How to Cure Insomnia (Without Medication)

Sleep better tonight with these expert tips.

While everyone experiences the occasional night of tossing and turning, approximately 6 to 10 percent of adults struggle with full-blown insomnia, which is associated with difficulty falling or staying asleep, or waking up too early, according to the American College of Physicians. Earlier this week, the organization published a new set of recommendations focused on the best way to treat chronic insomnia disorder, which is classified as experiencing insomnia symptoms at least three nights per week for at least three months and being distressed in some way because of it (such as having difficulty concentrating during the day).

The guidelines, which are published in Annals of Internal Medicine, advise all adults who are struggling with insomnia to receive cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, as their initial treatment, instead of turning to pharmacologic therapy, or drugs.

CBT is a form of behavioral sleep medicine, and it works to improve the thoughts and actions associated with sleep, says Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical health psychologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University, whose research focuses on sleep and circadian rhythms. Baron, who says she wholeheartedly believes in the new recommendations (but wasn't involved in creating them), finds that patients who have an expert coaching them through these new behaviors are often more successful in establishing a healthy sleep routine.

If you’d rather begin practicing better sleep habits on your own, Baron suggests turning to online treatments or self-help books, as well as heeding the following advice: 

1

Optimize Your Environment

dog-lying-on-bed
Photo by GK Hart/Vikki Hart/Getty Images

Small changes to your bedroom can make a big difference when it comes to getting some shuteye. A simple table fan can block out street noise and help to cool the room down, while an eye mask or light-blocking curtain panels can prevent incoming daylight from waking you up too early.

2

Don't Get Into Bed Until You're Sleepy

Though sticking to a regular bedtime is a good idea, refrain from climbing into bed until you feel yourself getting tired. "If you’re not falling asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, you’re making yourself more anxious and frustrated," Baron says. Finish up any screen time before climbing into bed. And if you must interact with electronic devices, watch TV rather than read on an iPad (the farther away the screen, the better). 

3

Get Up At the Same Time Every Morning

If you had trouble falling asleep the night before, it might be tempting to hit the snooze button in the morning. But getting into an irregular schedule can hinder you from making any progress. “In the short term, you feel a little bit better that day," Baron says. "But in the long run, it makes you feel worse.”



4

Avoid Snacking During the Night

If you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself starving, try changing your daytime eating habits so you're not going to bed hungry. Eating a snack in the middle of the night can develop into a problem and can quickly turn into a vicious cycle, Baron says.

5

Use Your Bed for Sleep and Intimacy Only

After a long day of work, it can be tempting to crawl under the covers and start a new book, or order delivery and eat it from bed. But ideally your bed should be reserved for sleeping only. If you live in a studio apartment with no other form of seating, at least sit up in bed while working or reading. 

6

Try Not to Nap—Especially Close to Bedtime

"We advise against napping because we are trying to save up their sleepiness so they can sleep at night," Baron says. "Even five minutes at 10:00 p.m. is really going to affect your sleep at night." While ideally it's best to avoid daytime snoozing altogether if you struggle with insomnia, there are exceptions, such as if you're getting sleepy while driving.