Overcoming Insomnia Without Drugs

Learn what causes insomnia and find ways to treat it without medication

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Getting a good night’s sleep is not only a luxury, it’s a basic human need. But when insomnia affects your ability to get adequate rest, it can trigger a host of conditions that may impact your health and wellness.

If you’re having trouble with insomnia, you may take a little comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Currently, 60 million Americans are experiencing insomnia and its effects. Whether it’s difficulty falling asleep or trouble staying asleep, insomnia can result in constant tiredness, an inability to focus, tension headaches and even depression.

“Insomnia is a common issue that can negatively impact your overall mood, concentration, and physical well-being,” says Sravanthi Tripuraneni, MD, a family medicine doctor at Scripps Clinic, Rancho Bernardo. “However, some simple changes to your lifestyle and daily habits can stop sleepless nights.”

Understanding some of the common causes, relaxing before bedtime and trying alternative solutions might help you get a better night’s rest.

Five common causes of insomnia

  • Late and long naps
    Taking naps for more than 30 minutes — and after 3 p.m. — can make it more challenging to fall asleep at bedtime.
  • Stimulants
    Drinking caffeine or alcohol, and using products that contain nicotine, may be impacting your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep and feel rested in the morning.
  • Effects of medication
    Some medications can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
  • Inconsistent sleeping schedule
    Waking up early during the week and then sleeping in on weekends might be affecting your ability to fall asleep.
  • Emotional status
    Stress, anxiety and depression might affect your sleep patterns.

Bedtime tips to help you get better rest

Having a regular bedtime routine can help set the stage for a better night’s sleep. The following tips can help you prepare for a good night’s rest:

  • Stick to a schedule
    Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Having a sleep routine, even on the weekends, can help ensure better rest every night of the week.
  • Start to unwind before going to bed
    Take the last hour or so of your day to relax by enjoying a warm bath, getting a massage, meditating or listening to soft music.
  • Limit food and drinks
    Don’t eat or drink for an hour or so before bed to reduce your chances of being awakened by digestion issues or middle of the night trips to the bathroom.
  • Create a sleep-friendly environment
    Refrain from reading, working or eating in bed and reserve that space just for sleep. Avoid TV and digital devices, as the mental stimulation and light can interfere with your sleep cycle. Remove devices, such as DVRs or clocks, that emit light at night.
  • Avoid distractions
    Hide anything — including your phone — that could distract you, unexpectedly make noise or remind you of the time while you’re trying to go to sleep.
  • Get out of bed
    If you can’t fall asleep, get up, go to a different room and try a relaxing activity, such as light reading.

Alternative solutions to help you relax

If sleep is still elusive, you may want to try natural methods to calm your body and mind throughout the day, making it easier to ease into sleep at night.

  • Exercise
    Getting regular exercise can improve your energy and help you relax. Be sure to stop any rigorous exercise activities several hours before you plan to go to bed.
  • Acupuncture
    Some evidence suggests that acupuncture may help people with insomnia.
  • Yoga
    Some studies suggest that the regular practice of yoga can improve sleep quality.
  • Meditation
    Other studies have shown that meditation can help people relax and fall asleep, reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying any supplements or over-the-counter sleep aids.