How to Treat Insomnia When You Can't Sleep

How to Treat Insomnia When You Can’t Sleep

How to Treat Insomnia When You Can't Sleep
You can (and should!) seek help if you’ve been having sleep problems for a few weeks or as long as you can remember.

You spend your nights awake, staring at the ceiling. You may feel cursed, but you are not alone. Experts estimate that between one in ten and one in three people suffer from some form of insomnia, which means they have difficulty falling or staying asleep or wake up earlier than they intend to in the morning (or a combination of the above).

There are numerous reasons why you may be having difficulty falling or staying asleep at night, including stressful life events (such as being fired from a job) and health issues.

Furthermore, short-term insomnia that lasts only a few days or a week (acute insomnia) can progress to longer-term insomnia, also known as chronic insomnia, which means your sleep problems last beyond the initial stressor.

But you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t, suffer from short- or long-term insomnia. There are lifestyle changes, therapies, and other treatments available to retrain your mind and body to get the sleep you require to stay not only happy but also healthy.

If you have insomnia, your doctor or a sleep specialist may recommend one of the following treatments.

Lifestyle changes alone can sometimes help with insomnia.

Doctors will likely recommend a few lifestyle changes to promote better sleep for a mild case that has only been a problem for a few days or weeks.

The following sleep hygiene practices.

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Whether it’s Wednesday or Sunday, this means going to bed and waking up around the same time.
  • Get some natural light. “One thing that has happened a lot since 2020 is that there is no daily routine because a lot of people are now working from home,” Attarian says. For many people whose work schedules have changed, getting outside first thing in the morning to physically get to an office or place of work is no longer an option. “However, having a routine that includes some exposure to outside natural light is critical.”Morning exposure to natural light signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up and helps keep your body clock on track, which means you’ll be more likely to fall asleep at a reasonable time later that evening.
  • Avoid anything that interferes with your ability to sleep. This includes substances such as caffeine and tobacco, which can stay in your system for up to eight hours. Also, don’t rely on a nightcap. “You should avoid alcohol close to bedtime,” advises Attarian. He recommends devoting at least an hour per serving of alcohol between drinking and going to bed.
  • Daytime naps should be no longer than 30 minutes.
  • Turn off electronics at least an hour before going to bed.
  • Only use the bed for sleeping and sex.
  • Make your sleeping environment quiet, dark, and cool.

If you’ve tried everything and are still having problems, don’t spend hours in bed struggling.

According to Attarian, if you are wide awake in bed and worried about not being able to sleep, get up after 20 to 30 minutes and do something relaxing. Stay in bed if you’re comfortable and relaxed, and you feel yourself drifting off, he adds.

If you do get up, Attarian advises against doing anything productive, such as chores. “When you complete something on your to-do list in the middle of the night, whether it’s folding laundry or cleaning the kitchen, your brain rewards you for being up in the middle of the night,” he explains, “which can make you more likely to establish a habit of night activity.”

Instead, do something relaxing to help you relax, such as reading or gentle stretching. And avoid using your phone, computer, or other screen-based devices; the blue light they emit can disrupt your sleep by promoting wakefulness.

The Gold Standard for Treating Chronic Insomnia Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
If improving your sleep hygiene and other lifestyle changes do not help you sleep, cognitive behavioral therapy is the next step to improving your sleep and reversing chronic insomnia.

“Essentially, cognitive behavioral therapy retrains your brain not to associate the bed and the bedroom with not sleeping,” explains Attarian. “Its overall effectiveness is either equal to or better than medications in the short term.” And, without a doubt, cognitive behavioral therapy outperforms medications in the long run.”

As a first-line treatment for insomnia, the American College of Physicians recommends cognitive behavioral therapy.

When the two treatment strategies were compared in clinical trials, cognitive behavioral therapy was found to be more effective than common drugs at improving sleep efficiency, resulting in an additional 30 to 60 minutes of sleep time.

A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews in December 2019 discovered that cognitive behavioral therapy produced clinically significant effects for insomnia that lasted up to a year after treatment.

In addition, a 2015 study discovered that just one session of cognitive behavioral therapy combined with a self-help pamphlet effectively treated roughly half of the cases of acute insomnia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches techniques for relaxing, controlling your breathing and mood, slowing your racing mind, and falling asleep.

Prescription and over-the-counter Sleep aids can be beneficial, but they are only intended to be temporary solutions.

Before resorting to medication, your doctor should rule out any other potential health problems. Insomnia is frequently a symptom of a more serious problem, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, in which case an antidepressant may be more effective than a sleep aid.

According to Attarian, sleep apnea and medication side effects are also common causes of insomnia.

In some cases, using over-the-counter or prescription sleep medication for a short period of time while you establish a healthier sleep routine and form good sleep habits can be beneficial.

Once you’ve established a routine, you should be able to discontinue the medication while still sleeping well.

If medication is prescribed, take it for as little time as possible — three months at most — because it can form a habit. Also, make sure to talk to your doctor about the medication’s purpose and side effects.

Some medications, for example, may help you fall asleep but leave you groggy in the morning. Others, such as sleepwalking or sleep-driving, can be problematic. According to research, some drugs have been found to increase mortality risk regardless of preexisting conditions.

The researchers came to the conclusion that some of the drugs with the highest efficacy and safety profiles lacked high-level data to support long-term use. Furthermore, some drugs with high-quality data demonstrating their safety did not necessarily have high-quality data demonstrating their effectiveness. The researchers concluded that before beginning any medication, patients should discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor.

In some cases, over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids can help with insomnia. Some examples are:

Melatonin This hormone naturally aids in the regulation of your sleep-wake cycle. According to research, it is more effective than insomnia in treating circadian rhythm issues (such as jet lag). “Melatonin is not an effective treatment for everyday insomnia, and it is not FDA-approved,” Attarian explains. Melatonin, he says, may be useful in very specific situations, such as jet lag or a delayed sleep/wake cycle due to shift work. “In those cases, very low doses of melatonin at careful timing can help,” he says, recommending a dosage of.5 milligram (mg) to 1 mg.
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) Benadryl is an antihistamine with sedative properties. While the medication may help you fall asleep at first, most experts warn that it should not be used as a sleep aid on a regular basis. Antihistamine tolerance can develop after only a short period of use, according to studies conducted over the years.

Antihistamines are not recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as a treatment for chronic insomnia. Antihistamines can cause dry mouth, drowsiness during the day, constipation, and urinary retention. According to Attarian, “chronic use of this drug can also lead to dementia.” According to him, this has been well-established in research, so doctors and patients should avoid it as a long-term approach to treating insomnia.
Doxylamine (Unisom) Unisom, like Benadryl, is a sedating antihistamine. It can also cause tolerance and other risks and side effects.
“You should absolutely consult your doctor before using any type of over-the-counter insomnia medication,” says Attarian.

Insomnia Treatments and Supplements Using Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine techniques and supplements may help some people with insomnia, either alone or in conjunction with other treatment approaches. Some have more evidence to back up their claims than others. Before attempting integrative or complementary therapy techniques to help with insomnia, consult with your doctor, especially if you are taking other medications. Keep in mind that some supplements can interact with medications, making them ineffective or dangerous.

Among the integrative-medicine insomnia treatments and supplements are:

  • Herbal remedies such as valerian and chamomile Some evidence suggests that chamomile (whether consumed as a tea or as an essential oil in aromatherapy) can have sedative and sleep-promoting properties. According to the Mayo Clinic, the same is true for valerian supplements. It should be noted that the evidence for these and other herbal remedies suggests rather than confirms a benefit. In comparison to other insomnia treatment options, less is known about who these remedies may be effective for, appropriate dosing, and side effects. Furthermore, unlike drugs and medications, these products are not regulated by the FDA, according to Attarian. Before attempting herbal remedies or supplements for sleep, as with other at-home treatment options, consult with your doctor.
  • Biofeedback According to the Mayo Clinic, biofeedback allows doctors to monitor biological reactions in your body such as heart rate, breathing, and muscle tension. This information may be used by sleep specialists to identify patterns affecting your sleep and develop adjustment strategies.
  • Yoga has been shown in studies to improve sleep quality. It may also reduce stress and improve physical health. “In some cases, a natural modality such as yoga can help,” says Attarian.
  • Meditation for mindfulness Breathing techniques, guided imagery, and other techniques are used in mindfulness meditation to help you become more aware of your thoughts, sensations, and feelings. Mindfulness-based stress reduction programs have been shown in studies to improve insomnia and overall sleep patterns.
  • Hypnosis Hypnotherapy is a treatment that can make you feel more relaxed and open to suggestions. Several small studies have found that professional hypnosis has a positive effect on sleep outcomes.
  • Massage Massage therapy has been shown to improve sleep quality, sleep disturbance, and daytime dysfunction — in fact, a small study found that it may work better than certain drugs for some people with insomnia.
  • Acupuncture Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into specific points on the body, and studies have shown that this therapy can help with insomnia symptoms. According to one study, acupuncture may improve sleep by influencing specific neurotransmitters in the body.

Can I Get Rid of My Insomnia?

Absolutely. It may not be easy, however, because treating insomnia often entails improving your sleep hygiene and developing sleep-friendly habits. And habits, particularly daily routines, can be difficult to break.

However, it is possible.

“The key is to recognize it early and intervene early,” says Attarian. He explains that the longer insomnia persists, the more likely it will lead to other complications and become more difficult to treat.

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