Tried everything and still can’t sleep

Q:  I’ve had insomnia for over 15 years.  I average maybe 3 hours of sleep on a good night.  Been to sleep doctors, spiritual healers, herbalists and more.  My naturopath believes my hormones are out of whack and wants me to take supplements.  But nothing I’ve tried has helped and I feel my insomnia is worsening.  I’m in pain and scared and don’t know what to do.

A:  Even if you’ve had insomnia for decades, rest assured there are effective solutions that will help you sleep at least to the best of your ability.

Let’s start with this:  reduced to its simplest, you can improve sleep by a combination of two overall methods: medical, and nonmedical.

Sounds like you are already addressing, or attempting to address, the medical potential root causes that could be interfering or disrupting sleep.  However, it’s worth noting the AASM (American Academy of Sleep Medicine) has found no scientific evidence that supplements of any kind (including melatonin) are safe or effective for treating chronic insomnia.

To treat any underlying medical issues, we suggest starting with a primary care medical doctor for a full work up, and if needed from there possibly see an MD that specializes in sleep.  Be confident that by working with a trusted healthcare professional you will be able to manage and address your medical issues.

Now, regarding nonmedical potential root causes:  This is where medical doctors, herbalists, naturopaths or other healthcare professionals who typically prescribe drugs and/or supplements cannot directly help.

That’s because the true underlying nonmedical root causes that typically cause insomnia are usually some combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep.  Drugs and supplements by themselves cannot directly address bad sleep habits or excessive worry.

But rest assured there are effective ways to manage them both.

First, your sleep habits are very important.  There are a number of simple guidelines you can and should be following to help in essence “stack the deck” in your favor for improved sleep.  Particularly important is a consistent sleep-wake schedule, especially a consistent wake time, which enables you to manage your circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive, two key internal processes that control sleep.  Watching your diet, getting daily exercise, and deliberate exposure to light are also part of a sleep-supportive lifestyle.

Practicing most of these sorts of healthy lifestyle habits are likely well within your control.  If you are not doing them now, we suggest you begin as soon as possible.

Excessive worry is without question a potent fuel that feeds and perpetuates insomnia.  We suspect the majority of insomnia is actually caused by worry about sleep.  The best method we’ve found to manage it is through a psychological technique known as cognitive restructuring.  Basically, you learn to safely let go of the the negative underlying thought patterns that cause anxiety, and replace those mental images with more positive, accurate, and realistic thoughts about sleep.

You can learn this method through books or by working with a counselor who uses CBT — cognitive behavioral therapy.   CBT specifically applied to insomnia is a safe, effective, drug-free, and permanent method to help improve sleep and effectively manage worry.

Using a combination of behavioral and cognitive methods combined simultaneously has been repeatedly found to be one of the very best approaches to improve sleep.  If you are the self-help type, all of these nonmedical approaches to sleep improvement are contained in a good CBT-based sleep training program.

Be confident that by effectively managing the true underlying root causes for your insomnia, you will be able to at least improve your sleep, if not restore a normal sleep pattern.

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

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