How Is Insomnia Treated?

Insomnia, or the trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, is the most common sleep disorder in the United States.1,2

Short-term, or acute, insomnia usually lasts for a few days or weeks. Chronic insomnia occurs at least 3 times a week for 3 months or longer. There are many ways to treat insomnia, whether it is a short-term or long-term problem.1,2

Improving sleep habits often brings relief. This may include going to bed and waking up at the same time each day or removing electronics from the bedroom.1

People with an underlying health issue, such as Parkinson’s disease, depression, or chronic pain, may need to be treated for that medical condition before their insomnia improves. Other people may need to change the drugs they are taking. That is because certain drugs, such as stimulants, some antidepressants, steroids, and opioids, can cause insomnia.1

Insomnia treatments

It may take some time to find the combination of insomnia treatments that work for you. Treatments for insomnia include:1,2

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)
  • Improving sleep habits
  • Stress reduction
  • Home remedies
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Sleep restriction
  • Exercise
  • Light therapy
  • Cooling headband
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and supplements
  • Medicine

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is the gold standard for treating chronic, or long-term, insomnia. Sometimes CBT-I is coupled with insomnia drugs. However, CBT-I has been shown to work better than sleep medicines.1,2

CBT-I teaches a person about the amount of sleep needed and to:1,2

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time 7 days a week
  • Only get in bed when it is time to sleep
  • Only use the bed for sleep and sex
  • Get out of bed when unable to sleep
  • Practice other good sleep habits, mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation

Good sleep habits

Everyone gets into bad habits from time to time, and sleep habits are no different. Falling asleep with the television on or checking your phone every time you wake up in the night are common examples of poor sleep habits. Smoking or drinking alcohol close to bedtime also disrupts sleep.1-3

To get a good night’s sleep, you may also need to:1-3

  • Lower the thermostat
  • Turn off lights
  • Reduce noise
  • Get a more comfortable mattress
  • Change your bedding

Stress reduction

Short-term, or acute, insomnia often results from stress, such as worries about family, divorce, or job loss. Anxiety about not sleeping can also lead to insomnia. Some doctors may prescribe 2 to 4 weeks of sedatives to help someone dealing with a life crisis. However, most doctors prefer to work with you to improve sleep habits or add relaxation techniques.1

Home remedies

Warm milk is a classic remedy for sleepless nights. So is chamomile tea. Both are thought to contain chemicals that help the brain relax into sleep. Tart cherry juice supports melatonin production, which helps the body fall asleep.3

Relaxation techniques

Some people find that a warm bath or hot shower helps them relax before bedtime if their bedroom is cool. This is because the quicker your body temperature drops, the quicker you fall asleep. Others find that deliberate muscle relaxation or breathing exercises help them unwind enough to fall asleep.3

Exercise

Exercise can boost the amount of deep sleep you get, though doctors do not fully understand why. Exercise can also be a stress reliever. However, if you notice that you have trouble falling asleep after exercise, try moving your exercise to earlier in the day.3

Light therapy

For people who fall asleep too early and then wake up too early, light therapy may help. Going outside when it is light outside late in the day can push back your internal clock and make it harder to fall asleep at night. Early-morning light can help let your body know when it is time to be awake. Dim light in the evening tells your brain to release melatonin, which tells your body it is time to sleep. During the winter, you might need to use a lightbox in the morning to make up for the lack of natural sunshine.2,4

Cooling headband for insomnia

There is also a cooling headband that has been FDA-approved for insomnia. It is available by prescription, but non-prescription versions are available too. This is a non-drug way of treating insomnia that might be helpful for some people. Costs begin at $200.5

Over-the-counter drugs and supplements

Melatonin is a hormone released in the brain a few hours before we begin to feel sleepy. The human body creates its own melatonin, but it needs low light to do so. You can buy melatonin supplements in drug stores, grocery stores, health stores, and online. Some studies show that melatonin may improve sleep in the short-term but not if taken for a year.3

Over-the-counter sleep aids often contain antihistamines, a drug that makes you drowsy. These drugs should not be taken long-term due to side effects.2

Medicines for insomnia

Some prescription sleeping pills should only be taken for a short time, while some can be taken long-term. A few of the drugs that may be prescribed for insomnia include:1,6

  • Benzodiazepines (Lorazepam, Temazepam, Triazolam)
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Orexin receptor antagonists (Belsomra, Dayvigo, Suvorexant)
  • Ramelteon (Rozerem)
  • Doxepin (Silenor)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist)

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: July 2021