Treatments for insomnia are the focus of considerable attention and research. This is because insomnia is a potentially devastating, and extremely common, condition. According to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research, insomnia affects an estimated 30-40 percent of American adults, making it one of the most significant health problems in the United States.
Ways to Alleviate Insomnia
Treating insomnia involves making lifestyle changes and treating any underlying medical causes for your sleeping difficulties. When these steps fail, your doctor may prescribe medications to promote relaxation and improve sleep.
Behavior therapy focuses on teaching new sleep behaviors and eliminating habits not conducive to restful sleep. In many cases, behavior therapy is more effective than sleep medications for treating insomnia.
Behavior therapy involves the following:
- Education about good sleep practices and promotion of good sleep hygiene
- Teaching relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and biofeedback, to reduce anxiety and stress and improve sleep
- Cognitive therapy to eliminate negative thoughts and ideas about sleeping and insomnia
- Implementing a sleep restriction program to reduce the amount of time you spend in bed while awake
- Using light therapy to readjust your internal clock and allow you to fall asleep and wake up at times that are more appropriate
Lifestyle changes are an effective treatment for many people with insomnia. Even small adjustments in routine can significantly improve sleep.
Some recommended lifestyle changes for insomnia include the following:
- Keep bedtime and wake time consistent, even on weekends.
- Use your bed only for sleeping and sex. If you cannot fall asleep after 15 minutes, get out of bed and engage in a relaxing activity.
- Implement a bedtime routine to help you unwind and to prepare your mind and body for sleep. Take a bath, spend a few minutes reading, listen to soft music, or engage in yoga.
- Avoid taking naps during the day, especially after 3:00 p.m.
- Try white noise to block out other sounds that may be keeping you awake. Run a fan or try a white noise machine.
- Change the temperature in your bedroom. You may sleep better if you turn the thermostat up or down a few degrees.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, but avoid exercising within six hours of bedtime.
- Limit your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. All three can interfere with sleep.
- Eat only light meals or snacks in the evening, and avoid drinking too much fluid late at night.
- Try a small carbohydrate snack before bedtime. Foods containing significant carbohydrates and low in protein may increase the production of serotonin and melatonin which are brain substances that are associated with sleep.
- Avoid spicy foods, as these can prevent some people from sleeping soundly.
- Speak with your doctor about any medications you are currently taking to determine if they may be interfering with your sleep. Check any over-the-counter products for stimulating ingredients.
- Put your clocks away. Watching the clock when you are trying to sleep will only keep you awake longer. Face your alarm clock away from the bed and move the rest of your clocks to another room.
Some alternative treatments for insomnia are available over-the-counter that are both safe and effective. Melatonin, a hormone produced naturally by the body, is available in supplement form and may help insomniacs who struggle with falling asleep and waking at appropriate times. Valerian is another supplement that may help reduce anxiety, ease tension, and promote sleep.
Because the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements, there is no guarantee of their effectiveness or safety profile. Speak with your doctor before beginning treatment with any over-the-counter medication or natural insomnia treatment.
Sleep medications, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs, can be very effective short-term solutions for insomnia. Learn about the different types of sleep medications available and speak with your doctor to find out which product would be best for you.
Consult Your Doctor About Insomnia
Untreated insomnia is potentially devastating, both physically and mentally. It interferes with work and school performance, increases the risk of accidents, contributed to obesity, heart disease, and other health problems, impairs the immune system, and increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders, such as depression. If you experience sleeping difficulties more than once per week, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss insomnia and treatments to improve your sleep.