Insomnia Treatments
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Treating Insomnia

Treatments for insomnia

Highlights

  1. Good sleep habits and a healthy diet can remedy many cases of insomnia.
  2. Some sleep experts recommend light exposure for people who tend to fall asleep too early at night or wake up too early in the morning.
  3. It’s important to determine whether or not an underlying issue or medical condition is causing your insomnia.

Plenty of treatment options for insomnia are available. Good sleep habits and a healthy diet can remedy many cases of insomnia. Behavior therapy or medication may be necessary in some cases.

It’s important to determine whether or not an underlying issue or medical condition is causing your insomnia. Many cases of insomnia are a result of stress, or some other emotional or physical condition that needs separate treatment. Many times, sleep patterns return to normal when these conditions are successfully treated.

Healthy lifestyle changes

Often, making lifestyle changes can cure insomnia. You might want to try some of these suggestions.

  • Go to bed when you feel tired.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. Activities that stimulate the brain, such as watching TV, reading, or eating, should take place outside the bedroom.
  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Reduce the stresses in your life that are disrupting your sleep.

You may also want to incorporate other lifestyle changes, such as the following.

Don’t smoke

If you smoke, quit. Nicotine is a stimulant that triggers insomnia. Also, smoking can lead to:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • cancer

Read more: Quit smoking tips »

Watch what you drink

Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Alcohol is a sedative that may induce sleep initially, but it can disrupt deeper stages of sleep that allow your body to rest fully. Long-term heavy drinking can also trigger high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. 

Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and soft drinks are other stimulants to avoid. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine taken six hours before bedtime can significantly disrupt your sleep. For reference, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has 95 to 200 mg of caffeine. The researchers recommend avoiding caffeine a minimum of six hours before your normal bedtime.

Drinking too much of any fluid before bedtime can disrupt sleep with repeated nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Exercise

Exercising 20 to 30 minutes every day can encourage a good night’s sleep. Even if you don’t see immediate results, keep doing it. Researchers in a 2013 study tracked 11 women with insomnia and found that exercising one day didn’t necessarily mean that their participants would sleep better that night. However, regular exercise over the course of four months did improve how much they slept and their overall quality of sleep.

Regular exercise can also help prevent serious medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Maintain a healthy diet

Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, which may cause heartburn and indigestion. These foods can be hard to digest, particularly when you eat them late at night. This can make it difficult to sleep.

Behavior therapies

These treatments can teach you how to make your environment more conducive to sleep. Behavior therapies are often conducted by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other trained healthcare provider. They’ve been shown to be as effective or more effective than sleep medications. Such therapies are often the first line of treatment for people with insomnia. These therapies may include the following:

Relaxation techniques

Progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and breathing exercises are ways to reduce anxiety at bedtime. These strategies help you control your:

  • breathing
  • heart rate
  • muscle tension
  • mood

A warm bath before bedtime, a massage, and light stretching all work to relax the body and should help you to wind down at night.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

In group sessions or one-on-one counseling, mental health therapists can help you learn to change negative patterns of thinking. This can help you learn to replace worried or fearful thinking with more pleasant, relaxing thoughts. This type of mindset is more helpful for finding healthy sleep habits.

Sleep restriction

Sleep restriction requires that the time you spend in bed is temporarily restricted, causing partial sleep deprivation. You’re then more tired the next night. Once your sleep has improved, your time in bed gradually increases.

Light therapy

Some sleep experts recommend light exposure for people who tend to fall asleep too early at night or wake up too early in the morning. This helps to adjust your internal clock. During times of the year when it’s light outside later in the evenings, going outside for 30 minutes or using a medical-grade light box can help adjust your sleep patterns.

Insomnia drugs

Your doctor may turn to medication when lifestyle changes and behavior therapies don’t help your insomnia. Doctors don’t generally recommend relying on sleeping pills for more than a few weeks because they’re addictive. Talk to your doctor about a treatment plan if you have insomnia. The type of drug and dose will depend on your symptoms and medical history. Also, let your doctor know if you’re experiencing the symptoms of depression. This may be the root of your insomnia and will require other types of treatment.

Prescription sleep aids

Prescription medications for insomnia include sedatives, tranquilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs. Doctors don’t recommend taking sleeping pills for more than two to three weeks because they can become habit-forming. Dosage and duration will vary depending on your diagnosis, medical history, and current condition.

Some of the more popular prescription sleep medications include:

  • eszopiclone (Lunesta), which is a non-benzodiazepine sedative
  • ramelteon (Rozerem), which is a melatonin receptor agonist
  • trazodone (Desyrel), which is an antidepressant of the serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor class
  • zaleplon (Sonata), which is a non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic
  • zolpidem (Ambien), which is a non-benzodiazepine hypnotic

Studies have shown that sleep aid medications are effective in:

  • shortening the time it takes to fall asleep
  • increasing the length of sleep
  • decreasing the number of times a person wakes up
  • improving the overall quality of sleep

Prescription sleeping drugs sometimes have side effects. Side effects are often more pronounced in older adults. These can include:

  • excessive drowsiness
  • impaired thinking
  • night wandering
  • agitation
  • balance problems

In rare cases, these medications can cause these side effects:

  • allergic reactions
  • facial swelling
  • unusual behaviors, such as driving, cooking, or eating while asleep

Talk to your doctor immediately about any side effects you experience.

Over-the-counter sleep aids

Many people prefer to use non-prescription sleep aid medications, such as antihistamines, to cause drowsiness. Antihistamines can also reduce the quality of sleep and cause side effects such as:

  • daytime drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • blurred vision

Although it’s not a drug, people also commonly use melatonin as a sleep aid. Melatonin is a dietary supplement available at most pharmacies.

Talk to your doctor

Try the varied treatments available for insomnia to help restore your normal sleep. Talk to your doctor and discuss which of the lifestyle changes, behavioral therapies, or medication options are right for you.

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