Alternative Treatments for Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

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Insomnia and sleep disorder treatments are methods for alleviating symptoms. They can be conventional or alternative. Conventional treatments include sleep medication that can be prescribed by a doctor or bought over the counter. Alternative treatments for insomnia and sleep disorders include acupuncture, yoga, aromatherapy, herbs, and more.

Alternative treatments for insomnia and sleep disorders are effective because they often help people relax and get to the root of the problem. Some alternative treatments are more effective than others, depending on how severe your sleeping disorder is. It’s important to first talk to your doctor, who will recommend the best treatment based on your sleeping disorder, age, and other existing health conditions.

1. Herbs

Herbs are easy and safe to use for treating insomnia and sleep disorders. Herbs are often in pill supplements but some you can take as tea. Although herbs’ effects on sleep are safe, it’s best to be cautious because some herbs can interact with other medications you’re taking.

One of the best herbs to use is Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha contains trimethylene glycol, which can affect your REM sleep. Taking up to 300 milligrams of Ashwagandha two times a day could help you sleep better. Chamomile is another herb commonly used to fall asleep faster and sleep better. Chamomile is generally safe for most people, but you may develop allergies if you’re sensitive to chrysanthemums or ragweed.

The biggest advantage of herbs as an alternative treatment for insomnia and sleep disorders is the ease of use. Most of these herbs are readily available and can be found in most pharmacies and stores that sell healthy food. Herbs don’t have many disadvantages, but this does depend on which herb you’re interested in. Some herbs like Kava and Valerian root can be dangerous for children, pregnant women, or people with liver problems.

2. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a common treatment for insomnia and other sleep disorders. Acupuncture is primarily used in Chinese medicine, originally involving fine needles, electrical stimulus, or heat. During acupuncture, needles are inserted into the skin in specific areas, which can influence how your body functions.

Experts believe acupuncture can help you relax and fall asleep faster. Acupuncture may also help you achieve a better quality of sleep. More research is required to fully understand acupuncture's effects on sleep, insomnia, and sleep disorders.

The most common disadvantages of acupuncture are bleeding, soreness, and bruising. Acupuncture can be dangerous for people who take blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder. Make sure the practitioner is certified and uses sterilized needles.

Illustration Of a Patient Having Discussion with an Acupancturis

3. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone made by the brain and is part of the body’s 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin amounts increase in response to darkness to help promote sleep. Melatonin can be found in supplements as a way to help improve rest. Melatonin is used to treat circadian rhythm disorders, sleep disturbances, and jet lag. There are a few mixed studies, so the understanding of melatonin's effects on sleep is vague.

You should take the right dose of melatonin at the right time of day for it to be effective. The biggest disadvantage is that there is no clear understanding of how much you should take. Over-the-counter supplements can raise the melatonin level in your body up to 20 times normal. There is not a clear consensus whether taking too much melatonin poses any dangers, but the Mayo Clinic reports that it is generally safe for short-term use. The advantages of melatonin include enhanced sleep quality and longer sleep time. Melatonin may also help you to fall asleep in less time.

4. Exercise

Exercise has many benefits. Exercise’s effects on sleep can help both younger and older adults. First, younger adults who work out may see improved sleep quality. Secondly, physical activity may help older adults fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. The exercise you should practice depends on your abilities. Older adults can benefit from tai chi or yoga to enhance sleep quality. Cancer patients may benefit from the same exercises.

Yoga, swimming, pilates, and moderate aerobic exercises can help you relax before sleep. Moderate stretching can help relieve tension and anxiety you may feel due to some sleep disorders. You should exercise at least 3 to 4 hours before bed to avoid getting an energy boost late at night. Healthy adults can choose more intense exercises, but be careful not to overtrain. Doing too much intensive exercise may worsen your insomnia.

Illustration of a Person in a Supta Baddha Konasana Pose

5. CBD

CBD is an unconventional treatment for insomnia and sleep disorders. CBD is short for cannabidiol, which is a compound found in cannabis. CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive effects like tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC.

CBD is used among insomnia patients to help them fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. The research on CBD’s effects on sleep quality is limited. More research is needed to understand if CBD has any long-term complications.

A disadvantage of CBD is that it may be illegal in some states, which could make it harder to find.

6. Sleep Hypnosis

Sleep hypnosis is a form of hypnotherapy done by a licensed professional. A licensed professional can be a psychologist, a doctor, or another health care practitioner who will guide you through the trance-like state of sleep hypnosis. Once you’re in the state of sleep hypnosis, the licensed professional working with you will suggest sleep-related changes you previously discussed. These changes can include anything you struggle with, whether it’s falling asleep faster, having better sleep hygiene, or reducing sleep anxiety. The most common disadvantages include the possibility of creating false memories. You may experience the positive sleep hypnosis effects on sleep along with side effects like headaches, dizziness, or anxiety after the sleep hypnosis therapy. The side effects should fade shortly after. Sleep hypnosis doesn’t have any long-term side effects, so it’s safe to practice, but make sure you work with a licensed professional.

7. Relaxation and Meditation

Relaxation and meditation are safe alternative treatments for insomnia and sleep disorders. They can help you battle increased muscle tension and anxiety that often interfere with sleep. Relaxation and meditation are techniques used for relaxing the muscles and quieting the mind, both of which can help treat insomnia.

The most significant benefit of relaxation and meditation is that you can learn how to practice the techniques yourself. You don’t need a professional to help you, although it may take several weeks to master the techniques well enough to see results. Experts believe that meditation may reduce sleep anxiety, helping you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. You can meditate while practicing yoga as well, which is a combination known to produce higher levels of melatonin. The good thing about relaxation and meditation's effects on sleep is that they don’t have disadvantages. Some people may take longer to see results when practicing relaxation and meditation for insomnia and sleep disorders. You can only see improvement with regular practice, which takes time and dedication.

8. Light Exposure

Light exposure is known as phototherapy. Phototherapy is when you are exposed to a light source brighter than usual indoor light. The light shouldn’t be brighter than direct sunlight. Light exposure treatment is easy to use, which is partially why it’s popular among insomnia patients. You use the light source at the same time of the day for the same length of time. Light exposure is used for depression, jet lag symptoms, and seasonal affective disorder. The treatment may improve the quality of sleep because it affects brain chemicals closely connected to your mood and sleep.

The most significant disadvantage is that you should only use light exposure for sleep disorders related to abnormal circadian rhythm. You should consult with your doctor to better understand light exposure’s effects on sleep, insomnia, and other sleep disorders. Talking to a professional is especially important if you have an eyesight problem that may be aggravated by light exposure. Lupus is another condition that could be worsened by light exposure. People with bipolar disorder and epilepsy should also be careful when using light therapy.

9. Yoga

Yoga is a commonly used alternative treatment for many sleep disorders, including insomnia. There are many types of yoga, so it’s important to find one that suits your abilities. A study conducted by Harvard Medical School shows that yoga’s effects on sleep are many. Regular yoga practice helps improve total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and the time it takes to fall asleep.

Yoga is beneficial because it helps relax your muscles and calm your mind. You should choose calm and restorative poses, or else the routine may be too intense. Calm and restorative yoga poses can help you reduce stress accumulated throughout the day. The way yoga works is by stretching your muscles while regulating your breathing. A popular yoga breathing technique is called Ujjayi Breath. Otherwise known as Victorious Breath or Ocean Breath, the Ujjayi Breath yoga technique involves inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling through your nose. As you exhale, you’re supposed to constrict the back of the throat and say “ha” but with your mouth closed. This “ha” sound is why the technique is called Ocean Breath because it resembles the sound made by the ocean waves. Other yoga techniques work as well, but make sure to stay in each position for at least three to five minutes.

The biggest disadvantage of yoga for insomnia and sleep disorders is that it may be challenging to learn how to practice. Yoga sometimes looks easier to do than it is, and it’s only efficient if you do it properly.

10. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is an alternative therapy that uses essential oils and herbal essences via massage, inhalation, baths, compress, and skin absorption. The beauty industry primarily used aromatherapy before it was used in the medical field. Using certain essential oils may help prevent stress and treat specific ailments. Aromatherapy includes more than 40 plant derivatives, but rose oil, lavender oil, and citrus oils are the most commonly used. The biggest benefit of aromatherapy is that you don’t need expert knowledge to practice it. Aromatherapy is mostly safe but has few side effects. One disadvantage is that some oils might cause an allergic reaction. Some people may be too sensitive to these scents. Start using one oil at a time so that you can track how you react to it. You should also make sure to use pure oils to get the most out of aromatherapy’s effects on sleep and sleep disorders.

Illustration of a Bottles of Essential Oils for Sleep

11. Food and Diet

Food and diet are crucial for improving sleep quality, insomnia symptoms, and other sleep disorders. Some foods can help fight insomnia, while others may worsen the symptoms. Apart from being mindful about what you’re eating, you should also be careful when you’re eating. Having a light-night snack might help you sleep, but only if it’s small. You can drink a little milk if you can tolerate lactose. Eating too much before bed may cause discomfort, making it more difficult to experience food and diet’s effects on sleep and sleep hygiene. You should avoid alcohol, caffeine, high-fat foods, spicy foods, and smoking before bed. These things can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep for long enough. The best foods to eat before bed are almonds, white rice, turkey, tart cherry juice, kiwi, walnuts, and fatty fish. The advantage of using foods to help your insomnia is that it’s easy to do. Changing your diet is simple, although it may take time to get used to the changes. The disadvantage is that it takes trial and error for some people who may have a sensitive stomach.

12. Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a form of medical care. Ayurveda helps treat anxiety, stress, exhaustion, insomnia, and other sleep disorders. Ayurveda uses Ashwagandha, which is a herb used as a traditional remedy for these conditions. Ayurveda was developed in India more than 3,000 years ago, so it’s one of the oldest holistic healing systems. The treatment is unique because it promotes good health as opposed to fighting disease. Some Ayurveda treatments can be used to alleviate specific health issues like insomnia and other sleep disorders. Ayurveda disadvantages include possible allergic reactions and gastrointestinal problems due to some herbs. There is no dosage recommended to get the best from the Ayurveda’s effects on sleep, so it may be confusing to use.

How Effective are Alternative Treatments for Insomnia?

Alternative treatments for insomnia are effective depending on how you use them and for how long. Effectiveness also depends on which treatment you choose and how severe your sleep disorder symptoms are. The effects of alternative treatments for insomnia are known to help this and other sleep disorders. Some treatments usually take time to work. Using herbal teas and aromatherapy may be the quickest way of treating insomnia. Other methods like mediation may take longer to work, depending on how stressed you are. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should always do your research. Ask your doctor about specific alternative treatments you’re interested in and what’s the best way to practice them. It’s recommended you always consult a professional practitioner to ensure safety and efficiency.

Is it Possible to Treat Sleep Disorders without Medication?

Yes, it’s possible to treat sleep disorders without medication, but this depends on which sleep disorder you have. Severe sleep disorders may be more difficult to treat without medication. Alternative treatments can help treat sleep disorders, but the process may take longer than if you were to use medication. You can achieve better results by combining some of these treatments.

Which Alternative Treatment is the Most Effective for Sleep Disorders?

Sleep hypnosis, aromatherapy, herbs, and yoga are the most effective alternative treatments for sleep disorders like insomnia. Other treatments are effective but may take longer to work, depending on how severe your symptoms are.

Herbal tea or an aromatherapy session may have instant effects, helping you fall asleep faster after the first use. Other treatments, like meditation or food and diet, are more time-consuming, so you will likely have to work on it for a few weeks before seeing results.

Editor

Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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