Can I cure insomnia without drugs?

Q:  Is there a way to cure insomnia without drugs?

A:  Sleep is highly variable, both between persons and even for the same person over time.  So a better question might be “can I permanently restore normal sleep without drugs?”, with the understanding that normal is what works best for your own unique individual circumstances.  And the answer to that question is absolutely yes, in all likelihood, you can at least improve your sleep, if not restore normal sleep, and often without needing drugs of any kind.

If you have insomnia, our first suggestion is to see a doctor and describe your symptoms.  You want to either treat or rule out any underlying medical basis.  And there can be many, ranging from allergies to apnea.  If you have a medical basis for insomnia, then drug therapy may be an important component of your solution.

But don’t be surprised if your doctor finds no medical causes.  The vast majority of insomnia is primary, meaning there is no true medical basis.  Most primary insomnia is instead caused by some nonmedical combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep.  And it’s surprisingly easy to get trapped in a cycle of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about sleep, a self-perpetuating negative cycle from which it can be difficult to escape.

But rest assured there are permanent solutions that don’t involve drugs.

We suggest a multi-pronged approach to break this vicious cycle.  First, when you’re in bed but absolutely can’t sleep, don’t try to force it.  Forcing doesn’t work.  Instead, deliberately break insomnia’s hold by choosing to get up and out of bed.

Instead of lying there angry and frustrated at your inability to sleep, you can get up and go to another room and do something relaxing, in low-level light, until you feel drowsy.  Then head back to bed and try sleep again.  Do this as many times as necessary.  Eventually, you will sleep, and for one very simple compelling reason:  your physiological need for sleep is stronger than your insomnia.  You can leverage this fact to your advantage.

Deliberately breaking the negative association between your bed and insomnia puts you back in control, not the insomnia.  This method is known in psychology as stimulus control, and is one of the techniques in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically designed for insomnia.

A second approach is to identify and understand the underlying thoughts that are leading to the worry about sleep.  If you isolate these thoughts, you likely will find recurring patterns.  Examples include:  “If I don’t get to sleep right now I’ll be a wreck in the morning.”  “My insomnia is out of control.”  “Oh no, I can’t sleep again so I’ll have another bad day tomorrow.”  And so on.

If you objectively examine these thoughts, you very likely will discover they are largely inaccurate, overly pessimistic, and not based on fact.  Your experience is probably like many others:  you can actually function just fine with less than a perfect 8 hours of sleep.  You may not think you can, but scientific studies repeatedly show that insomniacs perform just as well as good sleepers even if they don’t feel like they are.  The difference is more in mood and perception, rather than performance.

Knowing proven empirical facts will likely help you relax and feel more confident about sleep, and then it may be easier to be less bothered by the negative sleep thoughts.  By replacing the negative thoughts with better and more positive ones, you will help reduce the anxiety you likely associate with the idea of sleep.

This is another CBT method known as cognitive restructuring.  By using this method, you can literally think your way to better sleep.

A third approach is to deploy sleep-promoting relaxation methods in bed.  These methods often incorporate deep, diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.  Deliberately relaxing will help distract you from the frustrating negative sleep thoughts and help move you back toward drowsiness.

Yet another approach involves structuring your sleep schedule so you only allow the minimum time in bed needed to awaken refreshed.  By keeping a disciplined sleep schedule, you help your body’s internal biological clock synchronize to your natural circadian rhythm, and keep your sleep drive at a high level.  These processes largely control sleep, and when they are in synch sleep becomes easy, practically irresistible.

All of these methods and more are contained in a good CBT-based sleep training program.  The tools and techniques complement and reinforce one another synergistically.  By using the methods simultaneously, you greatly increase your ability to sleep soundly through the night and awaken refreshed.

And perhaps best of all, CBT is completely drug-free.  It is a permanent way to improve sleep that goes beyond just the symptoms and address the true roots of primary insomnia.

If you haven’t yet checked out a CBT for sleep training program, we encourage you to do so.  CBT helps most people who try it.  Many become normal sleepers again.  There’s every reason to believe it will help you too.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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