Services // Sleep Disorders Center

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Treatment for insomnia depends on what is causing your sleep problems. For example, some people can help restore healthy sleep patterns by practicing good sleep habits (also known as good sleep hygiene). People with medical conditions such as restless legs syndrome (RLS) or sleep apnea are likely to need medical help in combination with good sleep hygiene to better manage or resolve the medical condition. When necessary, doctors may prescribe medication to help restore healthy sleep patterns.

Click here for the Improve your Sleep workbook, a free resource provided by the VA

 

 

Behavioral therapy also is an effective way for many people to return to getting a good night’s sleep. Some people also find that other complementary medicine approaches such as acupuncture can help improve sleep. Click here to learn about our therapeutic ancillary services, including acupuncture.

Behavioral therapy for insomnia includes:

  • Learning about good sleep habits (sleep hygiene)
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you manage or eliminate worries
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Managing thoughts and activities (stimuli) that keep you awake
  • Reducing the amount of time you spend in bed when not sleeping
  • Light therapy, including getting more sunshine or using a full-spectrum light box

Tips for Getting the Sleep You Need

If you have slept poorly for a 3 or fewer nights, you often can take steps to restore a good sleep pattern on your own. But if you continue sleeping poorly and begin experiencing changes in daytime functioning, you should see a sleep expert.

Whether your sleep problems are transient, short-term, or chronic, it is important to practice good sleep habits (also known as good sleep hygiene).

Good sleep hygiene includes maintaining a regular, healthy sleep / wake cycle each day, 7 days a week, including:

  • Limiting the time you spend in bed awak if you are having trouble sleeping at night
  • Getting 20 minutes of sunlight each day or light therapy with a full-spectrum light box
  • Exercising and being active in the morning or late afternoon
    • If you are having difficulty sleeping, avoid vigorous exercise 2 hours before bedtime
  • Engaging in relaxation techniques in the afternoon and evening, including:
    • Biofeedback
    • Breathing exercises
    • Meditation
    • Progressive muscle relaxation
    • Yoga
  • Avoiding caffeine 6 hours before bedtime
  • Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and other stimulants
    • If you are planning to have alcohol, have it early in the evening
  • Avoiding large, heavy meals and snacks before bedtime
  • Avoiding going to bed hungry
    • A light snack can sometimes help you sleep better
  • Avoiding naps during the day
    • If you are having trouble sleeping at night, it is best to entirely avoid napping during the day; but if you must doze off during the day, limit your nap to 30 or fewer minutes
  • Maintaining a relaxing bedtime routine, including:
    • Go to bed at the same time each night
    • Wake at the same time each morning
    • Avoid upsetting conversations
    • Avoid vigorous activities
    • Avoid going over events of your day and planning the next day
    • Sleep in a dark, quiet, cool room
  • Using your bed only for sleep and sex
    • Avoid watching television, listening to the radio, and reading in bed
    • If you cannot fall asleep or if you wake and cannot return to sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and relax in another room.
  • Avoiding sleeping pills for more than 1 or 2 nights per month and avoiding them entirely if you have obstructive sleep apnea

Medications to Treat Insomnia

When necessary, your doctor might prescribe medication for a limited time to help restore your sleep schedule. 

Some prescription medications that can help you sleep are:

  • Ambien® (zolpidem)
  • Lunesta® (eszopiclone)
  • Rozerem® (ramelteon)
  • Sonata® (zaleplon)

Nonprescription medications that some people believe can help with sleep are:

  • Antihistamines such as Benadryl®, which can make you drowsy.
  • Melatonin, an over-the-counter (OTC) drug that can help supplement the body’s natural melatonin supply. There are no data to support melatonin supplements for insomnia
  • Valerian, a dietary supplement with a mild sedative effect. Although valerian has not been thoroughly studied in clinical trials, it has been associated with liver problems when it is used long term and/or in high doses. If you are taking and want to stop taking valerian, you must gradually reduce the dose

Because some over-the-counter drugs
are not safe or can interact with other medications,
talk with your doctor first
before taking a nonprescription medication
to help you sleep.

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