Sleep disorder treatments fall into a variety of categories, including:
- sleep hygiene
- medications (from mild over-the-counter sleep aids to powerful sleep sedatives and hypnotics
- holistic approaches
It is not uncommon for two or more treatment approaches to be used concurrently. Let’s look at each option in more detail.
Sleep hygiene is defined as the various practices put into place to support healthy, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness (National Sleep Foundation). It includes habits such as avoiding napping; decreasing or eliminating stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol; getting enough exercise; establishing a bedtime routine; and arranging the bedroom for optimal sleep (e.g., decreasing the temperature, eliminating unnecessary light, and removing technology devices). It can also include such practices as avoiding clock watching when in bed, exposing yourself to bright light or sunlight after waking, refraining from large meals before bedtime, and keeping a regular wake and bedtime schedule. While sleep hygiene can help the average person address general sleep difficulties, it alone is not sufficient to overpower the symptoms of major sleep disorders. With true sleep disorders, a combination of multiple treatment approaches earns the most effective results.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) looks at the relationships between your mind, body, emotions, behaviors, and illness. CBT is considered the gold standard of therapeutic care for treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia. This therapeutic approach can help you make behavioral changes to improve sleep hygiene, while also changing thought patterns to decrease the catastrophic thinking, anger, frustration, or hopelessness that is common if you are struggling with sleep disorders. Therapeutic tools like sleep journals, cognitive restructuring, guided imagery, and hypnosis can help you gain objectivity about your sleep and grow out of the destructive narrative that leads to anger and worry.
While some research argues that medications are not the most effective form of treatment, medications such as sedative-hypnotics are commonly used to treat sleep disorders. While they do increase your overall quantity of sleep, they do not always increase the quality of sleep. These medications can impact your brain chemistry and often leave you feeling groggy, foggy, unclear, and drained of energy, even after a full night’s sleep. They can also, over time, increase mortality risks. That being said, sedative-hypnotics may be helpful as a short-term treatment for sleep disorders, but therapeutic and holistic approaches to treatment are much more effective and safer.
There are several holistic treatments that can help you decrease or eliminate sleep disorders. For example, you can learn to use self-hypnosis or meditation at bedtime, which can not only help decrease your worry and anxiety, but also work to relax the sympathetic nervous system and increase your probability of falling asleep. Similarly, activities like regular exercise, acupuncture, and massage can also have positively impact on your body and mental state; decreasing symptoms of sleep disorders and resulting in greater sleep quality.
Charles R. Freeman, Ph.D. | Sleep, Pain, Behavioral Medicine Psychologist & Addictionologist | Available online (Skype) and in-person in San Diego and Encinitas, CA.