Insomnia Treatments: Learn about each one
We have all had nights where we couldn’t sleep no matter how hard we tried. Some people have to go through that every night. Luckily, there is a myriad of insomnia treatments out there now. So, what is insomnia? What are the common insomnia treatments? What are the medical and natural insomnia treatments? What is the difference between insomnia treatments for chronic insomnia and short-term insomnia? What is insomnia brain training?
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is the condition of having difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. People who are insomniacs often don’t feel happy with their sleep and tend to feel symptoms such as low energy, mood changes, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and an overall decreased performance at school or work. Those who are most prone to being affected by insomnia are women, the elderly, and people who suffer from psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Over half of the world population goes through spouts of insomnia during their life.
Insomnia can happen as a side effect of medication for another condition such as diabetes or menopause. It can also be caused by stress, travel, or other situations in daily life. It’s a phenomenon that happens in roughly 30% of the population.
Insomnia is defined as “complaints of difficulty initiating sleep, maintaining sleep, waking too early, and nonrestorative sleep despite adequate opportunity plus a complaint of impaired daytime functioning (eg, fatigue, depressed mood, poor concentration)” by the National Institutes of Health.
What are insomnia treatments?
Medical Insomnia Treatments
Currently, the most common insomnia treatment is sleeping pills which can help at the moment but carry high risks and don’t treat the problem directly. Furthermore, they can become addictive with long-term use. Anti-insomnia medications can be incredibly dangerous when taken with drugs and alcohol because they can depress the nervous system as well as cause morning drowsiness.
Benzodiazepine sedatives and non-benzodiazepine sedatives are used as medications to treat insomnia. Some of the most common benzodiazepine sedatives medications today are Lorazepam (Ativan), Flurazepam, Temazepam (Restoril), Triazolam (Halicon), and Quazepam (Doral). There is also a prescription oral spray which contains Lorazepam’s most active ingredient and is known as Zolpimist. The spray can be used especially for short-term insomnia. The most common non-benzodiazepine sedatives are Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Zolpidem (Ambien, Intermezzo), and Zaleplon (Sonata).
There are other types of pill insomnia treatments, too. For example, the first approved orexin receptor antagonist, known as Belsomra (Suvorexant). Orexins are chemicals that are responsible for regulating the wake-sleep cycle and are also involved in keeping one awake. The chemical Belsomra alters how orexin works in the brain. For people who have trouble staying asleep, Doxepin (Silenor) can be used. Silenor helps our sleep cycle by blocking the histamine receptors in the brain and body. Ramelteon (Rozerem) is another insomnia treatment that works slightly differently than the other sedative medications on the market. It’s less likely to be addictive or cause drowsiness in the morning.
The over-the-counter insomnia treatments often contain antihistamines which are a drug component used for allergies but that also causes drowsiness.
Natural, Non-Medical Insomnia Treatments
Part of the reason people these days have such a hard time falling asleep is due to stress throughout the day, the body being unable to release the stress and anxiety built up throughout the day to become tired, or because we are keeping our bodies awake by drinking caffeine late in the afternoon or watching things with blue light too much before bed.
Insomnia Treatments: Relaxation Techniques
Using relaxation techniques such as hypnosis, massage, yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are a great alternative treatment that can help one fall asleep quickly. Relaxation techniques can promote better sleep and help reduce tension. Trying visual or guided imagery (imagining a peaceful image in mind before bedtime) can also help relaxation and our ability to fall asleep.
Mindfulness has been proven that it can improve overall sleep patterns and insomnia. In one 2011 study, participants went to a weekly meditation class, a day-long retreat, and went home and practice meditation over the course of a few months. They were found to have significantly better sleep patterns after going through mindfulness meditation.
Yoga has been scientifically proven to have a healthy effect on sleep patterns, too.
Massage, whether it’s self-massage or professionally done, has been proven to benefit people with daytime dysfunctions and bad sleep quality. Massage can also reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and pain.
Try breathing exercises such as this one: exhale through the mouth letting all of the air possible. Then inhale through the nose while counting to four. Hold the breath for seven counts. Exhale through the mouth for eight counts. Repeat at least three times.
Insomnia Treatments: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is to make behavioral changes as well as adding in a thinking/cognitive component. It challenges unhealthy beliefs and behaviors to teach positive and healthy thinking and behaviors. In terms of sleep and insomnia, an example of CBT could be learning to keep the same bedtime nightly, eliminating afternoon naps, or waking up at the same time. There is lots of evidence that supports cognitive behavioral therapy as an insomnia treatment.
Insomnia Treatments: Sleep Habits
It’s important to develop healthy sleep habits. Try the following suggestions below if you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep:
- Stop using technology. The blue light emitted from TV, phones, computers, and anything electronic actually keeps us awake. When our brains see the blue light, they turn on and stay awake because the blue light is interpreted as daylight. If necessary, turn your device on dark mode and turn down the brightness on the screen.
- Dark and quiet is how the bedroom should be when ready to sleep. Using blinds and eyeshades/masks can help one stay asleep since light can come through even closed eyelids.
- Avoid certain behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, caffeine, or eating heavy meals before bedtime. By avoiding these, the body can begin to turn off and get sleepy.
- Stimulus control can be used to help create a neuro-association between sleep and the bedroom by limiting the activities that are allowed to happen in the bedroom. For example, going to the bedroom only when you are sleepy and get out of bed if you have been awake for over 20 minutes. This way, the unhealthy association between being awake and the bedroom is broken.
Insomnia Treatments: Exercise
Exercise is proven to have an anti-anxiety effect which further makes it a viable insomnia treatment. Moderate exercise can not only help one sleep better at night, but also give them more energy throughout the day. Try aiming for a 20-30 minute workout daily. Physical activity actually improves our state of deep sleep which makes the sleep we do get better. In a 2015 study, it was found that people who exercised for at least 150 minutes a week for six months had significantly fewer insomnia symptoms as well as reduced anxiety and depression symptoms.
Insomnia Treatments: Drinks
What we drink makes a huge difference in how we function day-to-day. Whether we drink enough water, drink too much alcohol or energy drinks, or don’t hydrate enough, we are greatly affected whether we realize it or not.
Drinking caffeine keeps us awake at night. One study looked at how well people slept after drinking caffeine right before bedtime, 3 hours before, and 6 hours before. The study found that in each case, caffeine affected overall sleep and that it’s best to have your last cup of jo’ at least 6 hours before going to sleep.
Herbal tea is a huge contender for natural insomnia treatments, as well. While black tea, green tea, and white tea all contain less caffeine than coffee, they still aren’t the best to have before bedtime. The most popular “bedtime teas” are caffeine-free and calming. However, it’s not the type of tea but rather the ingredients that help alleviate insomnia and bad sleep. For example, the most common herbal tea is chamomile tea. It’s been used for centuries to decrease inflammation, lessen anxiety, and aid sleep. It’s thought that the active ingredient in the tea, apigenin, is the reason for its effectiveness. Apigenin binds and connects itself to specific brain receptors that initiate sleep and decrease anxiety. In fact, in multiple studies, it’s been proven to be effective. Check out this study on nursing home residents, this one on postpartum women, and this one which takes a look at people with chronic insomnia. Each study concludes the same idea: chamomile can be effective in combating insomnia. Valerian root, like apigenin, is simply an active ingredient that has been used for centuries to promote better sleep and alleviate anxiety. It can be used as a tea. While it’s not 100% known how the root helps alleviate sleep, it’s been proven to not have any adverse side effects in the morning. It’s theorized that the root increases the levels of GABA neurotransmitters which, when in a large amount, increase sleepiness. This theory works in the same way that anti-anxiety medications function like with Xanax. Numerous studies such as this one and this one both conclude that the root helps people fall asleep faster, easier, and stay asleep longer. Lavender (tea) is also used to promote sleep and ease anxiety. This study and this study found that lavender tea before bed helps improve sleep quality in people who suffer from anxiety disorders. Inhaling it while drinking it can also prove useful according to this Taiwanese study.
Insomnia Treatments: Supplements
Magnesium is a supplement used by many to help sleep better. A study from 2012 found that participants who took 500 milligrams (mg) of magnesium every day for two months had improved sleep patterns and fewer insomnia symptoms.
Melatonin also is used often to help sleep. A 2016 study found that melatonin can help to significantly improve the sleep patterns in those who suffer from insomnia- specifically those with cancer. The study found that overall sleep quality is improved between 7-14 days with daily use of melatonin.
Smelling certain scents such as lavender can prove useful to invoke sleep. In several studies, such as this one, both concluded that inhaling the smell of natural lavender before sleep improved overall sleep quality and helped improve heart rate.
Chronic insomnia treatments vs short-term insomnia treatments
Chronic insomnia lasts for six months or longer and doesn’t always have a specific, identifiable cause. Chronic insomnia is the most common sleeping disorder affecting about 6%-10% of the general adult population. In people with comorbid conditions, the rates for insomnia are higher, such as hypertension (44%), breathing problems (41.5%), or cardiac disease (44.1%). For chronic insomnia treatments, some cases call for a physical exam with a lifestyle change and possibly psychotherapy (talk therapy) to help identify if there is an underlying cause for insomnia (such as too much stress or PTSD). Considering that chronic insomnia doesn’t just mean not sleeping well, it requires that the problem causing insomnia to be treated directly.
Short-term insomnia, also known as acute insomnia, lasts for four weeks or less and can be linked to a specific cause such as stress or travel. Often, short-term insomnia improves once the traveling, stress, or cause for insomnia is over and the body has adjusted to the new feeling/state or being. For short-term insomnia treatments, there are many over-the-counter options as well as supplements such as melatonin and drinking herbal teas before bedtime.
Let us know what you think in the comments below!
Anna is a freelance writer who is passionate about translation, psychology, and how the world works.