Insomnia: Traditional, Conservative & Natural Treatment Alternatives

Lights out. Zzzzzz or just another night of insomnia?

Lights out. Zzzzzz or just another night of insomnia?

Is it lights out for another night of insomnia? Are you exhausted but your brain just won’t go into sleep mode? If you’ve had insomnia at least for at least one month (primary insomnia), you’re not alone, America.

 The last time I went to see my doctor, I got exactly 5 minutes of his time as he was backing out the door to see his next patient holding his laptop computer in his hands. Doctors are pushed by insurance companies to see huge volumes of 30 or more patients a day.   No matter how great that doctor is, they are going to miss something during this very abbreviated assessment. Most of us go see our doctors for one or more reasons. It’s likely you’ll get your chief complaint addressed, but not much more.


So with that thought in mind, let’s say your complaint is that you can’t sleep.  Given your provider’s allotted time, do you think they will take the time to sit down with you and explore possible causes and offer possible solutions or will they write a prescription for

If you told your doctor you had insomnia, would you be offered a prescription for sleeping pills or alternatives for natural sleep?

If you told your doctor you had insomnia, would you be offered a prescription for sleeping pills or alternatives for natural sleep?

sleeping pills? I believe you know the answer. You may have a bottle on your nightstand already. I hope you don’t, but if so, your problem just got bigger because sleeping pills are habit forming.

Possible Causes of Insomnia

  • Stress: It’s normal to have your brain in overdrive the night before starting a new job, the first day of school or a major life changes.   Travel, time zone changes and work schedules can also disrupt normal sleep. Adults (and even children) are so involved in a variety of commitments outside of home that downtime is not budgeted into the day’s schedule. It’s becoming more and more common for people to problem solve while their heads are lying on a pillow rather than getting the precious sleep their bodies require to stay healthy. That’s only one of a variety of reasons why sleep alludes so many.
  • Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol: Some possible habit-related causes of poor sleep quality are consumption of caffeinated tea, coffee or cola later in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant; therefore it keeps your body revved up when it should be relaxing and preparing for sleep.
  • Poor sleep habits: Watching TV in bed, working on your notebook or laptop computer in bed or viewing social media on your smart phone in bed are also ways your brain stays engaged rather than preparing for sleep.
  • Sleep Apnea: If your partner (or you) snores, wakes frequently throughout the night, kicks in their sleep abruptly waking themselves up, wakes up after dreaming they’re falling or wakes up feeling more tired than when they went to bed, there’s a good chance they may have a chronic condition known as sleep apnea. It is extremely important to report these things to your health care provider to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment because there are major complications associated with people who have untreated sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea means you have actual pauses in breathing or shallow breaths. The body’s oxygen supply drops to below normal levels during that time. The good news is that effective treatment doesn’t have to involve medication or surgery.   It may only require the use of a C-pap or Bi-pap device that blows a gentle amount of air through your nose to keep your airway open.  (Watch for a future article on Sleep Apnea)
  • Other medical conditions: Chronic pain, respiratory problems, restless leg syndrome, and need to urinate frequently can also interfere with sleep.   (Subscribe or comment if you’d like to be notified of a future article on chronic pain.)
  • Medications: Medications to treat heart conditions, high blood pressure (beta blockers), asthma (e.g. Prednisone, Theophylline), depression (e.g. Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil), ADHD, and some drugs used to treat thyroid conditions also cause insomnia. Pain relievers such as Excedrin, Anacin and Motrin Complete all contain caffeine. Some cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) e.g. Zocor have been reported to cause both insomnia and nightmares. Cold and allergies medications (antihistamines) are well known for their negative impact on sleep.
  • Sleep environment:   Consider how much time you spend in bed and invest in a good mattress. If your mattress is too soft or too firm or sags in the middle, you should consider replacement. Choose a pillow that is comfortable and based on whether you typically sleep on your back or your side. Eliminate the noise or use a device that makes white noise. If that isn’t possible, use earplugs designed to eliminate the noise. It is best to sleep in a room that is dark, but consider the safety aspect of using nightlights. If you work night shift and sleep during the day, use room-darkening shades to simulate nighttime sleep.

    Complications of insomnia

    Complications of insomnia


Complementary Options to improve sleep:

Complementary approaches to treating insomnia are found in the National Institute of Health (NIH) research.   Tart cherry juice concentrate has been shown beneficial to increase melatonin levels and improve disturbed sleep .

Lavender essential oil, has a variety of uses including treatment of insomnia. It can either be applied to the soles of the feet at bedtime or used in aromatherapy and was shown to have a beneficial effect on insomnia and depression. In addition, for cold and allergy sufferers, lavender is a natural antihistamine.

Wishing you restful, restorative sleep,

Pam Baker, RN

NOTE:  I highly recommend getting only the most potent essential oils.  In order to be considered 100% pure, the bottle only has to contain 10% of the actual oil.








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The Nurse and The Parking Lot Mishap

In the 1990's many nurses still wore traditional whites.

In the 1990’s many nurses still wore traditional whites.

In the early 1990’s, many acute care nurses still wore traditional white nursing uniforms, often with more formal white dresses, support hosiery, clinic shoes and nursing caps. This is the unlikely and humorous true story of one such nurse in The Nurse and the Parking Lot Mishap.

It had been a grueling 8-hour evening shift that stretched into 10 hours by the time I got all my charting completed on our busy Medical/Surgical unit. As I recall, it was mid-January and the temperature had plummeted to a hard below-zero freeze on that blustery night. I walked out into a silent parking lot, with tired aching feet as most visitors and off duty staff had already gone for the night. I had given every last measure of energy and I was anxious to go home for some well-deserved rest.

Street lights illuminated the quiet parking lot as I approached my 1985 Maroon Nissan Maxima.   I had bought the car from my brother and hadn’t bothered to learn how to change the code that unlocked the doors. I retrieved my key and tried the lock, finding it frozen solid and uncooperative.   I recall thinking this was a bitter last insult to a long shift.


1985 Nissan Maxima

After I tried the locks on both sides, I decided to go back inside the hospital and heat a cup of water in the microwave to pour over the locks. With this effort, I was able to get the rear driver’s side door open, but not the front driver’s door.   A plan was born. I would get in the rear seat, reach over the front seat to the ignition, start the vehicle, turn the heater on high, and wait for the locks to unfreeze. (The power windows were as frozen as the locks.)

What I didn’t see coming was the almost instant refreezing of the rear passenger door (thanks to all that water I had drizzled) once I was inside the car. So there I sat, trapped inside the car, engine running, windows frozen, locks frozen, and I couldn’t get back out, no matter how hard I pushed against the rear door. (Amazingly, not everybody owned a cell phone in the 1990’s, so I also couldn’t even phone for help.)

After what seemed like an eternity, the inside temperature warmed, and I was able to get the power window to go down about 5 inches on the front driver’s side and 2 inches on the rear window. The locks remained stubbornly frozen. Feeling ridiculous, I reached over the front seat, now with creeping support hoses beginning to crawl down my legs from all that reaching, and started blowing my car horn.

After about 5 minutes a man who I couldn’t even identify if I passed him on the street now, walked within 30-40 feet of my vehicle. When I saw him, I once again leaned over the front seat to the partially open front window and desperately started yelling for help.   Thankfully he walked up to the window and, fear laid aside due to desperation, I began recanting my dilemma. ‘You’re probably not going to believe this, but here’s my problem.’ He didn’t laugh.

Although he was unable to get either of the doors open, he managed to reach his arm through the partially opened front window to the lever that lowered the backrest of the front driver’s seat.

‘Now what?’ I asked.

“You’ll have to climb over.” He directed.

‘You’re kidding.’ I replied. ‘I have on a dress and pantyhose. There’s no graceful way I can swing my legs over the back of this seat and climb between the console to the front seat.’

“You’ll have to; this is the only way. You’ve got to get in the driver’s seat. By the time you get home, you can push against the door from the inside and the locks will thaw. Ma’am, nothing matters but you getting home, right?” He replied matter-of-factly.

‘I know you’re right.” I responded, ‘but this is pretty embarrassing. Nobody would ever believe this story. I hardly believe it myself.’

To this day I have no idea how I contorted these legs, my generous torso, a white nursing dress and support hoses as I threw my legs over the back of the seat, between the console and slid feet first into the driver’s seat. I must have been quite a spectacle! All I remember is that my face was 20 shades of red from embarrassment during the transition and those support hose had nearly migrated south to my knees by the time I completed the hurdle.

It was a “Kodak moment” that could’ve won a prize on “Funniest Home Videos” but instead of watching it, I was living it. (Thankfully I am a person who can laugh at myself!)

Unfortunately I never got the stranger’s name that helped me that frigid winter night, I was just too embarrassed. I’m guessing he never has a frozen lock that he doesn’t remember the night he helped the nurse in the parking lot.   Say what you like about traditional whites, but as professional as I might have looked at work, this nurse decided that night to embrace the practicality of the transition to scrubs.

I hope you enjoyed the nursing humor!  If you enjoy humorous true stories, you might also like to read “The Great Dungeness Crab Caper”  the “Story of the Dueling Wheelchairs” and the “Tale of Three Drivers.”

Pam Baker, RN






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Ticked off: Repelling Ticks Naturally

Crossing the line from NJ to NY.  Past the halfway mark to completion of the Appalachian Trail.

Crossing the line from NJ to NY. Past the halfway mark to completion of the Appalachian Trail.

My son Shad is an avid hiker of Pine Mountain Trail and the Appalachian Trail. He began hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was a freshman in college and has now section-hiked from Georgia all the way to New York State. This spring he and several veteran hikers will be crossing into Connecticut as he is determined to complete the entire AT before he retires. On this hike, he will be traveling into a region with one of the highest incidences of Lyme disease and has searched to find a non-toxic alternative to harsh chemicals that may repel ticks, but also cause adverse reactions. Ticked off:  Repelling Ticks Naturally was written for and inspired by my son.

As warmer weather brings us out to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and the great outdoors, with every brush with nature we expose ourselves to hungry blood-sucking ticks that have been active and waiting for the opportunity to feast on us and spread bacterial diseases.

Both the blacklegged "deer" tick & the western blacklegged tick transmit Lyme disease

Both the blacklegged “deer” tick & the western blacklegged tick transmit Lyme disease

Ticks come in many different varieties and are abundant across the U.S.  Lyme Disease was first identified in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 and is listed as a reportable disease to the Centers for Disease Control.  CDC reports 300,000 people a year are treated for Lyme disease, yet only about 30,000 are actually reported. The highest incidences of Lyme disease in the U.S. in 2012 (the latest statistics published) were in the following States:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont

It takes about 36 hours from the time a tick becomes attached to the body to transmit Lyme disease to their unsuspecting host. One visible tale-tale sign of Lyme disease is a distinctive “bulls eye” rash at the site of the bite which can become very large.  It is important to note that this rash does not occur in up to 40-50% of those who actually have Lyme disease.

A distinctive rash at the site of the tick bite associated with Lyme disease.

A distinctive rash at the site of the tick bite associated with Lyme disease.

Chemical Repellents:   The synthetic

Permethrin is a synthetic chemical belonging to the family of synthetic chemicals called pyrethroids and is used as an insecticide and insect repellent. Pyrethroids are similar to the natural pyrethrins produced by the flowers of pyrethrum (plants of the genus Chrysanthemum). This natural insecticide is made from the dried flower heads. The dried flowers are actually crushed, the active components (pyrethrins) removed, and applied as a powder or mixed as a suspension with water or oil in a pyrethrum spray.

Chemical companies often extract from the natural components and mix them with the synthetic to “enhance” potency just as they do with prescription drugs. Permethrin then, is not the natural, but the synthetic chemical. It is listed as a “restricted use” substance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to its toxicity to aquatic life. It is also highly toxic to cats.

Essential Oils:  The Natural Repellents

There are a variety of natural “recipes” for insect repellents and different insects are repelled by different essential oils.  Therefore a more effective repellent will depend on which insects you want to repel. If your goal is repelling ticks naturally, you might try this recipe.

Rose geranium essential oil is the most frequently cited essential oil for use as a tick repellent.

Tick Repellant

  • 10 drops of rose geranium essential oil
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops of Cedarwood
  • 1 cup water (I use distilled) if applying via a spray nozzle


  • 1 cup of carrier oil (e.g. fractionated coconut oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil or light olive oil for sensitive skin) if applying topically without a spray nozzle.

Note:  Cedar wood is yet another essential oil that can be added to the natural recipe for repelling ticks. Known for promoting healthy skin and clear breathing, Cedar wood has a warm, woody, balsamic fragrance that relaxes the mind and body.  Perfect for hikers and  those who love being outdoors.

Directions: Mix essential oils together in a spray bottle and apply as needed. Rub or spray the natural repellent onto skin or clothing, using care to avoid the sensitive eye areas. Reapply periodically throughout the length of the exposure. Store unused natural repellent is a dark bottle away from heat or direct sunlight.

Other important studies

A study published in the 2007 issue of “Parasitology Research” shows that a 10 percent solution of Origanum minutiflorum (Oregano oil) killed all ticks within 120 minutes.

Note: Oregano is a “hot” oil

A study published in the 2007 issue “Journal of Economic Entomology” shows that Alaskan yellow cedar (a wood-based oil) is the best at killing tick nymphs; eastern red cedar is best at killing larval ticks; and incense cedar from juniper trees is best at killing all ticks.

Skin and Clothing

To avoid becoming a human smorgasbord for ticks, be sure to dress in a long sleeved shirt and long pants when you’re in areas with lots of ticks. You can pretreat your clothing by applying drops of the natural essential oils repellents also.

Be sure to inspect your clothing and skin frequently when you’re outdoors and when you come back indoors. Ticks can cling to clothing initially; don’t give them time to attach to bare skin, your scalp or skin crevices. (Parents, inspect your children!) The chances of getting Lyme disease are reduced if the tick is removed within the first 24 hours.   After tick removal, apply an antimicrobial blend   To repel ticks naturally, be sure to take your natural essential oil repellents with you when you go hiking or spend time outdoors.

Not all essential oils are created equally!  Make sure the essential oils you use are tested for purity and potency.

To find out how this blend of essential oils actually worked when field-tested on the Appalachian Trail between New York and Connecticut in May 2014 read my follow up article:

A Natural Repellent for Black Flies

If you enjoyed this article, watch for my upcoming article

“Lyme Disease:  The Culprits and the Natural Alternative Treatment”

Here’s to your natural, drug-free good health,

Pam Baker, RN  

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A Tribute to Well Manicured Lawns

Reel Lawn mowerThose who think only women are OCD have never watched a meticulous male manicure his lawn. This is a tribute to well manicured lawns and the OCD men who mow them.

Lawn Mowing “Old School”

I grew up in a time before gasoline & electric powered lawn mowers. There may be a few around who still remember, but for those who don’t, class is in session. Riding lawn mowers were probably not even conceptualized in the late 50’s and early 60’s and would have been totally impractical for the hillside lawns in my small hometown in southeastern Kentucky.

A Man’s Home (& His Lawn) Is His Castle

Male versus female roles were very traditional “Ozzie and Harriet” style during that era. While we had cookie-cutter style coal camp town houses that lacked originality in design, no owner of a half-million-dollar estate could’ve taken greater pride in his lawn than my dad. Our lawn was a reflection of the male of the family and the pride he had in his “castle” just as much as the interior of the home was a reflection of the female domain.

Observations of a Lawn Manicurist

While our home furnishings were Spartan on the inside, by contrast we had the most lush, green lawn in the neighborhood and my dad manicured it to perfection at least once a week. Lawn mowing was typically reserved for Saturday evening when the sun was going down and dad carried out the task with an old reel type push mower, the kind that is powered by muscles and oomph rather than gasoline or electricity. Despite the sweltering humidity and heat, dad mowed in long pants and a shirt. You didn’t see men my dad’s age wearing shorts and sandals. (Neither did they work on anything vainer than a “farmer’s tan” from rolled up sleeves while working in their vegetable gardens.)

Gasoline or electric powered string trimmers to edge the lawn were also tools of the future. Dad had only a pair of hand held (manual) clippers, with which he dutifully squatted down and edged every inch of our property line every time he cut the grass. For this reason, dad knew the value of keeping mower and clipper blades well sharpened. Too often those sharp blades failed to discern which were weeds and grass versus which were my mother’s treasured perennials and he justified the cutting by insisting she had planted her flowers in the wrong places.

Sense of Pride

My brother and I were taught at an early age that littering was totally unacceptable and were rebuked for tossing down even a small chewing gum or candy wrapper, which we were responsible to promptly retrieve and dispose of properly. I remember dad taking me out to the back yard, extending his arm from left to right over a freshly mowed lawn, then pointing out how even the smallest piece of litter detracted from the appearance of his masterpiece.

From a child’s perspective, it was comforting to step barefoot on that lawn and roll downhill in the grass on a sunny summer day. Searching for 4-leaf clover and picking dandelion seedpods from the grass were child’s play, and nobody sprayed chemicals on their lawns.

High traffic areas around the front and rear porches (& our homemade swing set) refused to grow grass and were therefore swept with a broom to remove pebbles that would bruise a child’s bare feet.

Changing Equipment

I remember when dad finally upgraded to a gasoline-powered mower. With its heavy cast aluminum frame, it was a monster in size by comparison to the old reel mower and very hard to push on the slopes of our hillside home. Dad didn’t get a smaller, lightweight and more manageable mower (still not self-propelled) and rechargeable battery powered lawn clippers until the early 1970’s. By this time, dad was in his 60’s and retired.

The Frustrated Mower

I remember the exact day dad decided to retire that aged gasoline mower.  By this time I was married, living only 2 houses above the home of my birth. One day I was sitting on my front porch as dad was taking on the task of mowing his lawn. First I watched him bring the monster mower out of the tool shed to a level spot in the lawn where he always cranked the mower engine. I knew the routine well. As I was watching him, he began to yank the pull cord to crank the aged engine. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Sputter. Start. I watched as dad began to push the sputtering mower out onto the slight slope of the yard, speeding up the engine as smoke emitted from the exhaust. About 3 feet out onto the lawn, the mower died.

Without a word on his expressionless face, dad dragged the mower in reverse back to the level spot and began again. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Start. Sputter. Die. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Smoke. Sputter start, and away he goes, not giving that old mower another second to change its mind.   About 2 feet out onto the slope of the yard, it died again.   Dad repeated his efforts once more, but this time, the mower was making no effort to start. I remained silent, watching this whole scene played out from the vantage point of my front porch. I could feel my dad’s frustration on that hot summer day.

As I continued to watch, dad turned and walked back to the tool shed. I expected to see him emerge with wrenches and tools to beginning working on the ailing mower. Instead he came out of the tool shed flourishing a razor sharp double-bit axe.   I was extremely puzzled at this point, wondering how he was going to repair the lawn mower using a double-bit axe.

My answer came soon enough. Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! After about 4 whacks on top of that old Briggs and Stratton engine with his axe, my dad, still silent, finished his “repairs” resulting in some enormous gashes on the mower engine and replaced the axe in the tool shed.   Next he pushed the dead mower carcass to the curb for trash pick up.   I continued to watch, still speechless. I was torn whether to acknowledge the scene I had witnessed followed by the obvious question: ‘Are you okay dad?’

Sometimes it just makes more sense to remain silent, which is exactly what I did.   It was late evening after the heat and my daddy’s temper had cooled when I finally paid a visit to dad’s house to inquire (rather tongue-in-cheek) whether he had gotten his mower fixed.

I already knew the answer and he responded that indeed he had; he had just bought a new mower.

Keep That in Your Yard

Have you ever noticed how your neighbor’s dog never does his business in his own yard? The same was true of our neighbor’s dog.   Dad believed a certain chocolate Doberman named Max watched and waited, spitefully and with malice intent, for the opportunity to unload his business on his freshly mown grass rather than the unkempt lawn of his owners. Our neighbors, including the dog owners, all knew how particular dad was with his lawn.   They didn’t even get upset that day, while they sat on their back porch watching, when my dad carried out a small shovel and began flinging doggie poo airborne over the fence into the lawn of the rightful owners.

Modern Day Mowing

photo-12Spring has finally emerged and once again I hear the myriad of mowers as I drive by meticulously mown lawns, now striped with crisscrossing patterns by those just as OCD as my dad was; when I smell the essence of freshly mown grass, I remember my dad and I smile.   Then I wonder whether there are children to appreciate that plush green carpet with bare feet.   Is there a wife who appreciates the man who takes such tremendous pride in his home? I certainly hope so.   However, the thing that makes me burst into laughter is when I spy an appreciative dog living next door.

Pam Baker





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