No More Sleepless Nights
by Vonalda M. Utterback, C.N.

Beat insomnia naturally with homeopathy, flower essences and herbs

Sleeping problems often come on slowly. A bad dream startles you awake and you have trouble drifting off again. Or perhaps you find yourself running through your to-do list for the next day while tossing and turning — long after you've said goodnight. When morning arrives you discover you may have only slept for a few hours. You're slow, tired and longing for a little shut-eye.

If you're experiencing insomnia, you're not alone. A 1999 survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than 60 percent of Americans experience sleeping difficulties at least several nights a week. The key is to recognize and deal with it early before it becomes chronic. But how do you do that in a gentle, natural way that really does relax and replenish you, rather than knock you out?

Body, Heal Thyself
Any number of factors can contribute to the lack of a good night's sleep. These include poor diet habits such as too much food, caffeine or alcohol consumption; exercise too close to bedtime; some prescription and over-the-counter medications; and the inability to let go of the stress or excitement of the day.

Fortunately, there are natural ways to treat insomnia without resorting to conventional drugs, which may cause a host of undesirable side effects. Two such methods, homeopathy and flower essences, work gently and safely to help the body restore itself.

Based on the principle of "like cures like," the medical system of homeopathy was developed by Samuel Hahnemann, M.D., in the late 1700s. Homeopathic remedies consist of minute amounts of various substances that stimulate the body's own healing powers, says Dana Ullman, M.P.H., author of several books on homeopathy, including Homeopathy A to Z (Hayhouse). According to homeopathic philosophy, the closer you match the remedy to your symptoms, the more effective treatment will be.

Although any number of remedies may work for insomnia, depending on your specific symptoms, Ullman suggests the following cures for the most common symptoms:

Coffea cruda (raw coffee bean) often works for insomnia when you are mentally and physically hyperactive — usually due to a positive event.

Ignatia amara (St. Ignatius bean) helps if you are sleepless due to grief.

Nux vomica (poison nut) is ideal for overconsumption of food, coffee, drugs or alcohol.

Arsenicum album (bromide of arsenic) helps those with various fears or who are physically tired yet too anxiety-ridden to sleep or who wake up after midnight and have difficulty getting back to sleep.

While homeopathy lends itself well to the self-treatment of acute conditions — illnesses that are short in duration and resolve without significant aftereffects — Ullman cautions that when a condition becomes chronic, it's best to consult a professional homeopath.

Nipping it Naturally
Like homeopathy, flower essences are completely safe for all ages. They do, however, concentrate solely on one's emotional state. Edward Bach, M.D. (1897­1936), founder of this healing system, believed that physical illness was a manifestation of emotional imbalance.

"If you can't sleep, ask yourself why," says Stefan Ball, consultant and principal of the Dr. Edward Bach Foundation in Oxfordshire, England, and author of several books, including Principles of Bach Flower Remedies (Thorsons). "Then look at the list of remedies and select those that seem to most closely match how you feel."

Ball explains that of the 38 Bach floral essences, those used most frequently for insomnia are:

Red chestnut for those so concerned with others' welfare they can't sleep.

Agrimony for those worries that during the day are nonexistent, but appear at night and cause sleeplessness.

Mimulus for anxious worry and fear from known causes.

White chestnut for relief from obsessive, repetitive thoughts.

Above all, if you find that you're not sleeping well, experts suggest nipping the problem in the bud. A natural remedy may be just the nudge you need to once again slumber peacefully.

Clinical nutritionist Vonalda M. Utterback is a writer/editor based in Erie, Colo.

Photography by: Telegraph Colour/FPG