How To Achieve A Restful Night’s Sleep With Insomnia Therapies

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated July 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Insomnia is a sleep disorder affecting 10% to 30% of the population, characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. It may also lead to waking up too early. Chronic insomnia can affect different health aspects, potentially leading to concerns such as decreased productivity, irritability, and even depression.

Several insomnia therapies may help improve sleep quality and overall health. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is often chosen as a first line of treatment, as it may help manage negative thoughts and behaviors that can cause sleeplessness. In some cases, sleep medications and lifestyle changes may also be recommended. Read on to learn more about various insomnia therapies that may help individuals overcome sleep challenges.

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Online therapy may help promote more restful sleep

Treatment of insomnia 

Treatment of insomnia often involves a personalized approach to improve your sleep/wake cycle, often through cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-!) or medications prescribed by your health care provider. It's important to discuss the potential side effects and benefits of treatment options to find what works best for you. 

Sleep studies may be recommended to help your doctor better understand your sleep patterns. Sleep studies make it easier to treat insomnia on an individual basis, addressing your specific issues.

Understanding insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can affect an individual's ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. Let’s discuss normal sleep patterns, types of insomnia, the symptoms, and the impact of insomnia on health.

Sleep disorders and health conditions that make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep (e.g., obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or sleep anxiety) can worsen insomnia and result in increased daytime fatigue and irritability. Older adults are also more likely to experience insomnia. Long-term insomnia may increase the risk of health issues such as high blood pressure and major depressive disorder. 

Insomnia treatment options range from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) to medications and sleep aids prescribed by sleep medicine specialists or primary care providers. Information from clinical trials and participating in sleep studies can help improve your understanding of your insomnia symptoms so you can better improve your sleep. 

Sleep patterns

A normal sleep cycle consists of multiple stages: light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Each stage may be involved in overall sleep quality. Therefore, missing one of these stages due to sleep interruptions may affect our ability to wake up feeling refreshed.

Light sleep serves as a transition phase between wakefulness and deeper sleep stages. Deep sleep allows our bodies to repair muscles and tissue, stimulate growth and development, boost immune function, and build energy for the next day. REM sleep, the stage when we dream, can help with mood control and memory consolidation.

Types of insomnia

Insomnia can interfere with these normal sleep patterns. There are two main types of insomnia that affect most people with the condition:

  1. Acute insomnia: Short-term and often caused by stress or other life events.

  2. Chronic insomnia: Long-term, persisting for at least three nights a week for three months or more. Many factors, including medical conditions, medications, lifestyle, and sleep environment, can cause these symptoms.

Symptoms of insomnia

Common symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Frequent awakenings

  • Waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep

  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue

  • Irritability and mood disturbances

  • Difficulty concentrating and poor memory

Impact of insomnia on health

Insomnia can have significant adverse effects on an individual's health. Poor sleep quality can contribute to:

  • A weakened immune system, which may make it easier to catch illnesses.

  • Increased risk of developing serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

  • Reduced mental well-being, leading to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

  • Impaired cognitive function, affecting decision-making, productivity, and overall quality of life.

Causes of insomnia

The factors that lead to insomnia can vary significantly from person to person. In most cases, a combination of genetic or biological and environmental components come into play. Some common causes of insomnia include:

Sleep apnea

This sleep-related breathing disorder may interrupt sleep, leading to trouble sleeping. Sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing which may cause a person to wake up frequently throughout the night.

Stress and anxiety

Experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety may affect a person's ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Worries about work, school, health, or personal relationships can contribute to insomnia.

Depression

Mental health disorders like depression may result in changes in sleep patterns, causing either excessive sleepiness or difficulty sleeping. This relationship may be cyclical, as poor sleep can also worsen symptoms of depression.

Substance use

Using substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can disrupt sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that may make it difficult to fall asleep, while alcohol and nicotine can lead to disrupted sleep throughout the night.

Poor sleep habits

Inconsistent sleep schedules, irregular bedtime routines, and the use of electronic devices before bed may interfere with a person's ability to fall asleep and maintain sleep quality.

Travel and work schedules

Jet lag, shift work, or other irregular work schedules can disrupt a person's internal clock, resulting in difficulty sleeping or staying asleep. Adjusting to a new time zone or work routine might take time, during which insomnia may occur.

Mental health disorders

In addition to depression and anxiety, other mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may contribute to insomnia.

Medical conditions and medications

Chronic pain, heartburn, and menopause are examples of medical conditions that may interfere with sleep. Some medications, such as certain antidepressants, may also cause difficulty sleeping.

Diagnosis of insomnia

In order to properly diagnose insomnia, a sleep medicine professional or a behavioral sleep medicine specialist will often conduct a physical examination and check a person’s medical history. That way, they can identify any underlying health conditions that may be causing sleep problems.

In addition to a physical exam, a specialist may ask you to keep a sleep diary to record your sleep patterns, quality, and any specific incidents of sleep disruption. This information can help the doctor understand the severity of symptoms and determine an appropriate treatment plan. In some cases, a sleep study may also be recommended to observe sleep habits and rule out other sleep disorders. 

Insomnia can sometimes be influenced by genetics. Research suggests several genes associated with sleep and wake control could make a person more susceptible to insomnia. If you have a family history of sleep disorders, you might be more likely to experience insomnia.

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Options for insomnia therapies

Insomnia therapies may include different methods depending on the symptoms and severity of your sleep problems. 

Medications

If you’re experiencing regular insomnia, a healthcare professional may recommend over the counter or prescription medications. Over-the-counter sleep aids, for instance, might provide temporary relief for occasional sleep disturbances. 

Prescription sleep medications can also be effective, but these are generally used as a last resort and for short durations. Sleeping pills can cause side effects, and some may have the potential to cause dependency. Therefore, they should only be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Lifestyle changes

Making lifestyle changes may help improve sleep quality and reduce the symptoms of insomnia. Following a regular sleep schedule, creating a suitable sleep environment, avoiding stimulants like caffeine near bedtime, and limiting the use of electronic devices in the evening may all help improve sleep hygiene. Other changes, including regular physical activity and relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation, may also positively affect sleep patterns.

Natural remedies

There are some natural remedies available for those who want to try a more holistic approach to insomnia treatment. Valerian root, for example, has been used by some individuals to promote better sleep

However, the effectiveness of sleep supplements can vary, and some may cause adverse effects. You may want to consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, or even hypnosis, are other potential avenues for managing insomnia. These therapies may help relax the body and mind, improving sleep quality. As with any treatment, you should consult a qualified practitioner to understand the potential benefits and risks.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a structured treatment method that may help individuals identify and change thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that interfere with sleep. During the therapy sessions, trained CBT-I providers can help individuals recognize and change thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that may cause insomnia symptoms. This therapy typically consists of a 6- to 8-week treatment plan, with sessions conducted by a therapist in person or via telemedicine platforms.

CBT-I revolves around two main components: cognitive and behavioral. The cognitive part is about recognizing and altering beliefs that can affect sleep. As a result, a person may learn to control and replace negative thoughts that may keep them awake. 

The behavioral aspect may help a person develop good sleep habits and avoid behaviors that may disrupt sleep. Strategies like stimulus control and relaxation techniques may be included in CBT-I to help manage insomnia.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Online therapy may help promote more restful sleep

Is online therapy effective for insomnia?

Online therapy oftentimes offers greater convenience to mental health services for various conditions. Insomnia is one such condition. Studies have shown that CBT-I, carried out online and in person, is effective for treating insomnia symptoms. 

One study found that online CBT-I helped improve insomnia, well-being, and symptoms of depression. Results suggest that telemedicine can be an effective way to provide CBT-I, as the outcomes were similar for both online and in-person methods.

Platforms such as BetterHelp can connect individuals experiencing insomnia with licensed therapists. These therapists can work with you to create a personalized treatment plan, including behavioral interventions, sleep schedule adjustments, and strategies to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Takeaway

Insomnia can be a challenging condition to manage, but there are various insomnia therapies available to help improve sleep quality. Treatments may include lifestyle changes, medications, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Working with a licensed healthcare professional online or in person can help you find an appropriate treatment option based on the severity of your symptoms.
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