The term insomnia literally denotes a complete lack of sleep. It is, however, used to indicate a relative inability to sleep that consists of difficulty in falling asleep, difficulty in remaining asleep, early final awakening, or combinations of these complaints. This disease has assumed alarming proportions in the present times, specially among the upper classes in the urban set-up.
Causes and Symptoms
The single symptom that most frequently marks the onset of insomnia is difficulty in falling asleep. There may be changes in the duration and quality of sleep, persistent changes in sleep patterns, lapses of memory, and lack of concentration during the day. Other symptoms are emotional instability, loss of coordination, and confusion.
The most common cause of sleeplessness is mental tension brought about by anxiety, worries, overwork, and overexcitement. Suppressed feelings of resentment, anger, and bitterness may also cause insomnia. Constipation, dyspepsia, overeating at night, excessive intake of tea or coffee, smoking, and going to bed hungry are among the other causes. Often, worrying about falling asleep is enough to keep one awake.
Thiamine: Of the various food elements, thiamine or vitamin Bj is of special significance in the treatment of insomnia. It is vital for strong, healthy nerves. A body starved of thiamine over a long period will be unable to relax and fall asleep naturally. Valuable sources of this vitamin are wholegrain cereals, pulses, and nuts.
Lettuce: Lettuce is beneficial in the treatment of insomnia as it contains a sleep-inducing substance, called iectucarium’. The juice of this plant has been likened in effect to the sedative action of opium without the accompanying excitement. Lettuce seeds taken in a decoction are also useful in insomnia. One tablespoon of seeds should be boiled in half a litre of water, till it is reduced by one-third.
Milk: Milk is very valuable in insomnia. A glass of milk, sweetened with honey, should be taken every night before going to bed in treating this condition. It acts as a tonic and a tranquilliser. Massaging the milk over the soles of the feet has also been found effective.
Curd: Curd is also useful in insomnia. The patient should take plenty of curd and massage it on the head. This will induce sleep.
Bottle Gourd: The mixture of bottle gourd juice and sesame oil in a 50:50 ratio acts as an effective medicine for insomnia. It should be massaged over the scalp every night. The cooked leaves of bottle gourd taken as a vegetable are also beneficial in the treatment of this disease.
Aniseed: A tea made from aniseed is valuable in sleeplessness. This tea is prepared by boiling about 375 ml of water in a vessel and adding a teaspoon of aniseed. The water should be covered with a lid and allowed to simmer for fifteen minutes. It should then be strained and drunk hot or warm. The tea may be sweetened with honey, and hot milk may also be added to it This tea should be taken after meals or before going to bed.
Honey: Honey is beneficial in the treatment of insomnia. It has a hypnotic action and induces a sound sleep. It should be taken with water, before going to bed, in doses of two teaspoons in a large cup of water. Babies generally fall asleep after taking honey.
Rauwolfia: The herb rauwolfia is a valuable medicine for insomnia because of its indisputable efficacy as a sedative. The hypnotic action of the drug appears to have been known since ancient times. The very first dose of rauwolfia will enable a patient with a phlegmatic and gouty nature to go to sleep. The powder of the root in a quantity of 0.25 gm to 0.5 gm should be mixed with some scented substance like cardamom and given to the patient The patient will have a sound sleep during the entire night If the disease is chronic, the patient should take 0.25 gm twice a day, in the morning as well as at night before retiring.
The patient should take a low-salt diet as salt is said to interfere with a restful sleep. A balanced diet with simple modifications in the eating pattern will go a long way in the treatment of insomnia. Such a diet should exclude white flour products, sugar and its products, tea, coffee, chocolate, cola drinks, alcohol, fatty foods, fried foods, and foods containing additives.
Regular active exercise during the day and mild exercise before retiring at night enhances the quantity and the quality of sleep. Yoga helps in a majority of cases. It provides physical and mental relaxation from one’s disturbing problems. The traditional yoga asanas which are effective for insomnia patients are shirshasana, sarvangasana, paschimottanasana, uttanasana, viparit karni, and shavasana.
The patient should make an all-out effort to eliminate as many stress factors as possible. The steps in this direction should include regular practice of any relaxation method or meditation technique; cultivating the art of doing things slowly, particularly activities like eating, walking, and talking; limiting the working day to nine or ten hours and the working week to five and a half days; cultivating a creative hobby and spending some time daily on this; and avoiding meeting unrealistic targets.