Medication-free strategies for dealing with insomnia

April 15, 2014 in Healthy Living  •  By Miles Varn
Man comfortably sleeping in his bed at night

Difficulty falling asleep at night can negatively affect your mood, productivity at work and ability to interact with coworkers and family. To help combat this problem, a health care provider may prescribe medications, some of which may cause adverse reactions. Fortunately, there are several medication-free strategies for dealing with insomnia that can promote a full and restful night’s sleep.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults require seven or more hours of sleep per night, while teenagers need eight to 10. Your work performance, ability to concentrate or remember things, driving ability and competence in managing finances may worsen when you do not get enough sleep, underscoring the importance of treating insomnia.

Treating sleep problems with therapy
One alternative to sleep medication is a process known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A team of researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine investigated the use of CBT on military veterans with insomnia and found that when the veterans adhered to the researchers’ recommendations, the average severity of their insomnia decreased without the use of medications.

A CBT program usually begins with you keeping a detailed “sleep diary” of your nighttime habits. Once this information is compiled, a qualified therapist reviews it and identifies problem behaviors that may be interfering with your ability to fall and stay asleep throughout the night. Positive effects from CBT can be seen in as little as two meetings, though the recommended length of the program is at least six appointments.

Lifestyle changes to make sleeping easier
If you have insomnia, you may find yourself lying in bed for hours before falling asleep. To break that cycle, experts at Harvard recommend a technique, called sleep restriction, where you spend as little time in bed as possible during non-sleeping hours. For example, if you have a strict wake-up time, counting back five or six hours from that time determines when you should go to bed.

Rather than trying to sleep eight hours every night, this method may help you by withholding sleep until it is absolutely necessary. Once sleep comes more easily, you can gradually increase the time spent in bed.

Better diet, better sleep
While alcohol may make you feel drowsy, it also makes it difficult to stay asleep through the night. If you do drink alcohol, consider only having wine with meals or limiting hard alcohol to less than a single drink per day. A small snack before bed can settle your stomach and may also have a positive effect on your ability to fall asleep. Rather than going to bed on an empty stomach, giving your body a small amount of food to digest may expend some last bits of energy that are keeping you awake. Good choices include almonds, bananas, dairy like low-fat milk or yogurt or a hard-boiled egg.

If you have any questions or concerns about insomnia treatments, a personal health advisor can provide you with the information you need to make the best health choices for you. With your complete health profile in hand, your advisor can connect you with physicians to help identify what is causing your sleep issues and the best way to solve them.