Treatment for insomnia in adults can be a scary thing. Many sleep specialists and other health professionals are quick to give you a prescription medication to help you rest. But before you give in, ask yourself if there are other things you can try first to relieve your insomnia.
An insomnia treatment plan does not always need to include medication to be effective. Many people find that changing their sleep habits does the trick. If you’re still struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep after making adjustments to your lifestyle, you may want to check out one of these proven remedies as a natural treatment for insomnia.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep. People with insomnia may often wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back asleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, as many as 40 percent of Americans deal with insomnia each year. Another 10 percent of Americans reportedly suffer from chronic insomnia that affects their daytime routine (1).
Although insomnia can develop at any age, it is most prevalent among adult women. Insomnia increases your risk of many conditions, including depression, obesity, anxiety, an impaired immune system, diabetes, memory problems, and mood disorders. People with insomnia have trouble concentrating or making simple decisions. They are also more likely to get into accidents than people who sleep seven to eight hours a night (10).
Insomnia can be primary or secondary. Primary insomnia is not a result of an underlying medical condition. On the other hand, secondary insomnia usually occurs as a symptom of another disease. Acute insomnia may only last for a few days or weeks while chronic insomnia can last months or even years.
Causes of insomnia may vary from case to case. Studies show that people with mental health conditions are more likely to develop insomnia and vice versa. According to a survey carried out by the National Institutes of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area, people with insomnia were 39.8 times more likely to develop depression than individuals without sleep problems (2). People who experience anxiety are also more liable to have insomnia.
If you were to see a sleep specialist for your insomnia, he or she might recommend a prescription medication. But before you go that route, you may want to consider a more natural option that is less addictive and has fewer side effects. According to a 2017 Consumers Report, the best treatment for insomnia is not a drug (3). The report indicated that prescription sleep aids provide modest benefits at best and are not safe to take long-term.
Over the long haul, the benefits of prescription sleep aids do not outweigh their risks. There is evidence to show that they aren’t even all that effective to begin with. Studies show that sedative medications only add between 8 to 20 minutes of sleep each night (3). Even if you’re lucky enough to get more sleep while taking a synthetic medication, you’re still more likely to feel tired the next day. Research shows that prescription sleep aids make you feel unsteady, dizzy and drowsy, which increases your risk of a fall or getting into an automobile accident (3).
Prescription sleep aids are highly addictive and can even make your insomnia worse if taken for too long. Side effects associated with the popular sleep aid Ambien may include hallucinations, sleepwalking and memory problems. Rare cases of eating and driving while asleep have even been reported a few hours after taking the drug (3). Research shows that prescription sleep aids are only safe when taken for short periods of time, but long term use is risky. Plus, they do not treat insomnia. They only mask the symptoms.
Most sleeping pills are classified as a sedative hypnotic. The most common examples include benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Xanax, Ativan, Librium, Valium and several anti-anxiety medications fall into the category of a benzodiazepine. According to WebMD, all benzodiazepines can cause attention disorders and memory problems. Almost all of them are highly addictive, and they are not recommended for long term use (4).
Barbiturates work by sedating the brain and the central nervous system, so you feel tired. When taken in high doses, they can be fatal (4). Both benzodiazepines and barbiturates are considered an older form of medication for people with insomnia. Newer medications are available to reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep. Examples include the drugs Lunesta, Ambien, and Sonata. They work by binding to the same brain receptors as benzodiazepines do. Over time, they can also cause dependence because they work relatively quickly (4).
Rozerem is a sleep drug that works by affecting your melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland of the brain. At night when it’s dark, your brain releases melatonin into your bloodstream, so you feel sleepy. Belsomra is another sleep drug that works by manipulating a brain chemical called orexin, which is responsible for regulating your sleep cycle (4).
The Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has approved safer treatment methods for insomnia. The organization found that there is substantial evidence to prove that cognitive behavioral therapy is just as effective at treating insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be done without the use of pharmaceutical medication. It works by teaching a person with insomnia better sleep habits by changing their behavior. With the assistance of a healthcare professional, insomnia patients use methods such as controlling stimuli and sleep restriction to develop regular sleep cycles. It also reduces stress and changes the way you think about sleep.
The experts at Consumer Reports prefer this method of insomnia treatment compared to pharmaceutical drugs because there are no side effects (3). It works long after the therapy treatment has ended because the patient will have addressed the root of their problem instead of covering it up with medication.
According to the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep specialists should use cognitive behavioral therapy on their patients when they are first diagnosed with insomnia in place of medication. If you are already on prescription medication, ask your doctor about using cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to reduce your medication or to get off it completely.
If you’re looking for an insomnia treatment plan that doesn’t involve medication, there are several things you can do instead. Long-term use of prescription sleep aids are highly risky and can create more problems for you in the future. Try one of these natural sleep remedies that are proven to help you sleep minus the side effects of a pharmaceutical drug.
If you’re the type of person who likes to do the opposite of what you’re told, this sleep method might be the one for you. Research shows that trying to force yourself to stay awake will have the opposite effect on you. According to one study, patients with sleep-onset insomnia fell asleep quicker when they were told to lay in bed and try not to fall asleep. The participants who were instructed to keep their eyes open and told not to sleep fell asleep quicker than those who were told to go to sleep. Participants who used the reverse psychology also had less anxiety about their sleep performance (5).
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or if you’ve woken up in the night and can’t get back to sleep within 15 or 20 minutes, get up. According to Richard Wiseman, a professor of Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, you should get out of bed and do something that makes you use your head and your hands, such as a puzzle or coloring. He recommends staying away from digital screens as the blue light emitted from them will keep you awake.
This type of stimulus control therapy is designed to help you associate your bed with sleep. If you can’t sleep when it’s time to go to bed, get up and do something else in a different area of your house. Instead of allowing your bedroom to become a place where you worry or watch television, it’s best to only go to bed when you’re able to sleep.
Your body naturally drops its core temperature at night when you sleep. When it’s too hot in your room, your body has to work harder to get your temperature down, which uses precious energy. According to Harvard Medical School, your body’s thermostat is reduced by one or two degrees Fahrenheit during sleep. This helps you use less energy to maintain your body temperature while you rest (6).
You may need to adjust your room temperature to your liking. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people keep their room between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. When in doubt, always turn it down a few degrees before bed.
Lavender is well known for its anti-anxiety properties. It may also be able to help you sleep. According to one study, lavender can be used as a mild sedative to help promote deep sleep in both men and women. The study found that subjects who used lavender oil at night increased their deep sleep or slow-wave sleep, which is the most restorative form. Participants reported have more vigor the next morning. The lavender oil also increased their stage two sleep and reduced the amount of time it took them to fall asleep (7).
You can easily use lavender in many different ways. It can be diffused into your room as an essential oil. You can take a warm bath with a few drops of lavender oil before bed. Or you can apply a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow, so you’ll smell it all night long. If you use lavender essential oil on your skin, make sure you dilute it with a carrier oil or water to avoid irritation.
Imagining a peaceful scene in your head can help you fall asleep. According to a study published in the journal of Behavioral Research and Therapy, picturing a calm and happy environment can distract you from your worries long enough to fall asleep. The study found that people with insomnia who visualized a relaxing scene fell asleep 20 minutes faster than individuals who were told to count or do nothing special (8).
The goal of visual therapy is to distract yourself from thinking negative thoughts. When your mind wanders to a worrisome thought, guide it back to something that makes you happy, such as a fun vacation or memory. Meditation works similarly to help you relax and produce more melatonin. One study found that people who meditate have higher levels of melatonin than those who don’t (9).Learning to control your thoughts through cognitive behavioral therapy or meditation is a better way to treat your insomnia than taking a synthetic drug. Prescription sleep aids are highly addictive and cause unwanted side effects that can make you even sleepier the next day. Before jumping on the prescription drug train, consider an alternative method first and save yourself dependency issues down the road.