What Are the Treatment Options for Insomnia?

If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, the first step is to work with your healthcare provider.

What Are the Treatment Options for Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get enough sleep.

Too little sleep can be a serious problem for both physical and mental health. It can result in feelings of irritability, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. It can cause problems with memory and concentration, affecting work, school, and the ability to operate a vehicle safely. Chronic insomnia can increase the risk of health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

If you are having trouble sleeping or think you have insomnia, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider. Insomnia is treatable. Below is a look at some of the treatment options for insomnia.

Identifying the cause of insomnia
The first step to treating insomnia is identifying the cause. There are many different potential causes, including:

  • Stress. This can be a period of severe stress, such as the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or being diagnosed with an illness.
  • Changes in your sleeping environment (light, noise, temperature) or changes in a daily schedule.
  • The use of—or withdrawal from—caffeine and certain medications.
  • Jet lag and shift work can also cause insomnia because they interfere with the body’s natural clock (called circadian rhythm).

Numerous medical conditions are also associated with insomnia, such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic pain, and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD can also disrupt normal sleep patterns.

When treating insomnia, it’s important to address any underlying issues or health conditions that may contribute to your struggle to sleep. For example, if a medication is believed to be interfering with sleep, your healthcare provider may recommend switching to a different medication. They will also likely recommend adjustments to sleep habits and lifestyles, such as exercising more, going to bed at more consistent times, and cutting back on caffeine.

Cognitive behavioral therapy
For chronic insomnia—insomnia that lasts more than 3 months—the first type of treatment is often cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT involves talking to a mental health professional to identify any factors that may contribute to insomnia. While individual needs will differ, CBT may include the following:

  • Sleep education. For example, learning what happens during the sleep cycle and how insomnia may develop.
  • Sleep restriction. This involves setting a schedule for sleeping and waking. It also involves keeping a journal to track how you sleep.
  • Relaxation training. This method aims to counteract negative moods, emotions, and thoughts that interfere with sleep. It also involves scheduling time to relax.
  • Stimulus control. The removal of factors that condition your mind to avoid sleep, such as removing a TV from your bedroom.
  • Sleep hygiene. This focuses on developing healthy habits around sleep, such as sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. It also includes making changes to your lifestyle that may interfere with sleep, such as limiting caffeine and alcohol, and quitting smoking if you smoke.

These are only a few CBT techniques, and it is important to remember that everyone’s experiences are different. A mental health professional will work closely with you to develop strategies that address your specific needs.

When is it time to switch to a medication?
In some cases, insomnia may need to be treated with medication. Medication is typically prescribed when lifestyle changes and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques prove ineffective on their own. Deciding to treat insomnia with a medication is a decision you will make with your healthcare provider, and the discussion should cover:

  • Possible side effects of the medications
  • Any medications you are currently taking and the possibility of drug interactions
  • Your insomnia symptoms and the type of insomnia you have
  • How long you will need to take the medication
  • The cost of the medication

Based on your needs, your healthcare provider may recommend a prescription medication or an over-the-counter medication. Different medications for insomnia work in different ways, but they all have at least one thing in common—they must all be taken under the guidance of a healthcare provider and used exactly as directed.

Remember that insomnia is a common, treatable disorder. If you have difficulty sleeping or find yourself overly tired throughout your day, talk to your healthcare provider.

Medically reviewed in October 2021.

Sources:
MedlinePlus. "Insomnia."
Cleveland Clinic. "Insomnia."
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Insomnia."
UpToDate. "Patient education: Insomnia (Beyond the Basics)."
Eric Suni. "What Causes Insomnia?" Sleep Foundation. August 6, 2020.
Peter Crosta. "What is insomnia? Everything you need to know." MedicalNewsToday. July 28, 2020.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "What is cognitive behavioral therapy?"
Mayo Clinic. "Insomnia treatment: Cognitive behavioral therapy instead of sleeping pills."
Stanford Health Care. "Treatments for Insomnia."

More On

How to Get Deeper Sleep Without Drugs

article

How to Get Deeper Sleep Without Drugs
Skimping on shut-eye isn’t North America’s only sleep crisis. Many people turn in on time yet miss out on deep, refreshing slumber—and that’s one reas...
4 Ways to Get Better Sleep Without Medication

article

4 Ways to Get Better Sleep Without Medication
Insomnia (trouble getting more than three days of restful sleep a week for three out of four weeks) drove Michael Jackson to desperate measures. If it...
Defining the Different Types of Insomnia

article

Defining the Different Types of Insomnia
Many people experience insomnia at some point in their lifetime, but insomnia can mean different things to different people. In general, insomnia is ...
Insomnia? There’s an App for That!

article

Insomnia? There’s an App for That!
In Christopher Nolan’s 2002 thriller Insomnia, Al Pacino plays a detective who accidentally shoots his partner while trying to apprehend a suspect. Hi...
Improve Your Sleep by Doing This Every Single Day

article

Improve Your Sleep by Doing This Every Single Day
If you toss and turn at night (68 percent of us struggle with sleep weekly, according to a study by Consumer Reports), the culprit may be your habits ...