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Health & Balance

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Alternative Treatments for Sleep Disorders

Acupuncture for Sleep Disorders

Acupuncture is often used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders. This procedure involves inserting very fine needles (sometimes in combination with a small electrical stimulus or with heat produced by burning specific herbs) into the skin at specific points in order to influence the functioning of the body. The results of some small preliminary clinical trials of acupuncture show promise in treating insomnia. However, additional research is needed.

Relaxation and Meditation for Sleep Disorders

Increased muscle tension and intrusive thoughts interfere with sleep. Therefore, it is not surprising that techniques aimed at relaxing muscles (progressive muscle relaxation and biofeedback) and quieting the mind (meditation) have been effective treatments for insomnia. Most people can learn these techniques, but it usually takes several weeks before they can master them well enough to help ease insomnia. There is a growing body of evidence that supports the value of meditation in treating insomnia. Several studies show that regular meditation, either alone or as a part of a yoga session, results in higher blood levels of melatonin, an important regulator of sleep.

Exercise for Sleep Disorders

Regular exercise deepens sleep in young adults -- whether or not they have trouble sleeping. In addition, several studies show that exercise can improve sleep in older people. Recent studies show that even low-to-moderate tai chi can improve the quality of sleep for older people, while Tibetan yoga exercises can help cancer patients with sleep problems. Although consistent exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, most experts advise completing exercise at least three to four hours before bedtime to avoid interference with sleep.

Warnings About Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies are not always benign; in particular, some herbal products can interact with other medications you may be taking. Consider the following points before starting alternative therapy:

  • Always talk to your doctor before trying an alternative approach, and tell your doctor what alternative treatments you are using.
  • If you experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, diarrhea, or skin rashes, stop taking the herbal product and notify your doctor immediately.
  • Beware of commercial claims made for herbal products. Look for scientific-based sources of information.
  • Select brands carefully. Only buy brands that list the common and scientific name of the herb, the name and address of the manufacturer, a batch and lot number, expiration date, dosage guidelines, and potential side effects.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on June 06, 2014
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