Insomnia - Treatment Overview

Tossing and turning during the night or having trouble falling asleep can make you sleepy and grouchy during the day. You may have tried some things to help your insomnia that haven't worked. The good news is that there are many treatments to help you sleep better. But first it helps to know the reason why you don't sleep well. If you have a medical problem, such as chronic pain, or an emotional problem, such as stress or depression, treating that problem may help you sleep better.

Treatment options for insomnia

Treatment options include behavior and lifestyle changes, medicines, and complementary medicines.

Behavior and lifestyle changes

Getting ready for bed means more than turning down the sheets. Sleep experts know that there are many things that affect how well you sleep. Behavior and lifestyle changes improve overall sleep quality and the time it takes to fall asleep-without the side effects of sleep medicines. Perhaps most important, these improvements last over time.

To improve your sleep, here are some things you can try:

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Medicines

In some cases, taking sleeping pills for a short time helps you get some rest, while behavior and lifestyle changes can help you over the long term. Doctors recommend taking sleep medicines only now and then or only for a short time. They are not the first choice for treating chronic insomnia.

This advice about medicines applies to everyone, but especially to older adults. Anyone can become dependent on sleep medicines, and these medicines can affect how well older people think during and after long-term use.1

Many sleep medicines cause side effects, such as low blood pressure, anxiety, and nausea. These medicines also may become less effective when your body gets used to them and may cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop using them.

Sleep medicines include:

To help you decide if you should use sleeping pills to treat insomnia, see:

Insomnia: Should I Take Sleeping Pills?

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One Man's Story:

While Cort does have a prescription for sleeping pills, he uses the medicine only when he needs to be well rested the next day, such as when he has to give a presentation at work. Cort heeds his doctor's warning about becoming dependent on sleeping pills.

"I have a prescription for 5 mg tablets, and I never take a full one. I break them in half, and I never take them more than once in 2 weeks." -Cort, 64

Read more about Cort and how he learned to cope with insomnia.

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Complementary medicine

Other treatments for insomnia may include complementary and alternative medicines. Two of the most popular alternative medicines are:

  • Valerian, an herbal sleep remedy. Valerian appears to be safe, and it may improve sleep when taken for a week or two.2
  • Melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain. You can also buy it as a supplement. Melatonin has also been used to treat jet lag and poor sleep from working the night shift. The long-term effects of taking melatonin are unknown. If you are using melatonin regularly, talk to your doctor.

Don't rely on alcohol

Some people use alcohol to help them sleep, but that's not a good idea. At first, drinking alcohol may make you sleepy and help you fall asleep. But when you drink alcohol, you are more likely to wake up later in the night and have a hard time falling back asleep. This can leave you feeling tired the next day.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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