How can a veteran treat insomnia without medication?

If you are a veteran with chronic insomnia (trouble sleeping most nights for a period of a month or longer), your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help you sleep. However, medication alone will not solve the problem. Behavioral changes are necessary to treat insomnia, including good sleep habits and paying attention to the stress that may be causing your insomnia. Chronic insomnia in a veteran is associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ask your doctor for a PTSD screening if your insomnia persists.

The medications generally prescribed for insomnia are:

  • Sedatives/hypnotics: For short-term use, to correct the balance of chemicals in the brain which cause relaxation and induce sleep.
  • Sedating antidepressants: These are prescribed in the event that depression is the likely cause for your insomnia. They are not effective for people who are not suffering from depression and insomnia together.
  • Antihistamines: These can be purchased over-the-counter to treat allergic reactions in the body, such as nasal congestion or skin rash. They have the side effect of making you feel drowsy, so they can sometimes help you fall asleep more readily. They should not be used long-term for insomnia, and should not be tried without your doctor’s approval.

Here are some tips to help combat insomnia without use of drugs:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • Avoid caffeine after noon (caffeine is a stimulant that will keep you awake)
  • Avoid alcohol (it interferes with sleep patterns)
  • Exercise in the morning rather than in the evening
  • Finish any mentally-challenging work at least a couple of hours before bedtime
  • Use your bed only for sleeping or sex
  • Avoid drinking any fluids just before bedtime
  • Keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Use “white noise” (like a fan) or soothing music to screen out noise in the immediate area

Other strategies that might help are relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.