Insomnia Treatments

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on October 2, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on October 2, 2014

Treatments for Insomnia

You don’t have to suffer with sleepless nights forever. There are plenty of treatment options available. Many cases of insomnia can be remedied by following good sleep habits and a healthy diet. Behavior therapy or medication may be needed in some cases.

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

Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Often, all it takes are a few simple lifestyle changes to cure insomnia. Go to bed when you feel tired. Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. Activities that stimulate the brain like 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.

Some other lifestyle habits you should incorporate include the following.

No Smoking

If you smoke, quit. Nicotine is not only a stimulant that triggers insomnia, but smoking can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. 

Watch What You Drink

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

Caffeinated drinks like coffee and soft drinks are other stimulants to avoid. At least give up drinking caffeinated beverages after lunch.

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. Regular exercise can also help prevent serious medical conditions like cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes.

Diet

Maintain a healthy diet, and avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, which may cause heartburn and indigestion. These foods can be hard to digest, particularly when eaten 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 have been shown to be equally 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, and 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 patients learn to change negative patterns of thinking. This can help one learn to replace worried or fearful thinking with more pleasant, relaxing thoughts. This type of mindset is more helpful in finding healthy sleep habits.

Sleep Restriction

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

Light Therapy

Some sleep experts use exposure to light for people who tend to fall asleep too early at night or wake 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 light from 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 as they can become addictive. Talk to your doctor about a treatment plan if you are suffering from insomnia. Also, let your doctor know if you are experiencing depression symptoms. This may be the root of your insomnia and will require other types of treatment.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, around 25 percent of Americans take some type of medication every year to help them sleep. The type of drug and dose will depend on your symptoms and medical history.

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, as they can become habit-forming. Dosage and duration will vary depending on the patient’s diagnosis, medical history, and current condition.

Some of the more popular prescription sleep medications include:

  • eszopiclone (Lunesta): a non-benzodiazepine sedative
  • ramelteon (Rozerem): a melatonin receptor agonist
  • trazodone (Desyrel): an antidepressant of the serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI) class
  • zaleplon (Sonata): a non-benzodiazepine sedative/hypnotic
  • zolpidem (Ambien): 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 amount of awakenings
  • improving the overall quality of sleep

In rare cases, these medications may cause allergic reactions, facial swelling, and unusual behaviors such as driving or cooking and eating while asleep. The side effects of prescription sleeping drugs are often more pronounced in older adults. These can include excessive drowsiness, impaired thinking, night wandering, agitation, and balance problems. Talk to your doctor immediately about any undesirable side effects you experience.

Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids

Many people prefer to use non-prescription sleep aid medications. Many of these use antihistamines to cause drowsiness. But antihistamines can also reduce the quality of sleep. They can also cause side effects such as daytime drowsiness, dry mouth, and blurred vision.

Although not a drug, melatonin is also commonly used as a sleep aid. Melatonin is a dietary supplement available at most pharmacies. 

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