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Alternative Insomnia Treatments

Valerian Root, Aromatherapy May Lack Benefit

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Updated December 20, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you suffer from insomnia, you may be interested in learning about some alternative treatment options. Are over-the-counter (OTC) supplements like valerian root effective? What role does aromatherapy have in treating insomnia? Are any of the alternative treatments for insomnia proven to be effective?

To answer these questions, let’s review an excerpt from UpToDate - a trusted electronic medical reference used by healthcare providers and patients alike. Then, read on for additional information about what all of this means for you.

"Alternative treatments, including herbal products (e.g., valerian), homeopathy, and aromatherapy have been suggested as treatments for insomnia.

"However, studies of valerian show that it is no more effective than a placebo (sugar pill) for treatment of insomnia. In addition, most herbal products have not been tested to be sure that they are safe and effective and do not interact with other medicines. Therefore, alternative treatments are not recommended."

Sometimes it is appealing to seek more natural remedies to treat our difficulties with sleeping. But unfortunately, many of these options may not be effective. Let's look at valerian root. There are more than 400 different herbal preparations that contain valerian, many of which are sold to aid sleep and reduce anxiety.

Scientific research, however, does not support its use to treat insomnia. Some studies have shown modest benefits, but overall the evidence is not strong enough to recommend use of valerian use to aid sleep.

Aromatherapy is another popular alternative to improve insomnia. The use of sleep-inducing scents such as lavender is often touted. Though it may sound appealing, aromatherapy as an insomnia treatment may not be as effective as other proven options, such as sleeping pills. Indeed, sleeping pills can be both an effective and safe treatment option.

In general, many alternative treatments for insomnia - including those advocated in homeopathic medicine - lack the scientific research and favorable results to support their use. (Homeopathy is a system for the treatment of disease by minute doses of natural substances that in a healthy person would produce symptoms of disease.) OTC herbal supplements do not face the same level of critical review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that would occur with prescription medications. Therefore, these supplements do not have to prove their effectiveness. They may not contain their stated active ingredients, and they may even contain harmful chemicals that are not screened.

For all of these reasons, if you are having difficulty sleeping, you should seek counsel from your doctor and investigate appropriate treatment options.

Want to learn more? See UpToDate's topic, "Insomnia treatments," for additional in-depth medical information.

Source:

Bonnet, Michael et al. "Insomnia treatments." UpToDate. Accessed: November 2011.

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