Insomnia, or disordered sleeping, brings long nights of unsatisfying or insufficient sleep — and even longer days of exhaustion and stress. A wide range of complementary medicine strategies alone or in combination with standard treatment can help you sleep better.
- Mind, body and energy techniques
- Biological supplements
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia
“These complementary therapies provide high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness,” says Tanya Edwards, MD, MEd, Medical Director for the Center for Integrative Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
None of the treatments are invasive or cause addiction. In the 2006 Archives of Internal Medicine, more than 50 percent of people using the treatments found them to be very helpful in maintaining their health and well-being.
Mind-body therapies — healing from the inside out
Patients suffering from insomnia experience significant stress from lying in bed for hours at a time, tossing and turning while watching the clock. The mind is so important when it comes to sleep that mind-body techniques should be one of the first strategies a patient tries, Dr. Edwards believes. Examples include meditation, tai chi and yoga. These practices are particularly helpful for elderly patients.
Body-based therapies — relaxation from head to toe
Patients report that body-based therapies can relax the body enough so that it is ready for sleep. These include massage, acupuncture, energy techniques for stress reduction such as Reiki, Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch.
Massage can be beneficial for everyone — from infants to the elderly to cancer patients. Acupuncture enhances sleep quality when measured by patients and by machine, especially if pain is involved. Therapeutic Touch and Reiki have also been shown to improve patients’ sleep quality index.
Biologically based therapies — not your average vitamins
Biological supplements aren’t sleeping pills. They help to balance your body’s chemistry and rhythm naturally, making it easier to fall asleep. Dr. Edwards reports that the most effective and popular biological treatments are:
- Melatonin, a natural sleep hormone produced by the body
- Valerian root tea
- Chamomile tea
- Magnesium, a mineral supplement
- I-theanine and 5-HTP, naturally occurring amino acids
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia — train your brain for sleep
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a diverse set of strategies aimed at improving the quality of sleep as well as sleep patterns. “It helps people change the thoughts and behaviors that interfere with sleep,” explains Michelle Drerup, PsyD, of the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. She works with Center for Integrative Medicine patients.
Changing the way you think about sleep changes the way you sleep. Patients like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia because it’s effective in both the short and long run, and has minimal side effects.
CBT-I strategies all seek to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, reduce sleep interruptions, improve sleep quality and duration, and decrease the resulting daytime distress and impairment. Here are some recommendations Dr. Drerup has for improving sleep:
- Limit the time you spend awake in bed. Your bed is for sleeping, and you should not be there when you are not sleepy. If you find yourself still awake after 15 to 20 minutes, leave the bedroom and return when you feel tired. You should associate your bedroom only with sleep — not TV, emails from work or worry.
- Create a sleep schedule—and stick to it! Whether you sleep through the night or not at all, wake up at the same time each day. This will help your body regulate its internal 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, otherwise known as your biological clock or circadian rhythm.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to behaviors that enhance sleep quality, such as regular exercise (but not too close to bedtime); developing a pre-bedtime relaxation routine; avoiding or limiting caffeinated beverages; avoiding naps, which disrupt the sleep cycle (or limiting them to 30 minutes); and limiting alcohol intake. While good sleep hygiene alone is unlikely to reverse insomnia, it is helpful when combined with other treatments.
- Study up on sleep. The more you know about how and why people sleep, and which beliefs, behaviors and outside influences affect your sleep, says Dr. Drerup, the easier it will be to change sleep habits.
- Cognitive therapy. Insomnia is influenced by five main mental processes: worry, selective attention and monitoring, distorted perception of sleep and daytime deficits, unhelpful beliefs about sleep and counterproductive safety behaviors. Cognitive therapy helps you to reverse these mental processes during the day and night. It is especially helpful in preventing relapse.
- Relax. This is often easier said than done, which is why Dr. Drerup suggests professional help for relaxation training from a sleep psychologist or a professional trained in services such as meditation, guided imagery or hypnosis. Results are not immediate, but last a lifetime.
For an appointment in the Center for Integrative Medicine, call 216.986.HEAL (4325).
Try Our Online GO! to Sleep Program
Say good-bye to insomnia with our interactive online GO! to Sleep® Program. Developed by specialists in Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute and Sleep Disorders Center, the six-week program can help anyone who:
- Has insomnia that is short-term (six months or less) or stress-induced
- Has an interest in non-pharmacologic treatments for sleep problems
- Has ongoing insomnia but needs to learn about sleep-friendly lifestyle habits
Similar online programs at top sleep clinics have helped 81 percent of participants with their insomnia. Visit 360-5.com/sleep to sign up for this $40 program.