Insomnia Treatments

Lifestyle changes, medications, and therapy can help treat this common sleep problem.

There are a number of ways to treat insomnia. Some treatments require medication, while others don’t.

If you have insomnia, your doctor can help you find a treatment that works best for you and your symptoms.

Lifestyle Changes

Some people find that simple changes to their daily routine can help with insomnia.

The following actions may help you sleep better:

  • Avoid caffeinated beverages after lunchtime
  • Avoid nicotine and tobacco products
  • Avoid alcohol, especially before bed
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule (go to bed and wake up at the same time each day)
  • Follow a routine that helps you wind down and feel relaxed before bed (take a hot shower or bath, read a book, or listen to soothing music)
  • Exercise regularly, for at least 20 minutes, four to five hours before bedtime
  • Avoid using light-emitting screens (laptops, tablets, smartphones) in bed
  • Make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible
  • Don’t eat heavy meals or drink a lot before bed
  • Avoid taking daytime naps
Sleep Medications

Your doctor may recommend a prescription medicine to help you sleep if your insomnia interferes with your daytime functioning.

There are many different prescription medications used to treat insomnia.

Some will help you to fall asleep, while others are meant to help you stay asleep. Some are meant only for short-term use, while others are safe for longer periods of time.

Popular types of prescription sleep medications include:

  • Sedative hypnotics
  • Antipsychotics and antidepressants
  • Melatonin receptor medications

Which medicine your doctor prescribes will depend on your insomnia symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking prescription sleep medications.

Some sleep medicines can be habit-forming and have serious side effects.

Side effects of some prescription sleep medications may include:

  • Unusual behaviors (driving, walking, or eating) while asleep
  • Grogginess or drowsiness the next day
  • Impaired driving the morning after taking sedatives
  • Addiction
Over-the-Counter Sleeping Pills

Nonprescription or over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids can also be used to help you fall asleep.

Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines such as diphenhydramine.

Antihistamines are typically used as an allergy medicine, but some also cause drowsiness and may be marketed as sleep aids.

Over-the-counter sleep aids aren’t a solution for long-term insomnia.

Therapy for Insomnia

Some people prefer to treat their insomnia without medications. Therapy from a trained sleep specialist can help.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method of treating insomnia that focuses on changing habits and factors that may be giving you sleep anxiety.

You’ll meet regularly (usually weekly) with a sleep specialist who will help you change the way you sleep.

Alternative and Natural Sleep Aids

Herbal products and hormones are often used as sleep aids.

But there is little scientific data showing that these natural sleep aids are effective for people with insomnia.

Common natural sleep aids include:

Melatonin: This is a hormone produced by the brain that plays a role in sleep.

Melatonin may be helpful for some people with insomnia, including people who have:

  • Certain sleep-wake rhythm disorders
  • Low melatonin levels
  • Jet lag
  • Sleep problems related to shift work

Melatonin appears to be safe when used for periods of three months or less, but little is known about the safety of long-term melatonin use.

Valerian: This is an herbal remedy used to treat sleep problems.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that there aren’t enough medical studies to back up claims that valerian helps with insomnia.

Valerian appears to be safe for short-term use. It may cause mild side effects, including:

  • Tiredness the morning after use
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Stomachache

Additionally, the following alternative therapies have helped some people manage their insomnia:

  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Biofeedback
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

By Lindsey Konkel