Very few people seek medical advice and remain unaware of the behavioral and medical options available to treat insomnia. Most people would easily resort to prescription and over-the-counter sleeping pills. However, better sleep doesn’t have to come in a pill and several studies have been reported to support this view.
While scientists are figuring out why people have to sleep, many people are just as puzzled in figuring out why they can’t sleep. Occasional sleepless nights may be due to stress, anxiety, heartburn, or drinking too much caffeine or alcohol. The condition of having difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep is called insomnia. However, when this problem of falling asleep, maintaining sleep, or experiencing non-restorative sleep occurs on a regular or frequent basis and often for no apparent reason, it becomes chronic insomnia.
Though insomnia affects all age groups, the condition is more prevalent among women and the incidence increases with age.
Since insomnia is a symptom and not a diagnosis, treatment should be personal and must be focused on the underlying condition. Treatment and therapy may include the following:
- Improving sleep habits
- Correcting sleep misconceptions
- Controlling your sleep environment
- Behavior management
- Light therapy
According to a report in The Journal of Family Practice, studies show that simple behavioral and psychological treatments work just as well, and sometimes better than popular medications. Last year, the medical journal Sleep reported on 5 high-quality trials that showed cognitive behavioral therapy helped people suffering from insomnia fall asleep sooner and stay asleep longer.
From the American Journal of Psychiatry, the analysis of 21 studies showed that behavioral treatment helped people fall asleep nearly nine minutes sooner than sleep drugs.
Overall, sleep therapy worked just as well as drugs, but without any side effects. Most people don’t believe that these behavioral strategies for better sleep can really make a difference because they appear to be so simple to produce results.
One of the most effective methods of cognitive-behavioral therapy is stimulus control. It prohibits a person from watching television, eating, or reading in bed. Going to bed should be done only when you are sleepy. It encourages you to get up at the same time every day, and not to take catnaps during the day. If after 15 minutes and sleep remains elusive, get out of bed and do something relaxing, but avoid stimulating activity and thoughts.
Sleep therapy also involves sleep hygiene which includes regular exercise, light-proofing your bedroom to keep it dark, and making the bed and room temperatures comfortable. People suffering from chronic insomnia should eat regular meals and must not go to bed hungry. Limit intake of beverages, particularly alcohol and caffeinated drinks, around bedtime. Avoid looking at the clock and do not try too hard to fall asleep. Turn the clock around so you don’t get to see it. Watching time pass is one of the worst things to do when you’re trying to fall asleep.
Simple though these steps may seem, but they really make a significant difference for people with insomnia. According to a report of Family Practice, these interventions are based on the notion that thoughts and behaviors can ‘hyper-arouse’ the central nervous system and deregulate sleep cycles, resulting in chronic insomnia.
Should these steps fail, consult your doctor about a referral to a sleep therapist, who can give you additional relaxation techniques to help bring on sleep. A sleep therapist may help you reset your sleep-wake schedule which involves adjusting your bedtime each night over the course of a few weeks.