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19 September 2006
Herbal Insomnia Treatments Set For Greater Monitoring

If you find nodding off at night difficult, you're not alone. Findings from a recent national survey show that 17 percent of U.S. adults - especially women - have had insomnia or trouble sleeping in the past year. The study also found that a significant percentage of this group used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat their chronic sleeplessness. But in making this discovery, the researchers raised their concerns about possible safety issues surrounding the use of CAMs.

Using data from a survey of 31,000 subjects aged 18 and over, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) researchers found that among those suffering insomnia or who had trouble sleeping, 61 percent were women. The NCCAM team estimates that nearly one million American women use some form of CAM therapy to cope with and improve their sleeping patterns. "These data offer some new insights regarding the prevalence of insomnia, or trouble sleeping, in the United States and the types of CAM therapies people use to treat these conditions," said NCCAM's Margaret A. Chesney.

Two-thirds of the people suffering sleep disorders preferred using various herbal remedies. Other types of CAMs used include relaxation techniques like massage, yoga and meditation. "Although the question asking; 'whether the CAM therapy helped,' provides useful information on the public's perception of effectiveness of CAM therapies for insomnia or trouble sleeping, it does not directly address the efficacy of the CAM therapy," the researchers wrote in their report. "A positive answer to this question could be due to a placebo effect, the natural history of the condition or other unidentified influences rather than efficacy of the CAM treatment."

Because of the relatively unregulated nature of CAM therapies, health decision-makers are now making it their business to ensure the well-being of CAM users. NCCAM wants to address "questions regarding the safety and efficacy of the CAM therapies being used," according to Dr. Chesney.

Among those who use CAM therapies for their insomnia, 65 percent used biological methods, which included herbal medicines, diet interventions and vitamin therapy; while mind-body therapies such as meditation were used by 39 percent. More than half the subjects reported that the therapy was very important to their health and well-being.

Source: National Institutes of Health/National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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