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Complementary and alternative treatments for sleep disorders

Complementary and alternative therapies used to treat insomnia include supplements, relaxation and meditation, acupuncture and exercise.

Herbal treatments

The regulator MHRA has registered a number of herbal products used to help with the symptoms of sleep disorders. Unlike licensing for mainstream medicines, registration doesn't mean a herbal remedy has been tested and proven to actually work.

It does mean the MHRA is satisfied the product is made to good quality standards with appropriate labelling and a product information leaflet. It also means the herb has been used in traditional remedies for more than 30 years.

Lemon balm

Used for the temporary relief of symptoms of mild anxiety and to aid sleep.

Passion flower

Used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbance.
Used for the temporary relief of symptoms associated with stress such as mild anxiety and to aid sleep.

Valerian

Used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbance including disturbance caused by the symptoms of mild anxiety.
Used for the temporary relief of symptoms associated with stress, such as mild anxiety.

Since herbal supplements can interact with certain medications, always tell your doctor if you are using any herbal supplements.

Acupuncture for sleep disorders

Acupuncture is often used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders. This procedure involves the insertion of very fine needles - sometimes in combination with a small electrical stimulus or with heat produced by burning specific herbs - into the skin at specific acupuncture points in order to influence the functioning of the body. The results of preliminary clinical trials of acupuncture have indicated improvements in sleep quality in people with insomnia. However, additional research is required before the effectiveness of acupuncture is proved conclusively for the relief of insomnia.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides guidelines to the NHS on use of treatments and care of patients. Currently, NICE recommends that acupuncture is considered as a treatment option for one condition - lower back pain

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. The NHS says: "Cognitive and behavioural treatments aim to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that may be contributing to your 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.

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