Insomnia is a complex, relatively common condition that can have any number of root causes - medical, mental or lifestyle. Between 10 and 34 per cent of Americans are thought to experience difficulty sleeping regularly, a ballpark that indicates there is a huge potential market for effective products or methods.
For a study published in the September 18 sleep theme issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine (2006;166:1775-1782), Nancy Pearson and colleagues from the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) analysed data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, and found that 4.5 per cent of people who reported having trouble sleeping said they turned to some form of CAM.
When this is expanded into the general population, it equates to 1.62m adults.
A total of 31,044 adults participated in the survey, which included one question on insomnia or sleep difficulties, 50 questions on other health conditions, and a ten minute survey on use of 27 different kinds of CAM.
17.4 per cent of respondents reported having experienced insomnia or sleep difficulties in the preceding 12 months, there were more women sufferers than men, and it was most common in people aged between 45 and 64 years.
However younger, educated people were more likely to use CAM to help them sleep.
Other health conditions frequently reported by those who had sleep troubles were obesity, hypertension, congestive heart failure, anxiety and depression.
Of those who said they used CAM, 65 per cent used methods termed as biological, which include herbal medicines, dietary measures and vitamins.
The study did not specify what products the participants may have been using, but herbs reputed to have a sleep-inducing effect include valerian, kava, passion flower and lemon balm.
Melatonin is also regulated as a dietary supplement in the US. The hormone that is naturally secreted by the pineal gland in humans when their surroundings become dark, causing drowsiness. It is also used to help regularise sleeping patterns in people who do shift work or regularly travel across time zones.
Amongst the companies marketing finished products to help with sleep issues are Tharos Laboratories, whose Nytex contains Procidin - patented proanythocyanidins that are extracted from wild blueberries and selected grape varieties; and Next Pharmaceuticals markets, whose Seditol contains an extract of Magnolia officinalis and Ziziphus spinosa.
Of those study participants using biological therapies, 49 per said reported that they helped alleviate the condition.
Pearson notes that wholes this gives useful information on public perception of the usefulness of CAM, there is a chance that the actual benefit could be down to other factors such as a placebo effect or other unidentified influences.
"It does not directly address the efficacy of CAM therapy," wrote Pearson.
But she concluded: "Taken together, our data justify further research in the efficacy of these CAM therapies [biological and mind-body] to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia and trouble sleeping."