In search of a better night’s sleep, Eagle County?
VAIL CO, Colorado
Taking a pill can be an instant way to relax the mind for individuals who have trouble sleeping, but for those looking for more than a quick fix, there are some alternate, longer lasting remedies for habitual insomnia.
Traditional doctors and holistic health professionals agree that they see very few patients whose sleep patterns are normal.
“I don’t think many people sleep well,” said naturopathic doctor Eliza Klearman, who has an office in Eagle. “A lot of people are on Ambien, Lunesta, Xanax to help them sleep and we see a lot of rebound insomnia after they try to go off of it.”
The naturopathic approach involves digging into the root of the problem to discover what accounts for a person’s inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. This can be something as simple as examining what a person is eating and drinking during the day.
“It is probably too much caffeine and sugar to get them through the day,” said Vail nutritionist Sally Connelly. “If that is the problem, we need to find things that calm Cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland. This can be eating three meals a day and a couple of snacks, making sure all meals have proteins, carbohydrates and fats and not just eating grains all the time. When you start the morning with protein, you have less Cortisol throughout the day.”
According to naturopathic doctor Deborah Wiancek of Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic and Pharmacy, eating a bit of protein before bed can also be the key to not waking up in the middle of the night.
“Having a little protein before bedtime, people tend to sleep better,” she said. “Some people have low blood sugar issues and it causes them to wake up. A little protein at night can help with this. I like turkey. Turkey has tryptophan in it, the amino acid that helps with sleep and relaxation. Really, just a small amount of food, a little piece of turkey or a cracker with some almond butter on it, could help a lot.”
Alcohol and sugar can also be traced to sleeping problems.
“A lot of people like to do chocolate and dessert at night,” Wiancek said. “Sugar can keep you up and chocolate has caffeine. Some people are super sensitive to caffeine and even if they only have a cup of coffee in the morning, it can keep them up at night. Another big one is alcohol. Alcohol will definitely affect sleep … it can knock people out but then they don’t sleep restfully or they wake up in the middle of the night.”
For those unwilling to cut out daily coffee or evening cocktails, there are some simple rituals and remedies that can counteract the ill effects of a stressful day that lead to poor sleep.
“There are a lot of wonderful natural supplements: calcium and magnesium are very relaxing – most minerals can have a calming affect,” Connelly points out. “There’s a lot of calming herbs, too – chamomile, passion flower, theanine – it’s a calming chemical component. I love GABA, it’s a butyric acid – it can be bought over the counter and it tends to be calming to Cortisol.”
Other calming herbs, oils and natural substances that can be bought in capsules or tea include Valerian, hops, Kava, lavender and skullcap oats. Melatonin – the hormone that helps regulate sleep – can also be bought over the counter.
“Melatonin can work really well, especially if your body’s deficient,” Wiancek said. “I recommend starting out with just 1 milligram at night. What happens in our society is people take too much.”
The body naturally produces melatonin, but only in the dark, thus cutting out as much light as possible is also important in fostering a good night’s sleep.
“I always tell my clients, no computers or television at night,” Klearman said. “The light from computer and TVs – any kind of light – depletes melatonin. Sleeping in a completely dark room, covering the alarm clock … for insomnia it helps sometimes to not have a clock in the room at all or hide it under the bed. People wake up and look at the clock and say, ‘Oh my God, I only have two more hours of sleep.’ Then they have more anxiety. I advise making the bedroom a safe, dark, relaxing place that is used only for sleep and sex.”
Klearman and Wiancek also advise breathing exercises – breathing heavily in and out for counts of eight, counting backwards from 10, taking a warm bath at night and getting some sort of exercise and fresh air during the day, but not within five hours of going to bed.
Rather than seeing a doctor for a prescription of narcotics (Valium, Xanax, etc) or sleep hypnotics (Ambien, Lunesta, etc.), which are addictive and can be less effective over time, progressively requiring a higher dose, individuals with chronic sleep problems could benefit from acupuncture and/or Chinese herbs.
Chemicals aside, many people can’t sleep simply because their mind is racing. Acupuncturists say this is likely due to a disharmony among the body’s chi (or energy) points.
“From a Chinese medicine perspective, sleep issues can be due to specific patterns of energy imbalance and the most common is related to the liver Chi,” said acupuncturist and herbalist Dustin Bergman, who practices at the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic. “The liver is responsible for chi flowing through the body. When it becomes stagnant, that’s when you have a lot of problems. They can manifest in different ways, one is sleep problems, waking in the middle of the night. The other organ related to sleep is the spleen. Spleen disharmony will manifest as a racing mind. There are a lot of different things we can do for that. Acupuncture is good at treating sleep problems, it ensures the free flow of the liver chi.”
Bergman’s acupuncture treatments involve first evaluating his clients’ diet, sleep patterns, energy levels, habits, other physical ailments and examining their pulse and tongue. From here he determines where to apply the needles that will harmonize the body’s Chi. He said some of his clients – even the ones with sleep disorders – fall asleep on his table.
“No two treatments are alike because they’re specific to that person,” said Bergman, who is also a big proponent of the arts of Qigong (a mixture of breathing techniques, gentle movements and meditation) and Yoga Nidra for better sleep. “I like to do herbs in conjunction with acupuncture. Generally speaking, it’s going to take three to five visits to make a substantial change.”
Margie Kell, one of Bergman’s clients, went in to be treated for migraines but said the acupuncture treatments made an obvious difference in her sleep patterns, too.
“I was waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning. Then, as he was treating me with the acupuncture it changed,” Kell said. “I thought it was fascinating. Acupuncture is just a launching pad to a more balanced state. I felt it restored my energy and it gave me power over this ailment.”
Bergman also gave Kell some tea (Beautiful Sleep) that he formulated out of Chinese herbs to help her with chronic sleep problems. It works as an instant remedy for her, she said.
“I was a little skeptical at first, Chinese herbs … I wasn’t sure,” Kell said about the teas, which consist of An Mien Pian and Mimosa flowers. “But they really are wonderful. They don’t knock you out, but they relax you enough to sleep well. My husband tried it and also said, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ I am so medication sensitive, so it was really nice to have something natural that actually works.”