Insomnia is when someone is unable to sleep as much as they would like to, and there is no discernible cause. This can be a very frustrating situation, as the lack of sleep’s effects can worsen as sleep debt increases over time.1 There are a number different insomnia treatments, some of which are behavioral and others which utilize pharmaceuticals to help reestablish sufficient sleep.
It is important to know what is and what is not insomnia. Insomnia doesn’t include situations where someone is being kept awake or prevented from sleeping by an external stimulus. It is also not considered insomnia if a stimulant like caffeine or the effect of other drugs are the reason someone is unable to sleep. If the difficulty sleeping occurs for at least three nights a week and continues for at least three months, and is not the result of another mental illness, then it is likely to be classified as insomnia.2
One method of insomnia treatment involves trying to eliminate some insomnia risk factors. Sources of stress can make it difficult to get to sleep, stay asleep, or return to sleep if you wake during the night or morning. Obviously not all sources of stress can be eliminated, but learning to manage stress with relaxation techniques may reduce the incidence of insomnia.
Work or travel can disrupt sleep, whether from jet lag or from an inconsistent schedule. Requesting a more routine schedule or finding a job that provides consistent working hours can help establish better sleep habits.
If you want to learn how to fall asleep fast, you should establish sleep hygiene, or good sleep habits. If you often do things other than sleep when in bed, your body and brain may have learned that going to bed doesn’t always mean going to sleep. By limiting your activities in bed to simply sleeping, you can break this association. If you find yourself lying in bed unable to sleep for at least twenty minutes, you should rise and do something else before returning to bed.
Some doctors treat insomnia with pharmaceuticals. Keep in mind that it is best to only use pharmaceuticals as an insomnia treatment for the short term. Many sleep medications can be habit-forming, leading to a dependency on the medication itself to get a good night’s sleep. Ideally, using pharmaceuticals to treat insomnia should be accompanied by some of the above methods for establishing a healthy sleep routine.
Drugs that are used as insomnia treatments include zolpidem, ramelteon, zaleplon, and eszopiclone. These substances are available by prescription, and should only be taken if recommended by a doctor.
It is important to keep in mind that standard medical practice advises against using prescription medication for insomnia for longer than a few weeks. Ideally, prescriptions should only be used in the short term to help establish good sleeping habits. There are prescription drugs which are approved for long-term use by the United States Food and Drug Administration, such as zolpidem, zaleplon, ramelteon, and eszopiclone. Any use of a prescription sleeping pill should be under the care of a practicing medical doctor.3
There are a few ways to alleviate insomnia without the use of pharmaceuticals. Making sure you only get into bed when you are going to sleep, and getting out of bed if you are unable to fall asleep within twenty minutes, can help establish good sleeping habits.4 There are also two methods which are somewhat paradoxical in how they work. Sleep restriction, whereby you actively avoid sleeping as much as you would like, can make you tired enough to quickly fall asleep and stay asleep. You can also try to stay awake in bed, and the focus on staying awake can relieve you of the anxiety of being unable to sleep.
Sleep hygiene encompasses practices meant to establish good sleeping habits. For example, if you watch television, read, or use a smartphone or tablet in bed, your body may learn to associate the bed with activities other than sleeping. A good sleep hygiene practice would be to only use the bed when sleeping.
There are many home remedies to help you sleep that include some type of alcohol. Unfortunately, the idea that drinking alcohol is good for sleep is a myth. Consuming around two or three drinks before bed can help a person sleep, but the effect quickly goes away after a few days of this practice. Consuming more than this amount will not lead to a good night’s sleep, as the second half of a night’s sleep after drinking is usually fitful and restless.5
© 2021 American Sleep Association.