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Natural Medicine Q&A
Ask Dr. P
by Kasra Pournadeali, ND
Natural Medicine Specialist

Ever wake up feeling like you just put your head on the pillow? Ever had so much on your mind, you couldn’t fall asleep? How about waking in the middle of the night for those bathroom visits! Let's not forget the time you watched the clock, unable to sleep, and became angry because of it, just making maters worse. It's called insomnia, and as you know it's a source of much discomfort. The good news is however, that you’re not alone, and treatment is available.

Q: Dr. P, I can't get to sleep on a regular basis. Why? Julie

Julie, insomnia, a common complaint, affects as many as 30% of us, and is often accompanied by fatigue or sleepiness during the day. It can be caused by a life or environment change, certain medications, sleep apnea, arthritis, chronic pain, thyroid or adrenal gland problems, other hormonal imbalance, poor blood sugar control, and even heart failure. It is therefore very important to see a doctor who can assist you in identifying and treating the cause of your insomnia and not just the symptom. Even if your insomnia is not caused by something life-threatening, it is still necessary to treat its cause properly. This is because without sleep, your body's repair & regeneration process cannot occur. Making sure you have good sleep quality will improve your energy, your mental clarity & judgement, it will alleviate problems with mood (panic, depression, anxiety,) and even improve your coordination.

Dr. P., what can I take that's "natural" to help me sleep? Chris

Chris, keep in mind that even "natural" over-the-counter preparations designed to help you sleep are only a Band-Aid approach, which like ordinary drugs typically just cover up symptoms. Identifying the cause of the problems is key to achieving cure-- a principle of natural medicine. For insomnia, I like to help you develop short and long-term goals. The long-term goal might be to identify the causes of your insomnia so that we can work on changing them gradually to improve your sleep quality. For example, are you drinking 6 cups of coffee per day or overindulging in alcohol? Is your primary staple high sugar foods? Have you been ill recently, or has something drastic happened in your life, which can disturb hormonal balance? Do you exercise regularly or overexert? Modifying such things can have profound effects in improving your ability to relax, clear your mind and sleep more restfully.

“That’s great,” you say, “but I need relief now!” Enter the short-term goal: to help you get immediate relief with plant medicines or clinical nutrition. Several botanical medicines have been shown effective in double blind studies to help with sleeplessness. For example Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), can reduce sleep latency and improve sleep quality, with little to no side effects. A typical dose is 150-300mg 30-45min before retiring standardized to 0.8% valeric acid. If you prefer a drink rather than a pill, you can also try Valerian tea steeping 1-2grams /2-3c hot water for 10min (again 30-45min before sleep). Another commonly used plant medicine for insomnia is Passiflora incarnata or Passion flower. Passion flower has been shown in studies to have mild sedative effects at doses of 200-400mg 30-45min prior to sleep. A tea of Passion flower would follow the same dosage pattern and schedule as listed for Valerian tea. Other possibilities, which might be helpful, are St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Hops (Humulus lupulus), Oat straw (Avena sativa) and many other herbal medicines and vitamins. Again, since identifying the cause of your insomnia is key to you achieving the best result, and a long term cure, it's best not to use the herbals sedatives long term. Likewise, since all plant medicines may not be appropriate for you, always talk to your naturopathic physician before adding any to your health plan. Be Well!

For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Northwest Center for Optimal Health at (360) 651-9355.




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