A recent analysis of national survey data reveals that over 1.6 million American adults use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat insomnia or trouble sleeping according to scientists at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Those using CAM to treat insomnia or trouble sleeping were more likely to use biologically based therapies (nearly 65 percent), such as herbal therapies, or mind-body therapies (more than 39 percent), such as relaxation techniques. A majority of people who used herbal or relaxation therapies for their insomnia reported that they were helpful. The two most common reasons people gave for using CAM to treat insomnia were they thought it would be interesting to try (nearly 67 percent) and they thought CAM combined with a conventional treatment would be helpful (nearly 64 percent).
I don’t really know what to think. On one hand, someone is making a lot of money on this. On the other hand, placebo effect may be quite effective for relaxing a person enough to fall asleep. Meditation certainly will help a person relax – it is so boring you have to fall asleep after a while. And who knows, one of those therapies may actually have some effectiveness after all – we don’t know because it was never tested. On the other hand, many herbal remedies, because they are never tested and approved, may contain some nasty chemicals that can kill you. Such deadly molecules were discovered in some brands of melatonin a few years back. So, they are not safe even if they are effective. I’d like to see Orac and Abel comment on this.
In addition to looking at the data on CAM use and insomnia, the researchers also looked at the connection between trouble sleeping and five significant health conditions: diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, anxiety and depression, and obesity. They found that insomnia or trouble sleeping is highly associated with four of the five conditions: hypertension, congestive heart failure, anxiety and depression, and obesity.
All of those connecitons have been seen before and some of those have been studied in quite a lot of detail. Unfortunately, there appears to be a vicious cycle – these conditions negatively affect sleep and lack of sleep negatively affects these conditions.