Wake your mind to sleeping

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Techniques such as meditation, muscle relaxation exercises, deep breathing and visualisation are attractive to many people who prefer not to use medication to cure their insomnia.

Insomnia is a widespread sleep problem among adults. Almost 40 percent of people experience some symptoms of insomnia in a given year, and as many as 15 percent of adults struggle with chronic insomnia. Relaxation techniques are considered a standard form of treatment for insomnia by sleep professionals, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. These techniques include:

l Muscle relaxation exercises; l Deep breathing exercises;

l Imagery and visualisation.

These effective therapeutic practices are inexpensive, drug-free, easy to learn and integrate into a daily routine, and can be very effective in improving sleep.

Non-pharmaceutical sleep remedies are attractive to many people who don’t want to use medication to treat their sleep problems. This often leads people to seek other options in an area known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Despite its popularity, we don't know a great deal about how people use relaxation techniques and CAM, including what health problems they’re used to treat. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine sought to remedy this by using this study to assess how people with insomnia use relaxation techniques and CAM to treat their sleep disorder. They found that while many adults with insomnia are using these therapies, only a small percentage are using them specifically to treat insomnia.

The researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey, a survey on a wide range of health issues conducted by the US Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control. The study group included 23 358 adults.

Researchers in the current study investigated the prevalence of relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, muscle relaxation, biofeedback and guided imagery. They also examined the use of CAM, which they separated into four broad categories.

l Alternative and mind-body medicine, like meditation, yoga and tai chi.

l Manipulative practices, including massage, chiropractic and osteopathic treatments.

l Other CAM practices, including acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy.

l Natural products, including non-vitamin and non-mineral supplements, particularly those used for insomnia treatment, such as melatonin and valerian.

Finally, they asked if people who used these treatments had informed their physicians about their use. They found that use of relaxation and CAM techniques are common among people with insomnia. However, the vast majority of people with insomnia who use these therapies are not using them specifically to treat their insomnia.

Here are some of the details: Of those in the study, 18 percent had regular insomnia or difficulty sleeping in the past year. More women than men suffered from insomnia, as did older people, and those with lower education and income levels.

Of those people with insomnia, 22.9 percent used some type of relaxation therapy in the past year, compared to 11.2 percent of people without insomnia. Deep breathing exercises were the most common type of relaxation therapy used.

Only 19.1 percent of people discussed their use of relaxation therapy with their primary physician.

Nearly 30 percent of those with insomnia reported using relaxation exercises for specific medical issues, but only 30 individuals reported using relaxation techniques to treat their insomnia.

In the case of both relaxation techniques and CAM, women were more likely than men to use these therapies, as were people with higher levels of education and income, and people who reported higher levels of physical activity.

Talking with your doctor is an important step in making the most of relaxation techniques and complementary or alternative therapies to improve insomnia.

Increasingly, medical practitioners are open to, informed about and encouraging of these techniques. Your doctor can be a valuable resource in making choices about “alternative” therapies for insomnia and other sleep problems. – Huffington Post


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