Insomnia: Cures and Treatments

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Insomnia means difficulty in falling or staying asleep, the absence of restful sleep, or poor quality of sleep. Insomnia is a symptom and not a disease. Transient insomnia is due to situational changes such as travel and stressful events, lasts for 1-2 weeks or until the stressful event is resolved. Short-term insomnia lasts for 2-3 weeks. Chronic insomnia continues for more than 3 weeks usually due to psychological illness, substance abuse or physical illness.

What can I do to help cure my insomnia?

Knowing that you can do something about your insomnia is the first step towards getting some much needed rest. There are several things you can do to increase your chances of sleep:

Visual Imagery Relaxation

  • This means choosing peaceful, soothing thoughts to focus on things which calm you and allow you to stop thinking of things that stress you.
  • Everyone's peaceful situation is different, and you can choose to think about things that personally soothe you.
  • Slowly going over every detail of a repetitious activity can be soothing and relaxing.

Stress Management

  • Change or resolve the things causing you stress when possible.
  • Accept situations you can't change.
  • Keep your mind and body as relaxed as much as possible throughout the day.
  • Give yourself enough time to do the things you need to do, including eating.
  • Don't take on too much and avoid unrealistic demands.
  • Live in the present, rather than worrying about the past or fearing the future.
  • Talk to your partner if there are problems in your relationship.
  • Have some relaxing, non-competitive activities, something you do just for pleasure and fun.
  • Give yourself some quiet time each day.
  • Practice a relaxation technique or breathing exercise regularly.

Anger Management

  • Anger, anxiety and frustration can stand directly in the way of getting a good night's sleep.
  • Regardless of the source of the anger, recognize that it keeps your mind occupied and your body tense.
  • Exercise daily. It will help you release excess anger and frustration.
  • Think about the cause of your anger. If there isn't anything you can do to resolve it, move on. If you can resolve it, make steps to do so.
  • Develop a method of releasing the anger by the end of the day, before you try to relax or go to sleep. For example, you might choose to write it down in your journal or talk to a spouse or friend. After you have processed the anger and let it out, try to move on.

Stimulus Control

  • This technique limits the amount of time spent in the bedroom for non-sleep activities to retrain the brain to associate bedtime and the bedroom with successful sleep attempts rather than sleeplessness.
  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy. Don't read, watch television, eat or do other non-sleep activities in bed.
  • If you are not asleep within fifteen minutes, leave the bedroom and don't return until you are sleep.
  • Have a consistent wake time every day, regardless of how much sleep you get.
  • Avoid naps.

Paradoxical Intention

  • Psychological approach that is based on doing the opposite of what you want or fear and taking it to the extreme.
  • Paradoxical intention focuses on confronting, and hopefully, eliminating the fear so that it stops getting in the way of sleep.
  • Rather than trying unsuccessfully to go to sleep night after night, try to stay awake and do something else.
  • Turning your attention to something else removes the fear of not being able to sleep and may allow you to relax and eventually go to bed.

Sleep Restriction

  • Sleep restriction therapy reduces the amount of non-sleeping time a person with insomnia spends in bed.
  • To practice sleep restriction, you determine your total sleep time by keeping a sleep log.
  • If you usually sleep six hours at night, but spend eight hours in non-sleep activities (tossing, turning, watching TV, reading, staring at the ceiling), sleep restriction therapy will only allow you to spend about six hours in bed.
  • In the beginning, you might not spend the allotted time sleeping, but gradually, the time spent sleeping should increase.
  • If you continue to have trouble sleeping, the time allowed in bed is further restricted to encourage sleep when you are in bed.
  • The overall time spend in bed is adjusted as it becomes clear how much sleep you need.

Important Reminders

  • The more you try to control your sleep, the less you sleep.
  • Sleep is a natural body response. Forcing yourself to sleep only puts pressure.
  • Focus on what you can control. Start with good sleeping habits and record your sleep to help identify the problem.

Excerpt from The Clinical Practice Guideline for Insomnia, National Center for Mental Health