Experts at UPMC’s Center for Integrative Medicine (CIM) know that insomnia is a common problem affecting nearly 30 percent of Americans.
The most common treatment for insomnia is medication, but many people don’t respond well to sleeping pills. Medication can also be habit-forming, have negative side effects, and can lose effectiveness over time. Behavioral treatments can help, but few psychotherapists have the specialized training needed to manage insomnia effectively.
According to Ronald Glick, M.D., CIM’s medical director, it’s no surprise then that insomnia is high on the list of reasons that people seek complementary therapies. Acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy, and dietary supplements are all among the complementary insomnia therapies for which research shows promise:
- Acupuncture: Certain sedating acupuncture points have been found to decrease excess energy or Qi(i.e., hyperarousal), and therefore may be helpful for insomnia. While many research studies have been inconclusive, a small trial conducted at the CIM found that in four patients treated with 12 sessions of acupuncture, all showed significant improvement in their insomnia.
- Meditation: Several studies support the sleep-related benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Among a group of 67 participants in MBSR classes at the CIM, insomnia and daytime sleepiness were significantly reduced. In a separate 2011 randomized control trial comparing meditation and the sleep medicine Lunesta®, both groups saw improvement in sleep, but at a five-month follow-up the meditative group showed slightly more improvement than the medication group.
- Massage Therapy: Massage therapy helps to boost levels of serotonin (which is converted to melatonin, the brain’s natural sleep aide) and to decrease cortisol (a stress chemical that is increased by insomnia). It can also reduce pain that prevents many people from sleeping.
- Dietary Supplements: Although there are dozens of dietary supplements that are promoted to help us sleep better, most of the research has been done on melatonin and valerian. Melatonin modestly reduces the time needed to fall asleep and may improve the quality of sleep, but doesn’t seem to increase the number of minutes that a person actually sleeps. Sustained-release melatonin may be more beneficial for maintaining sleep. Valerian root modestly decreases the time that it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep, but many find that this supplement has an unpleasant odor.
In addition, Dr. Glick and experts from the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center suggest the following guidelines to get you started on improving your sleep:
- Sleep only at night – limit naps if you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep.
- Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine after 2 p.m., and cut down on liquid intake in the evenings.
- Exercise regularly, but avoid anything too vigorous close to bed time.
- Don’t watch TV in bed.
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet; the brain only makes melatonin when it is dark.
- Hide your alarm clock.
- Try to wake up around the same time every day.
- If you still can’t sleep after a reasonable amount of time in bed, get up and read, listen to music, or engage in another quiet activity until you become tired.