Sleep, insomnia and its treatment – a brief review of current knowledge on the subject with a special attention to herbal medicine

Department of Clinical Physiology at the Interfaculty Department of Experimental and Clinical Physiology, Medical University of Łódź, Poland. Head of the Department: Professor Dariusz Nowak, MD, PhD
Correspondence: Department of Clinical Physiology at the Interfaculty Department of Experimental and Clinical Physiology, Medical University of Łódź, Mazowiecka 6/8, 92-216 Łódź, Poland,
tel.: +48 42 272 56 56, e-mail: izabela.grabska-kobylecka@umed.lodz.pl

Pediatr Med Rodz Vol 10 Numer 3, p. 270–277
DOI: 10.15557/PiMR.2014.0030
ABSTRACT

Sleep accounts for one third of human life. Its quality and duration affect our daily functioning, mood, concentration, perception and, to a large extent, the condition of our health. Approximately 10% of the world population suffer from insomnia. This can be incidental insomnia, i.e. lasting a few days, short-term insomnia, i.e. lasting up to a month, or chronic insomnia, which lasts over a month. People react to stress with insomnia. Acute and chronic stress often cause insomnia. Individuals who experience stress often have increased muscle tone, heart rate and blood pressure, which cause problems with falling asleep. In order to prevent insomnia lasting over 2 weeks from becoming a chronic condition, pharmacological treatment should be introduced and, as always in the case of sleep disturbances, the patient should be familiarised with the issue of sleep hygiene. Sleep medicines can be taken no longer than 2 weeks (benzodiazepine receptor agonists) or 4 weeks (benzodiazepines) due to the risk of dependency. In the treatment of insomnia such medicines can be taken only 2–3 times a week or 10 times a month. Preparations containing magnesium, calcium, L-tryptophan, melatonin and vitamin B6 can be used as support medication. Among herbs valerian, hop and lemon balm have confirmed therapeutic properties. Recently the soporific effect of tart cherry has been increasingly discussed. The efficacy of other plants used to treat insomnia is questionable. What seems effective, on the other hand, is cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness meditation, acupressure, acupuncture and tai chi. Yoga and relaxing massage are also helpful in combating stress and therefore indirectly insomnia as well.

Keywords: sleep, insomnia, stress, herbal medicines