I'm Sam. I enjoy writing about sleep and mental health-related topics as well as ways to prevent stress and to relax.
The epidemic of insufficient sleep in society has become a difficult issue for a growing number of people. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 3 people don't get enough sleep and 1 in 6 adults have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder. Also, statistics show that the issue only increases with age. Thankfully, due to the advancement in sleep studies, there are many valuable and effective sleep solutions today that counteract the issue and assist with a good night’s sleep.
Sleep Solutions That Work
Modern sleep therapy distills down to a few particular areas of expertise. Some are dramatic and heavily impact the body and mind and others are a learning and psychological process. Each choice is dependent primarily upon the severity of the subject’s sleep problems and susceptibility. The following eight sleep solutions are covered:
- Sleep Medicine and Sleep Disorder Clinics
- Merits and Consequences of Prescription Sleep Medication
- Ayurvedic and Holistic Sleep Practices
- Hypnotherapy for Sleep Issues
- Sleep Hygiene
- Psychological Relaxation
- Therapeutic Cognitive Sleep Strategies
- Natural and Alternative Sleep Remedies
1. Sleep Medicine and Sleep Disorder Clinics
With sleep medicine and disorder clinics, individuals receive assistance from licensed physicians that utilize a battery of tests in order to deduce the possible problem at hand. These include polysomnography, the use of a sleep diary, and an MSLT test.
All of these work to find the root cause of sleep deprivation and provide insight regarding how to correct it. Once the physician discovers the probable cause, then the necessary sleep therapy can be provided. Sleep clinics are the preeminent means to learn about and correct a sleep disorder but they, unfortunately, can be quite cost-prohibitive.
2. Merits and Consequences of Prescription Sleep Medication
Another option that has become common in the last two decades is prescription sleep aids. These drugs are prescribed by medical practitioners to people with the inability to achieve proper rest. These items have become a popular choice for sleep therapy and their use is growing at a steady rate. A recent statistic shows that over 9 million Americans are now actively using prescription sleep aids, which is triple the use from just 15 years ago.
Even though these sleep aids have proven their value, they don’t arrive without consequences. There are many tales of unwanted side effects and struggles with addiction. Boards and blogs are flooded with people discussing their stories about late-night sleepwalking, sleep eating, and even attempting intercourse with their spouse without awareness of their actions. The stories range from harmless movements all the way to outright dangerous actions. Consider the following account:
“I’ve been taking a sleep medication prescribed by my doctor for three months. At first I thought that the side effects were humorous as my husband joked about them to friends and family. Finally though, I was forced to quit them because I became violent. I would hit walls, and swing my fists at inanimate objects. The final straw came when I grabbed the keys, jumped in the car, and actually drove down the road to a neighbor’s house. My husband thankfully caught me before I knocked on their door. Unfortunately, I now have to find a new alternative.”
For those considering prescription medications as part of their sleep therapy regimen, it is pertinent that you consider the possible side effects, possibilities of addiction, and cost. It’s obvious that these drugs have worked well for many people, but strong research and a healthy dose of wariness are great traits to have if you decide to give them a try. Personally, I would try other options on this list before medicating. Talk your medical professional about the benefits and side-effects and alternatives. The main takeaway should be that sleep medication combats symptoms and not causes, they are not a longterm solution.
3. Ayurvedic and Holistic Sleep Practices
An alternative sleep therapy to prescription medications is the use of Ayurvedic techniques. Ayurvedism is a healing system originating in ancient India. Its use is still widespread today and there has been a resurgence in the past decade among those seeking a less chemical-dependent means of healing their bodies and minds.
The sleep therapy techniques that Ayurvedism utilizes range from the practice of proper breathing techniques and meditation to the utilization of specific foods and body oils prior to rest. Before you consider discounting the strength of this alternative, you might reconsider. Ayurvedism is practiced by over one billion people across the world for good reason: It works.
Another alternative available is the use of hypnotherapy. This enigmatic and powerful therapy has helped millions of people with everything from quitting smoking to having teeth removed without the aid of anesthesia.
A skilled and educated hypnotherapist can, through multiple sessions, transform many people’s sleep issue into a full nights rest. The therapist does this through the utilization of different techniques that work with the subject’s subconscious mind, redirecting the problem and clearing the path toward a better sleep pattern.
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4. Hypnotherapy for Sleep Issues
Many probable candidates have been found to disregard hypnotherapy, presuming that they cannot be hypnotized or, on the other end of the spectrum, that they fear to be susceptible to the therapist. Both of these concerns are without merit. It’s been proven that the more intelligent the individual, the easier it is for them to be induced.
Also, susceptibility to hypnotherapy has been overdramatized by television. No matter how hypnotized a healthy individual is, they are always in control of their actions enough to quit the session if it ever becomes uncomfortable. Hypnotherapy is a great tool for those seeking better sleep and should remain high on the list of alternatives in sleep therapy.
The only caveat is that due to lack of regulation in the industry, make sure to find an established and trained hypnotherapist with acceptable credentials.
5. Sleep Hygiene
Aims to achieve more good sleep habits that facilitate sleep, through factors related to lifestyle (drinking coffee, alcohol, exercise,…) and factors related to the environment (temperature, noise, light,…).
Sleep hygiene recommendations:
- Do not consume caffeinated substances, at least 6 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
- No excessive physical exercise before going to sleep.
- Do not eat large amounts of food and/or fluids before sleep.
- If you wake up at night, do not eat. It’s common for people to start snacking. The body could get used to waking up whenever you’re hungry.
- Check your environment ensuring that the temperature is comfortable (not exceeding 23 degrees Celsius). Reduce light and noise in the bedroom. If you can’t achieve this then buy sleep apparel to help you.
- Do not go to bed hungry or thirsty.
- Remove the alarm clock in the room to reduce anxiety. You know when you start watching the time and think to yourself, damn I only have x amount of time to sleep.
These techniques have limited effectiveness when applied individually. Best results are obtained when combined with other sleep treatment alternatives.
Sleep restriction: a Bed Is For Sleeping
Reduction of the time the patient spends in bed. You only stay in the bed to get your set hours of sleep every night. The method involves training the patient to go to bed only when tired, getting up if he has not slept in 15 minutes.
6. Psychological Relaxation
Currently, there is a tendency to use psychological treatments, sleep therapy, because of the limitations and possible side-effects of the drugs, as well as recognition of the role of psychological factors in these disorders. The aim of these treatments is to change maladaptive sleep habits, modify dysfunctional beliefs, and reduce the physiological and cognitive activation.
This technique is used to reduce behaviors incompatible with sleep and regulate your sleep-wake schedule. The aim is to establish an association between stimuli in the room and sleep generation. To do this, sleep therapies recommend:
- Go to bed only when sleepy.
- Establish a set of bedtime routines, behaviors that indicate the proximity of bedtime. Perform these every night in the same order.
- If after 15-20 minutes of being in bed you cannot sleep, it is advised to get up and go to another room. If you want, you can do a quiet activity, return to the bedroom when you begin to feel sleepy. If you cannot sleep, you can perform this step as often as necessary.
- Keep a regular bedtime and try to wake up at the same time every day. No matter how long you slept, even if you haven’t nearly slept enough.
- Avoid napping if you have sleeping problems. This will only make it harder for the body to find its natural rhythm.
- Do not use the bed and bedroom for activities other than sleep or sex.
We could consider this the psychological side of sleep hygiene with a focus on preparing the mind for falling asleep faster.
Psychological Relaxation Techniques
They are most appropriate when the insomnia is associated with physiological arousal and/or cognitive. To reduce physiological arousal, the strategies used are a kind of progressive relaxation and autogenic training. Related are certain cognitive activation techniques such as meditation and training your imagination, but more on specific cognitive techniques later.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Sleep Issues
Progressive muscle relaxation is a kind of exercise that can help you to ease anxiety and reduce your difficulty sleeping. It’s a simple technique that anyone can practice in their home within 15 minutes. For some people, it’s an effective way to fight insomnia.
What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple exercise that you use to control the tension in your muscles. Following the exercise, you first tense and then relax all of your muscles, moving through your body systematically. This technique was developed by Edmund Jacobson, an American physician, in 1915. It’s a kind of relaxation therapy that can work to relax your entire body.
Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation has traditionally been used as a way to treat anxiety. People who suffer from anxiety and stress often tense their muscles throughout the day without even realizing it. This tension aggravates stress, creates pain, and makes it harder to sleep.
Progressive muscle relaxation has two primary benefits:
- Making you aware of the tension and helping you to relax. Through this technique, you first tense and then relax a particular group of muscles. It teaches you to recognize tension. That way, when it occurs in your daily life, you can take a moment to release it. This prevents tension from building up throughout the day.
- The technique also leaves your body entirely relaxed. This is a great way to reduce tension and make you feel both physically and mentally relaxed. People who regularly perform these exercises often report that they have less anxiety, less trouble sleeping, less tension, an improved sense of well-being, and even lower blood pressure.
Although progressive muscle relaxation was designed as a general relaxation technique, it can also be highly beneficial for people who suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders. As you likely know, insomnia and anxiety are often closely linked. If you find that your difficulty sleeping is related to feelings of stress or anxiety, this technique may be particularly helpful for you.
Practicing progressive muscle relaxation before going to bed will help you to feel relaxed and ease any feelings of restlessness that may be keeping you up. Reducing the tension in your body can be very helpful in falling asleep more easily. Many people also find that going through these exercises helps them to clear their minds.
Progressive Relaxation Techniques
Progressive muscle relaxation is a relatively simple exercise. You can do it on your own, or you can find a CD or video to guide you. There are plenty of videos and audio recordings available for free online if you prefer to have guidance. A single session should only take around 15 minutes. You can do it at any time you’d like to relax. This may be as a break during a stressful part of your day, or you may want to practice it before going to bed.
Before starting the exercises, you’ll want to be wearing loose and comfortable clothes. Then you’ll want to choose a space that will not distract you. This may mean turning off the lights and making sure all electronics are turned off. Next, lie down in a space where you are comfortable. If you want to practice the technique right before going to sleep, you can do it right in your bed.
The process of these exercises will take you through your entire body. You’ll focus on one group of muscles at a time. Depending on how much time you have and how thorough you want to be, you can focus on individual muscles or small groups of muscles. For instance, you might work on your entire face at once, or you might separate your face into the forehead, nose, lips, cheeks, and jaw. It may be a good idea to try different variations to find what works best for you.
As you move through each muscle group, you’ll first tense each muscle and then consciously relax it. The tension only needs to last for about 5-10 seconds. Then you can give yourself about 20-30 seconds to relax your muscles. Some people like to visualize the stress and tension flowing out of their body as they relax. Make sure that you breathe steadily as you go through all of your muscles. By the end of a session, the muscles throughout your entire body should be relaxed.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script
There are many scripts available that you can follow for progressive muscle relaxation. Feel free to experiment and find one that works best for you. The following is an example of a script that you can follow.
Curl your toes tightly, and then relax them.
Tense your feet by pivoting your ankles inwards, and then relax.
Tense both of your thigh muscles by squeezing your legs together tightly, and then relax.
Tense your hips and buttocks by squeezing your buttocks. Then relax.
Arch your back so that it rises up off the floor slightly, and then relax.
Tense your stomach by clenching your abdominal muscles. Then relax.
Take a deep breath and tighten your chest, then relax as you breathe out slowly.
Tense your shoulders by pulling them up to your ears. Then relax and bring them back down.
Bend your elbows and clench your biceps (like you’re trying to show off your muscles), and then relax.
Hold your arms out straight and push forward as if you are pushing against a wall. Then relax.
Hold your hands in tight fists, and then release them, letting your fingers rest naturally.
Frown severely to tense up your mouth, jaw, and cheeks. Then allow your lower face to relax back into a neutral expression.
Close your eyes tightly, then open them slowly (you don’t need to open them all the way). Allow your eyes to relax.
Raise your eyebrows up to wrinkle your forehead. Then slowly lower them back down to fully relax your face. Allow yourself to lay still for another minute, breathing slowly, feeling how relaxed your body is.
Autogenic Training for Sleeping Well
Trouble sleeping is often tied to stress and this can become a self-generating spiral. The more you worry about not sleeping, the more stressed you become, and the harder time you have falling asleep.
It’s a vicious cycle that often requires addressing the root problem of stress. Autogenic training is a relaxation technique that many people have used successfully to cure their sleep problems. It takes time to master, so it may not be for everyone.
What Is Autogenic Training?
Autogenic training is a kind of relaxation technique that was developed in Germany in the 1930s. The goal of the training is to teach your body to relax at your command. The technique involves six short sessions that aim to create deep relaxation. During each session, the practitioner gets into a comfortable position (such as reclining or lying down) and using visualization techniques to relax the body.
As you progress through the exercise, you create a warm and heavy feeling throughout your body, which creates a feeling of deep relaxation. When working properly, autogenic training will lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate, and actually promote a healthy immune system and digestion. These effects are what makes it helpful for treating anxiety and other stress-related problems including sleep disorders.
Cortisol and Stress
For many people, stress is very closely tied to their sleep problems. Stress elevates the level of the hormone cortisol in your body, which in turn releases energy. This can make it very difficult to fall asleep and sleep soundly. Autogenic Training can help you to reduce stress in both the short and long term. You can practice a session immediately before bed to relax your body before trying to fall asleep.
If you are committed to practicing autogenic training in the long term, you’ll find that it will help you to cope with your general stress and with how you respond to stressful situations. This can improve not only your sleep, but your general health and wellbeing.
The main downside to autogenic training is that it takes a long time to learn. The sessions themselves are short: only about 15 minutes. However, to actually master the technique usually takes months. Johannes Heinrich Schultz, who created autogenic training, said that the technique should take a year to fully master. Today, many teachers and online courses have condensed the principles of autogenic training and claim that it can be learned in three to six months.
If you want to use autogenic training, you’ll need to commit to practicing it on a regular basis for a few months before you start to get substantial results. The process of learning is fairly simple. You can find a teacher in person, or there are many resources and session guides available online. A typical session only takes about 15 minutes, and you’ll typically practice six sessions a day. You’ll get into a comfortable pose and repeat relaxing phrases to calm different part of your body.
You might start by focusing, for example, on just one leg. After a few days of practice, you’ll move on to the other leg. It’s a slow and thorough system that teaches your body to react to your cues. For some people, this drawn-out system is not effective. If you are patient and can commit to focusing on daily sessions for a good length of time, you may find that autogenic training significantly helps your sleeping problems.
7. Therapeutic Cognitive Sleep Strategies
Specific Cognitive Techniques
This is one of the major therapeutic components of sleep therapy. It aims to teach patients to alter dysfunctional sleep-related cognitions, identifying those unwanted and replacing them with more adaptive elements. Among these cognitive sleep strategies are:
- Paradoxical intention aims to increase certain symptoms in order to decrease their power. Instead of trying to fall asleep you try to stay awake. Remember how children try to stay awake, but fall asleep. Your fear for not falling asleep decreases when that is not what you are aiming at.
- Cognitive restructuring aims to teach the patient to identify and replace irrational beliefs with more constructive ones. It has shown its effectiveness in multi-component treatments.
We could also add meditation, but that is a general lifestyle technique that does not have a real focus on sleep, but could reduce stress and enhance focus. I would not use meditation to fall asleep, it's a practice that has to been done for itself.
Stress When Not Falling Asleep
One of the challenges of sleep disorders is that the longer they go on, the more worked up about them you get. This, in turn, makes you more stressed, making it even more difficult to sleep. There are a number of therapies under the umbrella of cognitive-behavioral therapies that aim to solve this problem by changing the way you perceive sleep. One of these therapies is called paradoxical intention, and its goal is to enable you to confront your anxiety about insomnia and eliminate the anxiety you feel around falling asleep.
What Is Paradoxical Intention?
In general, paradoxical intention is a therapeutic technique that helps a patient to engage in his or her most feared behavior. While this may seem counterintuitive, the goal is to reduce the fear of that behavior by confronting it. When it comes to insomnia and other sleep disorders, the target fear is not being able to fall asleep. If you suffer from insomnia, you’ve probably spent many nights trying to get asleep. As you’ve spent longer and longer unable sleep, you probably find yourself getting frustrated and worked up. This can make it even harder.
Using paradoxical intention, you confront the fear of not being able to fall asleep by staying awake. Instead of actively trying to fall asleep, you passively stay awake. Some psychologists believe that sleep disorders are related to a kind of performance anxiety. You know that you’re trying to sleep, and you feel a lot of pressure to do so. By not putting any effort into falling asleep, you can relieve that pressure. The goal is that you eventually accept being calmly awake as a suitable alternative to quickly falling asleep. This takes away the pressure of attempting to go to dreamland, which paradoxically makes it easier to sleep.
How Can You Use Paradoxical Intention?
Most people work with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or physician to use paradoxical intention. One of these professionals can help you to get in the right mind frame to tackle your fear. You’ll learn how to stop trying to get sleeping in an effective way. You may try using this mind trick on your own, but you may have the best chance of success when working with a professional. The therapy has been found to be generally successful when done thoroughly, and it doesn’t have any side effects. If other approaches aren’t helping to relieve your sleep problems, it may be worth trying.
Therapy Is Useful For Insomnia
If you struggle with insomnia, you probably know that the causes can be both physical and mental. For this reason, many kinds of sleep therapy use cognitive techniques, which work to reshape the way you think. Cognitive therapy is used as a part of psychotherapy for many kinds of problems, including anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
The goal is to identify the thinking patterns behind these issues and change dysfunctional elements on those thoughts. Because you’re fixing thinking patterns at their root, this therapy can provide a lasting solution. One of the most popular kinds of cognitive therapy and one that has proved effective for insomnia is cognitive restructuring.
What Is Cognitive Restructuring?
Cognitive restructuring is the process of identifying and contesting irrational thought processes (usually called cognitive distortions). Irrational thought processes include things such as black and white thinking, emotional reasoning, and magnification. These and other mental distortions are tied to a number of mental disorders. These irrational thoughts usually occur automatically.
The goal of restructuring is for the patient to identify these problems and then learn to dispute them with rational thoughts. It can be completed alone or with the help of a psychotherapist, and it can incorporate multiple techniques. The therapist and patient may use thought recording and labels of distortions to identify problematic thoughts. They may use pro/con lists and lists of rational alternatives in order to help the patient overcome the distorted thinking.
Cognitive restructuring may also employ guided imagery, Socratic questioning, or other methods to be effective. The therapy helps the patient to restructure their thoughts and the way they talk to themselves. That should help to repair their mood and alleviate the disorder they’re treating.
How Does Cognitive Restructuring Help Insomnia?
Cognitive restructuring is most helpful to relieve insomnia that is caused by anxiety. Your thoughts have a huge effect on both your emotions and your physical body, as you likely know if you suffer from anxiety. The good news about this is that, just as anxiety can negatively affect you, positive thoughts can help you to overcome many problems (this is why the placebo effect is so powerful).
If you have anxiety-related insomnia, you probably have lots of negative thoughts while trying to fall asleep. You may be worried about your inability to fall asleep, concerned about how tired you’ll feel tomorrow, or afraid that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night, for example. These negative thoughts will only make you more stressed and make it more difficult to sleep.
Cognitive restructuring helps to make you more aware of the flow of these thoughts. Once you have identified these thoughts, you can counter them with more rational, positive thoughts. These will help to unravel your stress, and over time can diminish the cause of your insomnia.
8. Natural and Alternative Sleep Remedies
Finally, many people with less complicated sleep issues find that natural sleep remedies have proven beneficial in helping them achieve a night of restful sleep. Herbal supplements or drinks for sleeping such as valerian root, chamomile, and passionflower are common choices. The most popular preference in the natural arena has been the natural melatonin hormone.
For many, these alternatives provide them the necessary means for sleeping soundly. These apparently don't have the side-effects or cost-prohibitive problems associated with prescription sleep medication.
Holistic practitioners will often mix natural ingredients together in order to create a more powerful sleep therapy cocktail. For people wanting to find a good night’s sleep devoid of the complications or detailed rituals that many of the above choices provide, you may find that these natural substitutes are the perfect sleep therapy for your restless nights.
On the other side, I don't like the idea of taking a supplement for sleeping, so I prefer to never use any of those. A camomile tea for winding down with a warm drink before going to bed is as far as I would go in this area. I prefer to handle the cause and not attack the symptoms. When in doubt talk to a medical professional to assess the gravity of your condition and possible sleep solutions.
Therapeutic Sleep Solutions Can Help
In summation, depending on the severity of an individual’s sleep issue, there are many valuable tools available that can assist with recovering from it. Given that sleep problems can increase as we age it is best to take command of the problem as soon as possible. This variety in effective sleep solutions available can assist in your recovery and help you on your way toward a much more restful sleep.
- Rosenberg S., R. Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day. Demos Health, 2014, 280 p.
- Yazdi Z., Loukzadeh Z., et al. (2016). Sleep Hygiene Practices and Their Relation to Sleep Quality in Medical Students of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences. Journal of Caring Sciences, 2016, Jun; 5(2), 153–160.
- Lie J. D., Tu N. K., et al. (2015). Pharmacological Treatment of Insomnia. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 2015, 40(11), 759-771.
- Ramsawh J. H., Bomyea J., et al. (2016). Sleep Quality Improvement During Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 2016, 14(3), 267–278.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Sam Shepards
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on August 14, 2019:
Thank you Lorna. Sleeping is one of the most important things for a human being for a healthy and optimal life (top 2-3). If people don't feel good or things aren't going that well it's one of the first things to have a look at.
Lorna Lamon on August 14, 2019:
This is a well documented article with lots of interesting facts and advice. The overall health benefits of sleeping well should never be underestimated.