Find ways to combat insomnia including 5 options that don’t involve medication.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder. The primary symptoms are problems falling asleep and staying asleep. Someone with insomnia may find that it takes them a long time to fall asleep, or they wake up often during the night. Waking too early in the morning can be a sign of insomnia, as can feeling tired when waking up or throughout the day. Certain strategies can be used to overcome or cope with its effects without medication.

There are two types of insomnia. One is primary insomnia, and the other is secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia is when someone has sleep problems unrelated to another issue, whether physical or mental.

Secondary insomnia indicates someone has problems sleeping because of another condition, such as depression or maybe because of a medication or substance they use.

Another way to characterize insomnia is whether it’s acute or chronic. Acute insomnia is short-term while chronic is ongoing. Acute insomnia may be one night or it can last for weeks. When someone has insomnia at least three nights a week for a minimum of a month, it’s considered chronic.

It’s fairly normal to experience acute insomnia from time to time. Factors that contribute to temporary insomnia can include jet lag, stress, situational factors or diet. When the problem is ongoing and not due to an identifiable temporary situation, it may require treatment.

People with chronic insomnia are at risk for complications including serious health conditions. According to the National Institute for Health, insomnia can increase the risk of physical and mental conditions including:

  • Stroke
  • Weakened immune system
  • Inflammation
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Research shows insomnia can even shorten your life expectancy. Sleeping too little increases the risk of premature death by 12 percent in research cited by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

These factors can make it understandable that you might explore how to overcome insomnia and how to fight insomnia.

Along with specific medical conditions, chronic insomnia can lower your quality of life. It can lead to challenges at work or in relationships, and it may diminish your level of functionality, day to day.

Medications for Insomnia

There are medications for insomnia, some of which are over the counter (OTC) and others which are prescription. Before taking medication for insomnia, you should speak with your health care provider, even if the medication is OTC. Most medications for insomnia are intended only for short-term use, and they don’t treat the underlying issue so they are more of a temporary fix than a remedy for insomnia.

Medications for insomnia include:

  • Antidepressants such as trazodone may help treat symptoms of insomnia and are available only by prescription
  • Benzodiazepines may be used as a short-term insomnia treatment, but they have risks including addiction. Benzodiazepines can also increase daytime sleepiness.
  • Doxepin is a generic drug that can help people who wake in the night. It blocks histamine receptors.
  • Eszopiclone is the generic name for Lunesta, which can help people get a full night of sleep
  • Ramelteon is the generic name for a drug called Rozerem. This sleep aid affects the sleep-wake cycle instead of slowing the central nervous system. Unlike most prescription sleep aids, it can be used long-term.
  • Zaleplon is generic and the brand name is Sonata. It’s a short-acting sleeping pill that helps people fall asleep faster but might not work for people who frequently wake in the night.
  • Zolpidem is available in several brand name versions including Ambien. This medication can help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, but there are side effects like sleepwalking and dependence.
  • OTC sleep aids are typically antihistamines. They tend to have limited side effects, although you should still speak to your doctor before using them.

5 Tips for Overcoming Insomnia Without Medication

If you prefer to try to overcome insomnia without medication, different options are available. Here are some tips, strategies and information for overcoming insomnia without medication.

1. Create a Routine

Creating a sleep routine before you go to bed can be helpful to establish good sleep habits. Do something before bed each evening that relaxes you or prepares you to fall asleep, such as meditating or journaling.

Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.

Avoid using any screens right before you go to bed because the light can make it harder to fall asleep.

2. Identify Underlying Factors that Contribute to Insomnia

Sometimes your insomnia is related to something else. If you can identify what’s causing it, then that root cause can be treated. For example, maybe you have undiagnosed anxiety or depression that’s leading to insomnia.

If you have gone through a traumatic experience, if you’re under a lot of stress or if you have a physical health problem, these can all lead to insomnia. Speak with your doctor if you’re unsure if any of these situations apply to you but believe something similar could be causing your insomnia.

3. Keep a Sleep Journal

Keeping a sleep journal can help you see patterns in how you sleep and maybe identify habits that can easily change. It can also be helpful to show your doctor or health care provider if you aren’t able to get past your insomnia.

Include information such as how long you slept, what you did before bed and whether or not you woke up in the night. You can also detail your sleep quality and how you felt when you woke up in the morning.

4. Change Daytime Habits

We often don’t realize how much what we do during the day impacts our ability to fall asleep at night. For example, are you getting enough exercise during the day? Being physically active can help combat insomnia without medication.

You shouldn’t exercise too close to bedtime, though. That can have the opposite effect.

Are you consuming a lot of stimulants such as caffeine? Are you drinking alcohol before bed? What about napping during the day? All are things that can cause or worsen insomnia.

5. Change Your Thinking about Sleeping and Insomnia

Often we get stuck in a pattern of negative and self-defeating thoughts when we experience anxiety. It can be frustrating, but it’s helpful to work on changing your negative thoughts.

For example, maybe you tell yourself that you should be able to fall asleep normally and something is wrong with you for not being able to do that. Instead of telling yourself that, tell yourself that everyone has sleep problems at some point and there are ways you can take control of the situation over time.

If you feel hopeless, think about finding solutions to the problem. When you go to bed, rather than assume you’ll have trouble falling asleep, think about using the strategies you’ve been working on.

If you aren’t able to change your thought patterns on your own, consider seeing a therapist. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be a way that you can work on shifting your negative thoughts and relieving stress so that you can alleviate your insomnia.

Insomnia is something that can occur with addiction as a side effect of substance use. Insomnia can also lead to substance abuse if someone attempts to self-medicate as a way to cope with insomnia. If you find yourself in either of these situations, contact The Recovery Village. We offer treatment options for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders like insomnia.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more

Pathak, Neha, M.D. “An Overview of Insomnia.” WebMD. January 17, 2017. Accessed January 19, 2019.

Robinson, Lawrence, Smith, Melinda, M.A., and Segal, Robert, M.A. “Insomnia: What To Do When You Can’t Sleep.” HelpGuide. October 2018. Accessed January 19, 2019.

O’Connell, Krista. “Effects of Insomnia on the Body.” Healthline. February 6, 2017. Accessed January 19, 2019.

Cappuccio, Francesco, P. M.D., D’Elia, Lanfranco, M.D., Strazzullo, Pasquale, M.D., and Miller, Michelle A. Ph.D. “Sleep Duration and All-Cause Mortality: […] Prospective Studies.”U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. May 1, 2010. Accessed January 19, 2019.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” December 8, 2018. Accessed January 9, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.