Insomnia and the Holistic Alternative
Insomnia is a problem for many people. Getting to the root cause of insomnia can be frustrating with some people going for days without sufficient sleep.
There is a Holistic Alternative to dealing with getting yourself to sleep at night. Meaning you must look at many aspects of it physically, mentally and emotionally to bring a person back to balance.
The lack of sufficient sleep can trigger deeper mental and emotional issues. Without addressing these issues a person can only get marginal success.
Often times when a person has these issues they try many various things to get themselves to sleep at night. Getting back in balance often takes time. It’s a longer fix than simply taking a medication for it.
After using various OTC ( Over The Counter ) medications people often resort to trying prescription medications. Medications such as Ativan, Ambien, and other benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine often called hypnotics can be used.
To restore your proper sleep patterns the first step is to get off of all medications. The reason is that these medications cause higher cancer rates and higher heart disease rates and other illnesses. Additionally, if you take a medication for sleep one of the side effects of the medication is insomnia. That’s right it actually gives you the symptoms in which you are taking it for. These medications have much more severe symptoms as well. They can give you suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety. They will also give you issues during the day such as headaches, tremors, fatigue, weakness, etc. There are many more symptoms as well this is only a few. Even more alarming however is the higher mortality rate from sudden death from these medications.
It’s easy for a person to have issues with heart disease including heart attacks while taking benzodiazepines. These drugs lower your respiration. It shuts down your breathing. If you add any other risk factor for lowering your heart rate such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or taking hot baths you become even more vulnerable.
Many times, people take these medications in a very sporadic way. Mostly because they were never told how these medications work and how they create issues when you take them on an irregular basis. Often times doctors will tell their patients to take them on an “as needed basis”.
The psychological impact of these drugs cannot be understated. Because of their extreme addictive nature, they will cause a person to create issues in their mind that necessitates taking the medications.
The other issue is that these medications have what is called a “half-life”. This means the amount of time it takes for half the drug to leave out of the body. Here are some common medication half-lives:
Zolpidam (Ambian), Non-Benzodiazepine hypnotic: 2.5 hours
Lorazepam (Ativan), Benzodiazepine: 10-20 hours
Diazepam (Valium), Benzodiazepine: 20-50 hours
Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Non-Benzodiazepine hypnotic: 6 hours
Ramelteon (Rozerem): Melatonin receptor agonist 1-2.5 hours
Triazolam (Halcion), Benzodiazepine: 1.5-5.5 hours
Temazepam (Restoril), Benzodiazepine: 8-15 hours
Alprazolam (Xanax), Benzodiazepine: 12-15 hours
Zaleplon (Sonata) Non-Benzodiazepine Hypnotic: 1 hour
Doxepin (Silenor), Antidepressant ( Tricyclic): 15 hours
After the half-life expires your body then starts to feel the withdrawal from them. Withdrawal symptoms of most of these medications are as follows:
Dizziness, drowsiness, constipation, insomnia, liver problems, sexual problems, cognitive impairment, lack of motor coordination, constipation, nausea, weakness, confusion, hallucinations, amnesia, depression, dry mouth, tardive dyskinesia (delayed movement of muscles), tardive akathisia (internal tension and anxiety).
When the half-life of a medication expires, you start to experience withdrawal symptoms. Because they are so unpleasant you will be motivated consciously and even unconsciously to taking more of them. So if you are taking say Ambian to go to sleep, it only has a 2.5 hour half life before you go into withdrawal.
Another problem with all these medications is that as you continue to take them your body builds up a tolerance for them. Requiring you to take more and more of them to get the same desired effect. In considering getting off these medications please be aware that you can not just stop taking them abruptly. In fact, you can’t stop taking them by reducing them beyond a very small percentage at a time. These medications are more dangerous than you may have been lead to believe. In fact, you may not have been told anything about their side effects, withdrawal symptoms or half-lives by the person who prescribed them to you. To get off of these medications is a complex task. I wouldn’t advise someone on them to try getting off of them without knowlegable support.
Another issue with them is that these medications actually get you stuck in your mind. This actually works against what can help you in relaxing and getting to sleep naturally. This issue may not be well understood.
Our mind is a problem-solving device. When we are stuck in our mind it takes us into the past at our hurts and pains or into the future trying to deal with our perceived problems. So it can get stuck going back and forth into the past and future focusing on our problem. This then can become part of the problem in getting ourselves to rest and deeper natural relaxation states.
In understanding how to get someone back to natural sleep you have to look at their life and their issues as a big ball of yarn that needs to be unraveled. When a person has problems sleeping and they are taking medications for it, part of the unraveling process is recognizing that a person probably had problems long before they started taking medications. So in understanding the challenges of getting the restful sleep you need you have to unravel what symptoms are caused by the drug and what symptoms they were dealing with before taking the drug. The problems created by the medication may exacerbate problems that started long before they took the drugs. And now that they are taking medications you have the issues of the medications combined with the issues they had before taking the medications.
That is why it’s very deceptive when taking them. Say the medications create anxiety. But the person had anxiety long before taking the medications. When you tell them that the medications create anxiety they think that it’s not much different than the anxiety they always had. Same thing with any other symptoms. So in that sense, the symptoms that a person gets from taking medications are “masked” from the person taking them.
Dealing with the mind after it has been “hijacked” by medications is especially challenging. The mind is usually the main issue in dealing with being able to sleep naturally.
Beyond the mind
Getting a person to get beyond their mind is the goal of the mental aspect of a Holistic approach. What that means is that in order to find peace, and to get to a relaxed state a person has to be able to disassociate from their mind. This is particularly difficult when the mind has been taken over by medications. Most people even before taking medications are “mind identified”. In other words, they see and believe they are their mind. It goes from the past to future in search of finding solutions to our problems. You can look at our minds as being essentially untrained. In addition to medications challenging a person, trauma can also challenge a person to bring themselves to a peaceful state and be able to relax.
Our brain has 4 major frequencies in which it operates.
|1||Beta emitted when we are consciously alert, or we feel agitated, tense, afraid, with frequencies ranging from 13 to 60 pulses per second in the Hertz scale.
|2||Alpha when we are in a state of physical and mental relaxation, although aware of what is happening around us, its frequency are around 7 to 13 pulses per second.|
|3||Theta more or less 4 to 7 pulses, it is a state of somnolence with reduced consciousness.|
|4||Delta when there is unconsciousness, deep sleep or catalepsy, emitting between 0.1 and 4 cycles per second.|
Beta frequency is often referred to the fight or flight frequency. When we experience shock or trauma to our being it causes us to be on this frequency.
There is something called the “stress hormone” in the body; cortisol. It gives us the “fight or flight” response. It correlates as well to our higher beta brain frequency. Cortisol has a cycle where there are times when it is naturally supposed to be higher say in the case of a naturally stressful time and times when it is naturally lower like when we are sleep.
Cortisol- The Stress Hormone
Bringing the hormonal system in balance, particularly the cortisol levels is another important factor in getting someone back to proper restful sleep. There are different natural therapies that can support us in this regard. One is detoxifying the liver and kidneys. They are both involved in the process of hormone production. Interesting enough medications cause liver problems so once again they could be causing the problems that they are meant to address. Bringing one into balance can be supported by being in nature and walking barefoot on the earth. One can do “sun gazing” or light therapy. A process of looking at sunlight to help bring balance back to our hormones. All these natural therapies when employed all at one time can bring about a much better result than not using them at all or only trying one of them.
To get our brains to operate on a lower frequency we must essentially train the mind. Our mind is like a “runaway train”. Or it’s like the little mouse on a Ferris wheel.
There is the past, present, and future. Our goal is to get a person to live and exist in the present moment.
Where is the present moment? The present moment is wherever the second hand is on the clock. To get a person to do that they have to recognize that their mind can’t lead them to a place of peace and relaxation.
Albert Einstein once said, “ You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it”. In that respect, a person has to begin to see the fallibility of their mind. They have to realize that their mind is not and cannot find peace. It can’t solve their problem for them. That is a tall order for most people. People who have had their being strengthened by their mind find it even more difficult. Most people who have higher education, for instance, have come to have their mind and their reliance on their mind strengthened through this process.
Getting a person to abandon the method of solely using their mind to create success in life is also a tall order. But this is the crossing point between their depression and their recovery. Realizing that the mind has caused the problem and that it can’t find the solution is key and critical.
A helpful understanding is realizing that the mind is “the ego”. The ego is “fear-driven”. So in that regard any fear that a person has, the mind will focus on that. And as such take the person into the “future place”. And this works directly against the person being able to relax into a peaceful state. When you talk about the ego it’s hard for people to really understand what that means. The ego is our attachment to form. That form most often is a thought form. That thought then translates into a physical form. When we are attached to the thoughts we have we hold onto that thought as if it is real. Most often it is the attachment to the thought that creates our pain and our suffering.
So in order to find peace a person has to train the mind to be present. How to train the mind to be present is the goal of a meditation technique that I call “empty mind meditation”.
This technique has been developed over many years with our guests and is designed to train the mind. We look at the mind as a thing. “We run things”, “we don’t let things run us”.
One thing to help this process is breath work. Where a person learns to be aware of their breathing cycle. When a person is in their mind. All of their energy is focused in their head. In fact just from all the energy concentrated in the head a person could be said to be frying their brain. By becoming mindful of one’s breathing cycle and rate one brings the energy from their mind to their stomach. This an important aspect of shifting their energy.
There is a critical distinction between our holistic approach and the approach of western medical practices. Western medical practices sees and deal with the mind. They make no distinction between the mind and consciousness. This traps western approaches into a single method of looking at and dealing with a person’s dysfunction.
This makes the interventions used by western medicine one which creates greater and greater dependence. That dependence starts with medications and then postulates that at some point the person has a “psychiatric” problem. This then requires psychiatric medications such as “antipsychotics”, anti-depressants, electromagnetic shock therapy, etc. Its a cycle of dependence that tries to use more and more different types of medications and finally electro shock as its methods. Its not sustainable and will create a whole host of issues not the least of which is dependence. It also creates resistance, as well.
This cycle can be broken, however.
The PH Factor
Other physical aspects of a Holistic approach to insomnia involve alkalizing the body. When the body is in a state of acidosis it is much more difficult to get to a state of relaxation and restfulness. In that regard, a person should be more on a very specialized diet in order to achieve it.
The acid/ alkaline balance of the body can be determined by doing ph testing of the urine and saliva. This has to be done over at least a 4-day time frame for three times a day.
This level of ph testing is never done in medical facilities. Usually, ph is done once. But you can’t get a good baseline just based on one test. By testing three times a day for 4 days you get a more accurate baseline.
Understanding ph can also be better determined by doing a food record. Foods are either classified as either acid forming or alkaline forming. This can be confusing because food like fruit can be thought of as acid in and of themselves since they may have citric acid for instance in the case of lemons, or tomatoes. However, these foods are actually alkaline forming. Likewise, meat in and of itself is alkaline but when it is digested by the body it is acid forming. Most people unless they have worked to be otherwise are likely acid in their metabolic residue. In addition to understanding foods ph effect it is important to know that your hormones and neurotransmitters are made only from superior nutrition. Only superior nutrition can create the hormones and neurotransmitters necessary to bring a person back to balance. We provide that nutrition nutrition through a whole host of nutritional superfoods blended into smoothies that can bring an imbalance back to balance.
When people are taking medications such as benzodiazepines and other sleep medications and they are looking to get off of them one thing to be aware of is their protein binding nature.
This means that the medications bind to the protein receptors in the body particularly the GABA receptors as well as the proteins in foods that you eat. So the more protein you eat the more challenging for a person to get off the medications. In this regard, a person looking to come off of those medications should be aware of their protein binding nature. Once again this points to the need to be on a very specialized diet. People eating a Standard American Diet would find it much more challenging to get off of medications.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is the connection of how our thoughts relate to our emotions and to our physical self.
When a person has negative thoughts, it can create tightness or constriction in the body. It can also suspend a person’s breath. The suspension of the breath can cause for the mind to increase the thoughts often negative thoughts and to cause a person to entertain their fears.
There is a reason that “suspense” movies are called that. It’s because when you are in the grip of such entertainment it suspends your breathing. This can happen whether you are watching a suspenseful movie or you have stressful situations happening in your work or personal life.
Connecting these responses by bringing mindfulness to each one is the goal of cognitive behavioral therapy and supports a person in the changes that can bring greater relief and relaxation. Presenting these techniques in a non-intrusive manner and a manner that empowers the person is important. People don’t react well to force. But they do react well to curiosity, and to self-discovery. These are nuances that when well-developed can and most often do bring a person back to balance.
The Vegas Nerve
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It originates in the brain as cranial nerve and then travels down through the neck and then passes down to the digestive system, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart, and lungs.
This is important because your vegas nerve actually works to help your brain relax so that you can sleep. And you can consciously activate it to do just that.
Waiting to Fall asleep vs. Puting yourself to sleep
When people lay down to go to sleep often they are waiting until they “fall asleep”. This is our common relationship to sleep. We lay down when sleepy or we get in bed in the hopes that eventually we will fall asleep. I would like to pose a different approach. That we can actually “put ourselves to sleep”. This goes along with the principle of “Self Mastery”. There is a YouTube video of two women who tickle a young man to the point of him going unconscious. < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3D5o3PYcJoM> What is happening is that he is putting pressure on his vegas nerve to the point that he passes out. This is, of course, an extreme example but it should give you an idea of just how powerful that nerve is and how you can consciously put pressure on it and cause your brain to relax.
The Triple Whammy
There is a technique to do that. A way to “hack” your nervous system to get you to sleep. It’s a three-step process that involves putting pressure on the vegas nerve, slowing your breathing down and focusing the mind. Getting yourself to sleep is not as difficult as we have been lead to believe. Once you learn these techniques you will be able to put yourself to sleep with little to no effort. Putting pressure on the vegas nerve is the first step. One in which you put pressure there on your lower abdomen for a few seconds. Like as if you were going to the bathroom. But not really. Say you do that about 5 or six times. Then you normalize your breathing but breathing deep into your lower abdomen down to your lowest diaphragm right above your pubic bone. At the same time bring your mind to the present moment.
The Present Moment
The present moment is where ever the second hand is on the clock. Hold your mind there for as long as you can. This is a meditation technique that requires practice. Your mind wants to go back and forth to the past then to the future.
This is, in fact, a critical step in your success. To be able to hold your mind in the present moment is a near impossible task as anyone who has ever tried to do it will tell you. But in time and with practice you can actually train your mind to do it. The present moment is where the peace, the love, and the happiness is. It’s where you can finally and deeply relax. Its the only place that you have control over. So training your mind to follow your dictates is of paramount importance. Taking medications makes you more mind identified and keeps you from making the distinctive difference between your consciousness and your mind. Along with the stimulation of your vegas nerve and breathing exercise, you should be able to put yourself to sleep.
Yin vs. Yang
When you go to a doctor he or she is looking to solve your problem with “force”. Using medications is the use of force. Giving yourself time and attention is the opposite. Our society is crippled because we only use one approach to solving our problems. I might be so bold as to say to you that the methods we have used most often are a “male approach ” to a problem. It’s a part of our society in that it is a patriarchal society where most often men are in charge. In that regard, we often use a male approach to a problem without even realizing it. Our society is waking up ever so slowly to the realization that there are a male and a female approach to things. Let’s call them yin and yang. This is the law of opposites according to an ancient Chinese philosophy called “The Tao”. Each opposite balances out the other. When they are out of balance illness occurs. This is precisely what is happening when we experience dysfunctions such as the inability to sleep. By applying a balanced approach to our lives we bring ourselves back into balance.
The Gift of Love
Getting a person to heal their insomnia is possible. But it takes time and understanding. It takes a commitment to Self Mastery and to regaining your natural state in which we were all born with. Such commitment to yourself is what we call love. Giving oneself this level of love is key and critical to success. These tools are not ever explored when using western approaches to issues of insomnia. We start from the premise that your body is perfect. Your body is always working on healing you. If you cut your hand your body heals up on its own. You don’t really have to do anything to it. Humans have somehow been lead to believe that instead of understanding themselves in relationship with nature we try to conquer nature. Most people never really give themselves this level of time and attention. That is in part because of the culture of our modern day society.
In this short article I have given a few of the concepts of Holistic Health that we employ. It is not all of what we do in addressing the issue but it should give you a flavor for some of the many approaches at our disposal. Give yourself the love, the time, and the attention you need to discover how to bring yourself back into balance. Taking medications for it is not sustainable. And is fraught with disastrous consequences. But love, time and attention is the Holistic Alternative. This is why people come to Sacred Space Retreats in Cloverdale, California.