Insomnia will often improve by making changes to your bedtime habits. If these don’t help, your physician may be able to recommend other treatments.
If you’ve had insomnia for more than four weeks, your physician may recommend cognitive and behavioral treatments or suggest a short course of prescription sleeping tablets as a temporary measure.
If it’s possible to identify an underlying cause of your sleeping difficulties, treating this may be enough to return your sleep to normal.
The various treatments for insomnia are outlined below. You can also read a summary of the pros and cons of the treatments for insomnia, allowing you to compare your treatment options.
Good sleeping habits
Your health care provider will be able to advise you about what you can do at home to help you sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Includes:
Establishing fixed times for going to bed and waking up
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine
Only going to bed when you feel tired
Maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment that’s not too hot, cold, noisy or bright
Not napping during the day
Avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late at night
Avoiding eating a heavy meal late at night
Cognitive and behavioral treatments:
If changing your sleeping habits doesn’t help, your physician may be able to refer you for a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that’s specifically designed for people with insomnia (CBT-I).
The aim of CBT-I is to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to your insomnia. It’s an effective treatment for many people and can have long-lasting results.
CBT-I may include:
stimulus-control therapy – which aims to help you associate the bedroom with sleep and establish a consistent sleep/wake pattern
sleep restriction therapy – limiting the amount of time spent in bed to the actual amount of time spent asleep, creating mild sleep deprivation; sleep time is then increased as your sleeping improves
relaxation training – aims to reduce tension or minimize intrusive thoughts that may be interfering with sleep
paradoxical intention – you try to stay awake and avoid any intention of falling asleep; it’s used if you have trouble getting to sleep, but not maintaining sleep
biofeedback – sensors connected to a machine are placed on your body to measure your body’s functions, such as muscle tension and heart rate; the machine produces pictures or sounds to help you recognize when you’re not relaxed
CBT-I is sometimes carried out by a specially trained physician. Alternatively, you may be referred to a clinical psychologist.The therapy may be carried out in a small group with other people who have similar sleep problems, or one-to-one with a therapist. Self-help books and online courses may also be used.
Sleeping pills (hypnotics) are medications that encourage sleep. In the past, they were frequently used to help with insomnia, but they’re used much less often nowadays.
They should only be considered:
If your insomnia is severe
As a temporary measure to help ease short-term insomnia if the good sleep habits and cognitive and behavioral treatments mentioned above don’t help.
Doctors are usually reluctant to recommend sleeping pills in the long-term because they just mask the symptoms without treating the underlying cause. They can also cause potentially dangerous side effects, such as drowsiness the following morning, and some people become dependent on them.
If they are recommended, you should have the smallest effective dose possible for the shortest time (usually no more than two to four weeks).
Over-the-counter sleeping pills:
A number of sleeping tablets are available to buy over the counter (OTC) from pharmacies. These are usually a type of antihistamine medicine that causes you to feel drowsy.
Taking OTC sleeping tablets regularly isn’t usually recommended if you have insomnia, because it’s not clear how effective they are, they don’t tackle the underlying cause of your sleeping difficulties and they can cause side effects.
In particular, they can cause you to feel drowsy the next morning, which can make activities such as driving and operating machinery dangerous. Speak to your physician for advice if you find yourself needing to take OTC sleeping tablets regularly.
Benzodiazepines are prescription medicines that can reduce anxiety and promote calmness, relaxation and sleep. Your physician may prescribe them for a short time if you have severe insomnia or it’s causing extreme distress.
Examples of benzodiazepines include temazepam, loprazolam, lormetazepam, diazepam and nitrazepam.
Long-term treatment with benzodiazepines isn’t usually recommended because they can become less effective over time and some people become dependent upon them.
They can also cause a number of side effects, including:
Drowsiness and dizziness, which can persist into the next day
Finding it difficult to concentrate or make decisions
Feeling emotionally numb
You should avoid driving if you feel drowsy, dizzy, or unable to concentrate or make decisions, as you may not be able to do so safely.
Z–drugs are a newer type of medicine that work in a similar way to benzodiazepines and are similarly effective. They include zaleplon, zolpidem and zopiclone.
As with benzodiazepines, long-term treatment with Z–drugs isn’t normally recommended because they can become less effective over time and some people become dependent on them. They’re usually only prescribed for a maximum of two to four weeks.
Side effects of Z-drugs can include:
Drowsiness and dizziness, which can persist into the next day
Feeling and being sick
Increased snoring and breathing problems during sleep
Z–drugs can also sometimes cause psychiatric reactions, such as delusions, nightmares and hallucinations. Contact your physician if you experience any of these effects.
Read the FDA recommendation for zaleplon, zolpidem and zopiclone for the short-term management of insomnia for more information.
For adults aged 55 or over, a medication called Circadin is sometimes used to help relieve insomnia for a few weeks. It contains a naturally occurring hormone called melatonin, which helps to regulate the sleep cycle. Circadin is usually only recommended for three weeks at first, but it can be continued for a total of 13 weeks if it helps.
Common side effects of Melatonin include:
Treatments that aren’t recommended:
The following treatments aren’t normally recommended for insomnia, because it’s not clear how effective they are and they can sometimes cause side effects:
Antidepressants (unless you also have depression)
If you have tried natural remedies and they have not worked for you maybe one of the above modalities will. Having insomnia can be trying on you. As always it is recommend that you speak with your physician if you are having difficulties. Remember sleeping pills have addictive properties,they are recommended for short term use only.
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