The Best Insomnia Treatment Usually Does Not Involve a Pill

Doctors often diagnose any kind of sleep disturbance as an emotional disturbance. What you really need, the doctor is likely to tell you, is some kind of tranquillizer to help you get your rest. Or maybe you act as your own doctor and decide you need a glass of beer or wine or a shot of whiskey before you go to bed.

The problem with these approaches is not only that the longer you use a tranquillizer or alcohol to try to get restful sleep, the more the tranquillizer or alcohol interferes with normal sleep!

And if the real reason you can't to sleep is you can't breathe properly, any kind of sedative will actually make insomnia worse. Fortunately, there are some straightforward solutions to most sleep problems.

What Your Nose Knows About Insomnia Treatment

Treating stuffy nose sometimes works wonders for insomnia. One of the simplest treatments for nasal congestion is salt water. You can buy a squeeze bottle of saline solution at your local pharmacy, or you can obtain a squeeze bulb and make your own salt solution.

Make your salt solution from 1 cup (240 ml) of warm (not hot, and not cold) water in which you dissolve ½ teaspoon (2 grams) of table salt, preferably a brand of salt that does not include additives. To use salt solution to remove congestion and hardened mucus you will need a few minutes without interruptions just before your bedtime.

Go to a bathroom that has both a sink and shower. First of all, take 30 seconds to a minute just listening to your breathing. Any little whistle as you breathe is a sign of congestion. Then squirt the sterile salt solution up your nose as you stand over a sink.

The first time you do this, you may be shocked at what comes out! You can follow up by standing in the shower, taking in the steam from hot water, but not standing in the hot water. Don't scald yourself in the shower, and don't expose your skin to too much hot water directly, since hot water can dry it out.

When you stand in the shower, you may notice more phlegm and mucus coming loose. Remove the dissolved mucus with fingers, if necessary, or by blowing your nose. Don't dig into your nose looking for more. Let the water vapor do its work.

Once you get out of the shower and dry off, take another minute or so to pay attention to your breathing. See if you hear the same rattles and whistles as you did before your shower. If you do, the problem probably is not congestion, and it may be something you need to discuss with your doctor.

Breathing Right with Nasal Strips

A nasal strip, or a nasal dilator strip, is a strip of adhesive that looks something like a tiny bandage. It fits across the nose, applying pressure to the nostrils, and keeping them open. The strips are made of a material that has a springy consistency that will expand the strip when the nostrils contract and relax the strips when the nose opens up. The strip has to be placed below the bridge of the nose (at eye level) or it will have no effect on the nasal passages.

The largest group of consumers of nasal strips is colds and flu sufferers, who use them to help get to sleep. The second large group of consumers of nasal strips is amateur and professional athletes, who use the strips during play to keep airways open for maximum oxygenation. The principle of how the strips work, however, is the same for all three groups.

There is a lot to like about nose strips. They are easy to use. They are very inexpensive. They seem to work better the long you use them. The only downside to using nasal strips is that most people who have sleep apnea do not use them long enough to realize a benefit.

If you have nasal congestion, you will usually notice easier breathing in just a few minutes. If you are using nasal dilator strips to treat sleep apnea, however, you may not notice improvement in symptoms for weeks or even months. Very few people who have nighttime breathing disorders will notice any difference after using nose strips just one night.

In fact, very few people who have sleep apnea (snoring or snorting that causes breathing to stop) will notice any difference for at least two weeks, and, in one clinical study, people had to be persuaded to use the nasal dilator strips for a full three months before symptoms got better. Still, considering the complete absence of side effects and the very low cost, nose strips are a good investment of a few dollars and a few seconds a day for treatment.

Get a Leg Up on Restless Legs Disorder

Another common problem among people who have sleep apnea, especially people who have sleep apnea and who are under the age of 45, is restless legs disorder. The nighttime version of this condition is known as periodic limb movement disorder. Both conditions affect tens of millions of people, including people who have other, additional causes of insomnia.

Periodic limb movement disorder occurs during sleep. In this condition:

The real problem with restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder may be avoiding it by staying up later and later in an attempt to get so tired and sleepy that maybe the twitches and kicks just won't happen. Unfortunately, this strategy seldom works, and the result is ever increasing fatigue. Even worse, sometimes physicians prescribe sedatives that don't stop the symptoms, but do cause daytime fatigue.

The medications specifically for restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder are not a whole lot better. Doctors often prescribe the same medications for these disorders as they do for Parkinson's disease.

There are two problems with these drugs. One is that they make nighttime leg twitches better, but they make early morning leg twitches worse. The other is that users tend to need more and more of them, and they get more and more nausea, constipation, and hypersexuality as higher doses lead to more side effects. Many people who use these drugs are not warned that a greatly stimulated sex drive, sometimes with uncontrollable erections in men, can result at higher doses taken over a period of years.

There are some alternatives that actually work. One is a tiny dose of dopamine from the Ayurvedic herb atmagupta, which is also known by its botanical name Mucuna pruriens. This bean, like fava beans, makes actual dopamine (which calms the animals that would otherwise eat it). The dose, however, is only about 2 to 3 per cent of the dose you would get from a prescription drug. For some people, this can be enough to control symptoms without side effects.

Remember, Insomnia Treatment May Have to Address Multiple Causes

If you suffer insomnia, you may need multiple treatments to get good rest. Taking care of breathing problems and restless legs may not be all you need to do, but these measures help nearly 90 per cent of people who have trouble getting sleep.

Selected References:

Woodson BT. Non-pressure therapies for obstructive sleep apnea: surgery and oral appliances. Respir Care. 2010 Oct;55(10):1314-21; discussion 1321. Review.

Zammit C, Liddicoat H, Moonsie I, Makker H.

Obesity and Respiratory Diseases. Int J Gen Med. 2010 Oct 20;3:335-43.