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Insomnia's nondrug options

>Q. What can I do to get a reasonable night's sleep? I have just spent another sleepless night. If I don't get some sleep soon, I will go nuts. I also worry that insomnia will undermine my overall health.

I used to take zolpidem, but I have read that sleeping pills pose a danger. Warm milk and cookies do not work for me. Now what?

A. A recent study (BMJ Open, Feb. 27) showed that popular sleeping pills such as zolpidem (Ambien), temazepam (Restoril), eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata) and sedatives such as alprazolam and lorazepam were associated with a shortened life expectancy. There was also a 20 to 35 percent increase in a variety of cancers among users of sleeping pills.

The researchers suggest that such medications could make sleep apnea worse, contributing to a variety of health complications including high blood pressure and heart problems. These drugs also may contribute to falls or unsafe driving the next day.

Nondrug options include exercise during the day and a hot bath an hour before bedtime. Many people report that a magnesium supplement in the evening can be helpful.

We are sending you our Guide to Getting a Good Night's Sleep with do's and don'ts for overcoming insomnia and a lot more nondrug options. Anyone who would like a copy, please send a check or money order for $3 with a long (No. 10), stamped (65 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. I-70, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-

2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Sleep experts often recommend avoiding the bluish light from television or computer screens for at least half an hour before bedtime. Some people find that soothing music or a guided relaxation program is helpful.

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>Q. I have had toenail fungus for more than 37 years. I started using a light sprinkle of foot powder containing cornstarch with zinc in my shoes and socks when I go for my daily walk. This week, I noticed that my toenail fungus is gone. This cure took about 30 days and was inexpensive.

A. Thanks for letting us know about your success. While the commercial formula you used was cost-effective, some people make their own foot powder with equal parts cornstarch, baking powder and zinc oxide. Those who would prefer a ready-made product will find one under Dr. Scholl's or Mexsana brand names.

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>Q. I have suffered from sharp pains in my feet diagnosed as peripheral neuropathy. I heard on your radio show that a supplement called benfotiamine might help. I tried it, and feeling has returned and the pain is gone. Thanks!

A. Benfotiamine is a synthetic derivative of the B vitamin thiamine. A placebo-controlled study (Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology and Diabetes, November 2008) found that this supplement is helpful against peripheral neuropathy.

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>Q. I have Type 2 diabetes and heard that if you drink nopal cactus tea, it can help control blood sugar. Where can I get the fresh cactus pads or ready-made tea?

A. You will need to be in close communication with your doctor and monitor your blood sugar very carefully if you try this botanical remedy. Your doctor may need to adjust the dosage of your diabetes medicines to make sure that blood sugar doesn't get too high or too low.

Nopal cactus (Opuntia streptacantha, or prickly pear) is a traditional treatment in Mexico for controlling blood sugar (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jan. 31, 2012; Jan. 27, 2011). You may find fresh cactus pads in a Latin or Mexican grocery. You also can find nopal or prickly pear supplements or tea bags in a health food store.