Homeopathic Treatment of Insomnia
Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, ND, LCSW, DHANP
Patients with sleep problems commonly present in the office of naturopathic physicians. After investigating the cause of the problem, often the most common treatment used by NDs, in my experience, is a combination of herbs. The herbal formula that we learned years ago from Dr. John Bastyr included Scutellaria (skullcap), Passiflora (passion flower), and Humulus (hops). Nepeta (catnip) is also used with some frequency. A number of other herbs, Western, Ayurvedic, and Chinese, are also part of the armamentarium of naturopathic doctors. Dietary interventions, hydrotherapy, nutritional supplementation (especially melatonin), physical therapy, stress management, counseling, and relaxation and deep breathing techniques are other frequent natural therapies.
As a naturopathic physician board certified in classical homeopathy, I use a single homeopathic remedy for most of my patients with sleep disturbances. The following case is not unusual in the prescription, because it is the most common homeopathic remedy for insomnia. What is instructive, however, is the full presentation of the picture of the remedy. It is these homeopathic pictures that remain embedded in our memories, like old friends, so that we can call them forth in the future for patients who need them.
A Revved-Up Mind
These are the direct words of the patient, a 43-year-old woman: “I’m a musician…. a guitarist. My mind really gets revved up. Two years ago I started having absolutely sleepless nights. I have tried a lot of things, including valerian. I thought maybe I was in a restless time. At first I hadn’t pinpointed that it normally happens right before my period. I have been taking 1 [over-the-counter sleep aid] every night for some time now. My sleep doctor told me to just keep taking it. When I play a music gig and I’m out late, I take 2. It can get down to half a pill right after my period. This has been my cycle for the past year. I don’t like taking pills.
“I just don’t go to sleep, I lie there. Usually my mind has a song in it. Lately it’s a nursery rhyme. I’m very, very sensitive when I sleep. I lay down. Then I fade in and out. I’m kind of foggy, but my mind is still thinking. There’s that sound going ‘round and ‘round. Then I get frustrated. I’ve been through cycles of worry about my father’s cancer. There were a number of other family stresses, too.”
I asked Nancy to tell me about her sensitivity, which I suspected could provide the key to finding the right homeopathic medicine for her. “I’m very sensitive to noise. There is a pond outside our house that trickles water. It bothered me so much that I had to turn it off. I can hear all kinds of noises. Some of them I love. I just listen… I am a professional classical guitar player and I love to do improv. It’s all about listening. Being tuned in is so much about what’s happening around me musically. Spontaneous. Chords. I go to a different place with the music. I can hear what the music is supposed to do and I just do it.”
I inquired about listening. “Being in the moment and responsive to every sound. Playing with the sounds. Resting in them. Making it very exciting. Reaching all of the emotions of the music. All of the emotional extremes: mournful, lively, energetic, relaxing. Music for me is an emotional release. It’s a wonderful release. If I’m creating beautiful music, I’m making it as beautiful as anything we can image visually. The essence of beauty in music… bringing that gift to the listeners. So I’m able to take listeners to that place, too, of absolute pureness and beauty.”
“The music can make us really excited. Spontaneously alive. Full of energy versus lethargy. Ecstatic. Joy! Just feeling the happiness all the way through my body. Stimulated. Connected with others. Energized. A rush of excitement and energy through the body. Boundless energy. Like I could go for a walk or hike and go and go and go. I love being pushed like that, being challenged. I thrive on it. Sometimes I get so filled with boundless energy that I try to get too much done. In order to keep up my organization, it takes boundless energy. It’s a constant coming back to the drawing board as to how much I can take in and take on as far as daily activities.”
“As a teenager, I had more mood swings. I felt out of whack. As a child, I was really emotional but we weren’t allowed to talk about our feelings. So I would bottle up. Then I would get emotionally or physically sick. Once I left my guitar on an airplane. It was so emotionally traumatizing for me. I remember lying on the couch and being sick as a dog. I felt out of place as a child because I always wanted to talk about the deeper meaning of things. I was always looking for a feeling of connection… for a creative outlet. One of the most life-changing moments for me was going to counseling and realizing it was okay to talk about emotions.”
When I inquired as to what Nancy did for emotional release, she replied, “I play music, exercise, and I garden. I love to be with plants. They invigorate me. To plant seeds and watch them grow. It’s exciting. Joyful. I love the sun and fresh air. I love beauty. I love to create beauty visually. And I love the depth of different kinds of people. I love to travel.”
At this point in the interview, I felt fairly sure about the prescription and asked a few confirmatory questions, such as Nancy’s pain threshold. “Ooooh, I don’t like pain. Childbirth was almost superfluous. I guess you endure it. Going to the hospital and hearing the women scream. I just didn’t want to go there.” Finally I asked about her caffeine consumption. “I’ve totally eliminated black tea and coffee because of the sleep.”
Kingdom, Family and Miasm
In choosing a single homeopathic medicine from the more than 2,000 possibilities, I narrow the field of choices by deciding first whether to prescribe a medicine from the animal, plant, or mineral kingdom. Those requiring animal medicines exhibit animal themes, including competition, survival of the fittest, attractiveness, victim and aggressor, and sexuality. Those who need homeopathic medicines made from plants are highly sensitive, reactive, adaptable, and tend to be interested in art, music, and plants. Patients needing medicines from the mineral kingdom have predominant issues of structure, performance, relationships, identity, and security. The patient clearly needed a plant medicine.
Since there are millions of plants and hundreds of homeopathic medicines that have been made from plants, I differentiate which plant family according to the sensation. That process was also very easy in this case. The Rubiaceae family has as its theme the following characteristics: aggravation from overstimulation and from an excess of joy, a preponderance of ideas, plans, and activity, creative pursuits, excess of activity, fatigue, and sleeplessness. Selecting the specific medicine within the Rubiaceae family was quite straightforward in her case. She needed a medicine from the tubercular miasm, due to her propensity for excessive mental activity, claustrophobic feelings, and her desire to travel.
A Perfect Prescription
The homeopathic medicine for the patient was Coffea cruda, or coffee. Individuals needing Coffea are extremely sensitive, especially to emotions of all kinds—sorrow as much as joy—and to pain, which can be experienced as physically excruciating. They are creative, generous, artistic, benevolent people and desire acceptance from the group. They tend to be artists, writers, filmmakers, etc, who have a high intake of coffee. They are known for having abundant ideas and making many plans and can have dreams or visions of beautiful landscapes. Coffea, even when prescribed for acute sleep disturbance, is the first medicine to think of for insomnia, especially when the patient describes being wide awake and alert at 3 in the morning. What is so beautiful about this case, and makes it an ideal teaching case, is how perfectly she fits the picture of Coffea in all ways. I first prescribed Coffea LM5 to take up to once a day.
Ten Week Follow-up
“You’ve helped me SOOO much! I’m sleeping. I’ve just been ecstatically happy that I can sleep. Even when I traveled, I slept like a baby. I go to sleep at 9:30. I’ve been feeling GREAT! I’ve been really healthy. Such a difference in every part of my being. I’ve had energy throughout the day. Just a really fun time. Sleep makes all the difference.”
The Coffea has continued to helped the patient tremendously, and it is the only remedy that she has needed for the past 4½ years. I have gradually increased the potency to LM10 and she continues to take it either daily or as needed. Coffea has not only consistently improved her sleep, but she is far more relaxed and better able to handle a remarkably busy family, teaching, and performance schedule.
Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, ND, LCSW, DHANP graduated from Bastyr in 1983. She is the co-author of six books on homeopathy, including the best-selling Ritalin-Free Kids, and author of Whole Woman Homeopathy and co-authors a monthly column in Townsend Letter for Doctors. Dr. Reichenberg teaches and lectures internationally and practices at The Northwest Center for Homeopathic Medicine in Edmonds, WA. She treats patients by phone and videoconference, as well as in person.