5 medications and alternatives to treat insomnia

October 5, 2015

If bedtime's a battle instead of bliss, these measures could help.

5 medications and alternatives to treat insomnia

1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

  • If you've had insomnia for a long time, chances are you've developed sleep-related habits that all but ensure that your problem will continue.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that aims to break the cycle.
  • CBT retrains you to be ready for sleep at bedtime, and to stop stressing on nights when sleep is slow to come.
  • A study of 63 people with insomnia found that CBT worked better than prescription sleeping pills at helping people fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • The therapy also cut the amount of time it took to fall asleep in half.
  • After a year, most of the therapy group members were still enjoying these sleep advantages.

2. Newer insomnia drugs

  • The new widely advertised sleeping pills — including zolpidem, zaleplon and eszopiclone — are less likely to cause side effects.
  • One study found that people who took prescription sleep aids received very little objective benefit.
  • Keep in mind that no sleeping pill is meant to be taken over the long term.
  • Studies warn that few prescription drugs for insomnia have been tested in long-term studies of a year or more — yet many people take them for years.

3. Melatonin

  • Melatonin produced by your pineal gland helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Experts say it may help modestly for insomnia due to jet lag or shift work.
  • Since the long-term effects of melatonin have not been studied, experts warn against everyday use.
  • Be cautious about even short-term use. Too much can cause sleep disruption, daytime fatigue, headache, dizziness and irritability.

4. Antihistamines

  • Nearly one in four people with insomnia try over-the-counter antihistamines in order to get a good night's sleep.
  • Older antihistamines do make you drowsy, so they can help you fall asleep in a pinch.
  • But these drugs can make you feel sleepy all day, and they aren't intended for long-term use.
  • For older people, they may even cause hazy thinking and delirium.
  • Antihistamine use can also lead to constipation, urinary retention and blurred vision.

5. Benzodiazepines

  • These sedatives — such as alprazolam, chlordiazepoxide, diazepam and lorazepam — ease anxiety, relax muscles.
  • In some studies, they helped people fall asleep 11 minutes faster and stay asleep 48 minutes longer.
  • Benzodiazepines are habit forming.
  • Their use has been linked with daytime fatigue, confusion and a higher risk of motor vehicle accidents, falls and fractures.
  • Consult your doctor before starting any new medication.

Staring at the ceiling at night? You're not alone. An estimated one in three adults have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least one night each week. But with these sleep aids, you could stop staring and start sleeping.

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