There are a wide variety of treatments that have been used to treat primary insomnia. Though each has its own merits, the most effective way of eliminating insomnia and restoring normal sleep is usually a combination of many, if not all of the general techniques. We’ll all include a number of alternative treatments that, though not scientifically proven, have provided relief for some.
Think of improving sleep hygiene as something akin to the same effort that is put into dental hygiene. We brush our teeth, floss, pay attention to the foods that we eat and visit the dentist regularly – few of us would purposely choose skipping any of these steps, yet we relegate sleep to a second or third choice after work and social activities – or even the late, late show. The steps that need to be taken to improve sleep hygiene are holistic and encompass both eliminating stimulants like coffee or tea from our diet and improving our attention to our sleep schedule. It also includes making sure that you are sleeping in an appropriate environment, with temperature set appropriately, lights and noise turned down and all distractions eliminated.
In this case, relaxing is not about laying out in a hammock under the trees with a cool drink. It is an actual technique that trains the body to progressively let go of tension and train itself to fall asleep. Relaxation technique involves focusing on different parts of the body, stressing them by tensing them and then in turn relaxing the muscles. It also includes a focus on breathing and thinking relaxing thoughts. Much like yoga, the technique has been shown to be very effective at allowing those who have previously approached their rest times with anxiety to be more at peace.
One of the most common things that interfere with our ability to fall asleep is anything in our surrounding that gets us excited or engaged. The more stimulation there is, the less likely we are to be able to fall asleep. So turning off the news or an exciting television show can help. It is important to get into the habit of avoiding phone calls that may be stressful and leaving household tasks such as paying bills or preparing for the next day’s work for the morning, when we are supposed to be alert. If you check your work email right before bed and see that something unexpected has come up that will require attention, you are setting yourself up for a night spent staring at the ceiling and thinking about what you’re going to do the next day.
Though this may not be your technique of choice, it is an example of what is referred to as a cognitive technique, and they have been proven to be extremely helpful for those suffering from insomnia. The idea is to occupy yourself with a mental task that takes your mind off of the fact that you can’t fall asleep. In many instances, focusing anywhere other than on your inability to fall asleep will induce drowsiness, particularly if you have built up a sleep debt after several sleepless nights.
A technique called sleep state restriction is a rarely used but often effective technique that can be used on those for whom other methods don’t work. It involves ordering the patient to stay awake despite the intensity of their sleep deprivation. By forcing a patient to stay up until the middle of the night and then only allowing them to get three or four hours of sleep you not only force deep sleep upon them for the restricted amount of time, but build up a big enough sleep debt that you can then add slowly to the amount of sleep that they are allowed to get and recreate good sleep habits.
Alternative Insomnia Treatments
There are a number of alternative insomnia treatments that have been said to offer relief to a number of people. Though most of the support for these methods is anecdotal, they are not harmful and may be worth trying.
Many believe that being put into a hypnotic trance is a substitute for sleep and that seeing a hypnotist is helpful, but in fact being in a trance is really just a state of deep relaxation. By the same token, patients who learn what is known as self-hypnosis are really practicing a form of the same relaxation technique mentioned above, and this may be a good way to tell the body that it is time to go to sleep. Self-hypnosis generally includes deep, controlled breathing, just as relaxation techniques do. Similarly, patients who swear by biofeedback, in which they are taught to become aware of and to quantify their body’s responses and physiological reactions are also learning how to consciously force themselves to relax.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice in which fine needles are strategically placed along the body’s nervous system. Though many swear that acupuncture cures them of insomnia as well as a number of other physiological ills, there is more evidence of acupuncture working on other conditions then there is of it curing insomnia.
Massage is yet another method of relaxation that can be quite effective, but is unfortunately both temporary and unlikely to occur right before bedtime. If patients suffering from insomnia are able to get their sleep partner to give them an effective, relaxing massage the method might be helpful, but getting a massage in the middle of the day only serves to provide about an hour’s relief.
Finally, the old tried and true method of drinking warm milk before bed is neither scientifically proven nor disproven, and the same is true of other remedies such as herbal teas and taking a warm bath. There is a good chance that these methods work for people because they provide a sense of comfort, or they may just be part of a routine that helps your brain recognize that it is time for sleep. If you find that any of these methods is helpful to you then by all means use them.