There’s no doubt about it - insomnia is draining, debilitating, and a huge challenge. If you think you’re suffering from insomnia, whether that’s an acute or chronic inability to sleep (you can find out more about the different types of insomnia here), it can feel like a constant uphill battle to try and help yourself.
Many doctors and scientific articles state that taking sleeping pills only masks the problem when it comes to insomnia. So how can you best treat it so that you’re not suffering with poor sleep night after night, and how do you know when it’s time to look for professional help?
Here, we’ll address those very questions. Read on, and hang in there - help is in sight.
How to treat insomnia without medication
If you’re experiencing sleeplessness on a regular basis, and find yourself getting increasingly frustrated by the sleep problems you’re experiencing, it might be time to make some changes for the better. It’s important to note that if you find yourself in dangerous situations as a result of a lack of sleep, such as feeling tired when driving, it’s definitely time to visit your doctor.
Before you get to that stage you can adopt some new habits to help break those bad ones you’ve associated with not sleeping. The NHS suggests:
- Setting yourself a bedtime and a wake-up time
- Relaxing with a bedtime routine - this could include running a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to some soothing music, but shouldn’t include screen time, or a caffeinated drink (not even tea!)
- Only taking yourself to bed if you’re tired - sleep won’t come if you’re not feeling snoozy
- Establishing a bedroom set-up that’s consistent throughout the night - keep your space the right temperature, quiet, and dark
- Don’t allow yourself any naps throughout the day
- As well as caffeine and screen-time, avoid nicotine, alcohol, and eating a large meal late at night
If you find that adopting these habits still doesn’t help much, your doctor may be able to prescribe you some therapy to help address the reasons why you’re not able to sleep properly. This is called cognitive and behavioural treatments, or CBT - and can be tailored specifically for insomnia sufferers. Typically, this kind of treatment will occur one-on-one with a trained specialist, but it's not uncommon to join in a group session too.
Over-counter drugs to help treat insomnia
Sometimes, we understand that you might need just one good night’s sleep - almost a bit of a mind and body ‘reboot’ when it does feel like you’ve totally forgotten how to sleep.
A doctor will generally only prescribe sleeping pills in severe cases of insomnia, but talk to your pharmacist in the first instance to see what they’ll be able to offer you. You might be able to purchase an antihistamine-based sleeping pill that can help you feel drowsy - but be mindful that these don’t stop working once the sun rises. You might find yourself still feeling drowsy the following morning, which means you shouldn’t drive, so always take caution when using these drugs.
There are many over over-the-counter and prescription options available for encouraging sleep such as benzodiazepines, z-drugs, and melatonin, but we strongly recommend talking to your doctor before undertaking any medicine-based treatment. For many of these, you’ll have to speak to your doctor in the first place anyway.
Remember, sleeping pills won’t be able to totally cure long-term or chronic insomnia, as they’ll do nothing to address the overarching issue that’s causing your sleeplessness. But, for addressing short-term or acute bouts of insomnia, sleeping pills can be a great aid when used correctly.
Insomnia is an incredibly difficult thing to quantify and understand in the first place, which makes treating it really tough too. Whether you’re knee-deep in sleep debt, or struggling to get into the REM sleep stage (find out more about the main stages of sleep here), here at Time4Sleep we’re committed to helping you get the best sleep possible.