How is insomnia treated?

It depends. If your insomnia is related to stress, pain, or a medical problem, treating that problem can help you sleep better. If you have chronic insomnia, meaning insomnia that lasts longer than 3 months, there are specific treatments that can help. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or "CBT-I," involves working with a counselor or therapist over several weeks. You will work on understanding your insomnia, learning ways to build better sleep habits, and changing negative thinking patterns that can make insomnia worse. Your therapist can also teach you relaxation exercises that can help.

Part of CBT-I involves learning about "sleep hygiene." These things can also be helpful for people who don't have chronic insomnia but have trouble sleeping sometimes. Having good sleep hygiene means you:

  • Sleep only long enough to feel rested and then get out of bed
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
  • Do not try to force yourself to sleep. If you can't sleep, get out of bed and try again later
  • Have coffee, tea, and other foods that have caffeine only in the morning
  • Avoid alcohol in the late afternoon, evening, and bedtime
  • Avoid smoking, especially in the evening
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, and free of reminders of work or other things that cause you stress
  • Solve problems you have before you go to bed
  • Get plenty of physical activity, but avoid heavy exercise right before bed
  • Avoid looking at phones, computer screens, or reading devices ("e-books") that give off light before bed. This can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Medicines – There are also medicines that can help with sleep. But doctors usually recommend trying cognitive behavioral therapy first. In some cases, they might recommend starting both at the same time. If your doctor or nurse thinks medicine might help you, they will talk to you about the benefits and risks.

Doctors generally do not recommend over-the-counter "sleep aids" for treating chronic insomnia.

If your insomnia is related to problems like depression or anxiety, it can help to treat those problems directly.

Can I use alcohol to help me sleep?

No, do not use alcohol as a sleep aid. Even though alcohol makes you sleepy at first, it disrupts sleep later in the night.