Alternative medicine and sleep: what does science tell us?

Acupuncture, sophrology or essential oils… You don’t have to use sleeping pills to treat sleep disorders. Alternative medicine, despite its name, should not be taken without the opinion and advice of a health professional.

Do you keep turning in your bed? Hours go by and sleep still eludes you? Have you always refused to take sleeping pills because of the risks involved? There are alternative methods to help you fall back asleep, including alternative medicine.


What is alternative medicine?

Unlike conventional medicine, alternative or complementary medicine, uses natural and / or traditional techniques. Plants, breathing techniques or even music, there are many ways to fight insomnia without having to resort to medication.
In 2016, according to a barometer produced by Pages Jaunes Santé, the most sought after alternative medicines are:
– Sophrology, a set of body meditation techniques which evolves according to needs
– Hypnosis, suggestions via a focus
– Magnetism, transmission of an energy or a force
Other techniques, such as osteopathy or yoga are also considered alternative medicines. Traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, is also in vogue. This practice places the body at the center of therapy. It can therefore treat various ailments such as migraines, anxiety or, of course, sleep disorders.
In addition, some people cannot take medications such as sleeping pills because of their fragile health. This is why the use of this alternative medicine can be more interesting than conventional medicine.

Some practices, such as naturopathy, combine different treatments that can relieve sleep disorders. Dietetics, fasting, bodybuilding and relaxation are therefore part of the existing therapeutic treatments in alternative medicine. Not all naturopaths will prescribe the same treatments.


But does it work?

In short, yes and no. But we are not going to leave you without explanation.
In Canada, about 30% of adults have trouble falling asleep, stay asleep or fail to have a restful sleep. About 10% of the population have such serious sleep disorders that it actually put a strain on their daily activity to the point of feeling in distress. But treating a sleep disorder is not that easy. It all depends on its origin. If your difficulties come from stress, overwork or an outside noise, alternative medicines can be useful for you. Breathing exercises can help you let go before going to sleep. Yoga is one of the activities you can do to relax.
However, the effectiveness of alternative medicine depends on the patient. The treatment and practice chosen will not have the same impact depending on the state and receptivity of the patient.
If your insomnia is chronic – difficulty falling asleep at least 3 times a week, for example – it may be necessary to consult a professional. Indeed, the causes of insomnia can be numerous things and require medical observation: alcohol dependence, depression, neurological diseases …


The pros and cons of alternative medicine

By practicing alternative medicine, you avoid exposure to drug dependence, but also to negative side effects. Also cheaper, herbal treatments, acupuncture and Tai Chi are therefore favorable to facilitate falling asleep. While some alternative medicine therapies have been promoted by scientific studies for their benefits, others have not been studied to date. This does not mean that they do not work but that their effectiveness has not been scientifically proven.
Be careful, there are limits to these alternative medicines. Even if some can be practiced in self-medication, certain therapies, such as plants or essential oils, require precise dosages to be effective or without side effects. So yes, their effectiveness and their benefits are recognized, in particular, in France, by the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products. However, it is necessary to inform yourself before using them. Herbal medicine or herbal care, uses for instance hawthorn and valerian to fight against sleep disorders. If poorly dosed, it can have a heavy sedative effect, therefore can make it difficult to wake up and have unwanted drowsiness effects. Phytotherapy should not be confused with aromatherapy, which uses essential oils.
Certain medicines such as sophrology or homeopathy have specialist practitioners. It is also possible that your attending physician has an alternative medicine training.

Little reminder: Social Security only takes very little charge for alternative medicines. However, your health insurance may offer options to cover this type of treatment. Do not hesitate to inquire before embarking on this practice if you want to be sure of being reimbursed.

If alternative medicine is a good alternative to fight against sleep disorders, it is nevertheless necessary to pay attention, in particular to self-medication, whether in alternative medicine or in traditional medicine. Indeed, sleep disorders remain a disease. If the symptoms persist, consult a specialist! This can be useful in determining the causes and therefore better treating them, in alternative medicine or not.


Do you want more ?

Read our wellness articles!

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