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Insomnia (Sleepless Nights)

How Is Insomnia Treated?

Last updated on:
11/04/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Sleep research has led to major advances in the treatment of insomnia. Many experts now consider sleeping pills to be overused, as well as dangerous because they can become addictive. They suggest that medication be used a last option, after other treatments have been tried.

Non-medicine treatment options include:

Physical Relaxation

If you are anxious about falling asleep, certain muscles in your body become tense and sometimes painful, interfering with sleep. Physical relaxation techniques can help.

Find a quiet, peaceful place in which to practice the following technique about 30 minutes a day:

  • Lie perfectly still until you find the most comfortable position for yourself. Now deliberately tense up the muscles in your arms and legs as tightly as you can. Try to hold this tension for about a minute and then let the muscles relax gradually-first your legs, and then your arms.
  • Now let your whole body feel as relaxed as it possibly can. Take a rest for five minutes and then repeat the procedure twice more.
  • At the end of the session, try to concentrate on the feeling of your muscles and let them go as limp and relaxed as possible for the rest of the period. Try to make your breathing slow and steady as you relax.

This technique is designed to teach individuals how their body relaxes and how to control relaxation and tension.

Mental Relaxation

Since stress and worry, including the worry about not being able to fall asleep, are often at the core of insomnia, many people have found that mental relaxation techniques can help them to feel less anxious and therefore sleep better.

This method also requires finding a peaceful, quiet place to practice this technique for about 30 minutes a day:

  • Try to relax your body first, by finding the most comfortable position for yourself. Then empty your mind of all thoughts by concentrating on one particular object in the room or a particular part of the room.
  • After a minute, sit up, and then walk around for a bit. Then return to your position and repeat the exercise.
  • Now think of a particularly happy time in your life that you really enjoyed. If you cannot immediately think of something, find a poster of some exotic place or beautiful scenery. Concentrate on imagining yourself in this place for about five minutes.
  • Try to feel the sensations first in your neck muscles, and then in your arm and leg muscles, as they gradually become relaxed. After another few minutes, get up and walk around the room a bit. Then repeat the process.

This exercise differs from the physical technique in that it emphasizes controlling the psychological components of anxiety before attempting to relax your body.

Other Techniques

Other relaxation techniques to try include:

  • Yoga or meditation
  • Exercise (shown in studies to be an effective way to achieve a healthy sleep)
  • Mind-body therapies such as guided imagery or hypnotherapy
  • Reading while lying in a relaxed position
  • Listening to music while lying in a relaxed position
  • Having a soothing bath or shower before bed
  • Massage, especially of the neck, shoulder, and leg muscles

Need To Know:

Some people find psychotherapy (the treatment of mental and emotional disorders with professional counseling) very helpful in relieving anxiety or depression that could be contributing to insomnia.

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.