully used to stave off insomnia, and insomnia sufferers are advised to find one that works best for each of them as individuals. It is a good idea to locate a meditation class in your local community so that you can be advised by the class leader or therapist as to which techniques would best suit a particular condition.

There are many types of meditation that can reduce stress and help relaxation just before bedtime. The specifics vary, but key steps typically include the following:

1) Sit somewhere quiet in comfortable, loose clothing.

2) Close the eyes, allow the hands to rest on the legs, and relax the muscles.

3) Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

4) Choose a simple word such as “relax” or “easy”, a religious word or phrase (if you’re religious), or a meaningless word like the mantra “om” (my favourite!). As you breathe, repeat the word aloud or in your mind.

5) Continue breathing regularly with muscles relaxed. It may help to count our breaths, starting over with every five breaths.

Yoga therapies

I regularly practice Yoga. Even though I don’t believe in the more “new age” aspects of it, I find that yoga helps tremendously with sleep. Yoga practice actually provides two therapies in one: exercise and focused meditation. As in meditation therapies, the best advice is to find a yoga group or class in the local community, and ask the leader what are the best techniques and positions to use for bringing on calming sleep inducement. Two types of yoga therapies that may help are described below:

Kundalini yoga, which addresses posture, meditation, breathing, and fosters increased healing and consciousness. Through meditation, you learn to connect with your breath as you learn about yoga breathing in the correct manner. This also helps to sweep away the worries and troubles of the day so that you become mentally prepared for sleep. If you become distracted, you just need to re-focus on your breathing.

Shabad Kriya, a version of Kundalini yoga, involves gradually slowing your pace before bedtime, releasing problems, and remembering the things for which you are grateful. When practicing this type of yoga, you should refrain from food intake for the few hours before it’s time to go to sleep. By using only the left nostril for breathing, you gradually begin to wind down. During this time, a mantra can be recited.

As yoga is a form of physical exercise, care should be taken that the movements are carried out correctly — as injury can occur when practiced without prior instruction.

Controlled breathing

One very good insomnia treatment that results from alternative therapies is breath control. Breath control consists of simple exercises and does not require anything complicated; when you retire to bed, you should try to relax all the muscles in your body. As tension leaves the muscles, you should focus on the rhythm of your breathing, beginning with a long deep breath, followed by a pause, and then a long exhalation. Though it may take a few minutes to find it comfortable, controlled breathing helps shift your focus from daily problems, enabling your brain to enter the alpha state — the first phase before sleep induction.

Deep breathing that involves the diaphragm can help relaxation. You can teach yourself this technique, but it does require a little practice. When you breathe in, your stomach should be expanding outward. When you breathe out, your stomach should flatten out. This type of breathing admits a lot more oxygen into the body.

Deep breathing

Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, this technique slows respiration — leading to relaxation, and then sleep. The idea is to replicate the rhythm of breathing which is evident when sleeping (slow and predominantly from the diaphragm — the muscle between the abdomen and the chest), rather than that when fully awake (faster and using the diaphragm and chest muscles). Follow these steps:

1) Begin by finding a place where you can lie flat on your back with your feet slightly apart. Lightly rest one hand on your abdomen, just near your navel, and rest your other hand on your chest.

2) Inhale through the nose and calmly exhale through the mouth until most of the air is emptied from the lungs. Focus on the breathing and identify which hand is moving. Ideally the hand on the chest should remain still, or follow after the hand on the abdomen.

3) Gently inhale, slightly distending your abdomen to make it rise. Imagine warmth flowing into your lungs and all parts of your body. Pause for one second. Then, as you slowly count to four, gently exhale, allowing the diaphragm to relax and the abdomen to slowly fall. Pause for another second.

4) Repeat this process five to ten times.

Progressive muscle relaxation

This technique allows us to relax the entire body by tensing and relaxing a series of muscles. Follow these steps:

1) Find a place to sit or lie down and get into a comfortable position. Put a pillow under your head, or place one under your knees to relax your back. Rest your arms, with palms up, slightly apart from your body.

2) Take several slow, deep breaths through the nose. Exhale with a long sigh to release tension.

3) Begin to focus on your feet and ankles. Tighten the muscles briefly (five to ten seconds), and then relax them. Let them fall from your consciousness.

4) Slowly move your attention up through different parts of your body: your calves, thighs, lower back, hips, and pelvic area; your middle back, abdomen, upper back, shoulders, arms, and hands; your neck, jaw, tongue, forehead, and scalp.

5) If your thoughts distract you, try to ignore them and return your attention to the breathing.

Sleep restriction

This treatment should only be undertaken under the advice and supervision from a doctor or health professional. I tried it several years ago, and it worked for several months before I could sleep without the regimen.

Firstly, you’ll be asked to keep a sleep diary which will be analyzed by your health professional. You may then be advised to restrict the hours you spend in bed each night to the length of time you actually sleep. Your “get-up” time will be set to the time you usually arise.

You’ll be asked to maintain your sleep diary, and weekly adjustments will be made to the length of time you are allowed to spend in bed in relation to the period of actual sleep. These adjustments are made each week until you are sleeping for longer periods of time. It must again be stressed that this procedure is only undertaken with the supervision of a health professional.