The Ultimate Guide to Insomnia Treatment
Once you know you have a sleep disorder like insomnia, it can be treated in many different ways.
Because insomnia can essentially ruin your life, researchers are constantly trying to find more effective treatments all the time as we understand the root of sleep problems better.
I’ve summarized some of the most popular treatment options for insomnia on this page, with links to more detailed explanations that are backed by peer-reviewed studies.
In practice, doctors prescribe comprehensive treatment plans for insomnia that typically consist of at least one of the treatment methods on this page. The best treatment plan depends on the individual sleep issues and situation.
Non-Pharmacological Therapy Options for Insomnia
Most sleep medications come with the potential for dangerous side effects that sometimes rival insomnia itself.
Therefore, non-pharmacological therapies are preferred, as they rarely produce adverse effects.
And while there are some simple techniques to sleep better, those don't work reliably for most people. Instead, the most popular options that are prescribed are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) - If someone with insomnia only gets one type of treatment, this is the best option. CBT-i is safe and incredibly effective for the majority of insomnia patients. There are also variants of CBT like DBT that can be prescribed in certain cases like in patients with borderline personality disorder.
- Relaxation therapies - Many cases of insomnia are caused by stress and anxiety, and therapies that promote relaxation often help considerably. Current research indicates that the most promising options are acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation, and yoga.
- Hypnosis - While the study of this area is still relatively new, there is evidence showing that hypnosis may improve insomnia.
- Light therapy - For cases of insomnia caused by circadian shift disorders, bright light therapy can help fix insomnia by essentially resetting the circadian rhythm.
The best therapy depends on the person in question. Even though CBT is very effective, there are limitations to CBT, and recent insomnia statistics suggest that about 40% of people drop out of CBT. In those cases, alternatives are very much needed.
Pharmacological (Medicine/Pills) for Insomnia
There are tons of sleep medications out there, and we haven’t examined them all on this site.
But here’s are links to a more detailed overview of few popular options:
Over the Counter Sleep Supplements
The sleep supplements that you can buy over the counter are typically either natural sleep aids of some form or a mild form of medication.
While many claim to really improve sleep quality, not many can back those claims up. We’ve written extensively about the evidence, or lack thereof, behind many sleep supplements:
- Chamomile - Whether in tea or another form (like essential oils), it appears that chamomile may improve insomnia.
- Fish oil - While there isn’t a lot of evidence, it does seem that fish oil and omega 3 supplements can improve sleep quality.
- Iron supplements - For those with an iron deficiency and sleep trouble, there is some evidence showing that iron supplements can improve insomnia.
- L-Theanine - Theanine is just an amino acid, but there is some evidence that shows that L-Theanine for insomnia can help.
- Lemon balm leaf - There’s a decent amount of evidence that lemon balm leaf can sleep.
- Lithium - The jury is still out on whether or not lithium can improve insomnia.
- Melatonin - Melatonin is the most studied over the counter sleep aid. There’s quite a bit of research showing that melatonin can improve insomnia.
- Magnesium - There’s evidence that magnesium supplements can improve sleep in those with a deficiency. Certain forms of magnesium are better for sleep than others.
- Passion flower herb - At best, research shows that passion flower herb has a small effect on insomnia.
- Tylenol PM - With the addition of an antihistamine, Tylenol PM can help insomnia in the short term. However, it’s not a good option in most situations.
- Valerian root - Current evidence shows that valerian root can have a mild positive effect on insomnia.
Natural Sleep Aids (Foods)
People with minor sleep issues often find that certain foods help or worsen their sleep problems.
We’ve reviewed the research for quite a few natural sleep aids that some claim can improve sleep:
- Probiotics - For some, probiotics improve insomnia, while they make it worse in others. The effect of gut health on sleep isn’t well understood yet, but it’s clear that there is some sort of link.
- Green tea - Low caffeine varieties of green tea can improve insomnia symptoms due to the effects of theanine that it contains. See this summary of the best teas for insomnia if you'd like to see how other teas compare.
- Garlic - There’s a small amount of evidence that shows that garlic might improve sleep quality, but nothing substantial.
- Bananas - While there’s nothing too special about bananas, claims that bananas can improve insomnia a bit might have some merit to them.
- Turmeric - While not conclusive, some research has shown that turmeric can significantly improve insomnia symptoms.
- Ginseng - Another popular herb that can also be bought as a supplement. There’s a bit of scientific evidence that ginseng may improve sleep quality.
Physical Sleep Aids
Another area of treatment are physical sleep aids that are mainly used to make the sleep environment more comfortable.
Some people react strongly to them, while others find that they make sleep worse. The most popular options in this category are:
- Ear plugs - The most popular option when trying to get to sleep in a noisy environment.
- White noise - Another way to deal with a noisy environment is to drown it out with constant white noise. While it’s a bit mixed, there is some evidence that shows that white noise can help people sleep better.
- Weighted blankets - These have become much more popular lately. Research shows that weighted blankets can improve anxiety and insomnia for many people.
- Sleep techniques - There are a variety of techniques to sleep better that work for some people. However, these are more of a gimmick and can stop working at any time.
One final note is that insomnia treatment for the elderly can be a bit different. That's why it's important to have a doctor assess each individual situation so they can make adjustments as needed.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.