Ways to overcome insomnia without antidepressants

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD
Aug 5, 20215 min read
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If you can’t remember the last time you had a good night’s sleep and you find yourself tossing and turning until the early hours of the morning, you are not alone. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, and some studies suggest that it may affect up to 33% of the population. When neglected, insomnia can have long-lasting effects on physical and mental health. It can be caused by several factors, including stress, medication, and an irregular sleep schedule. Researchers have identified three types of insomnia:

  • Transient (lasts for up to one week)
  • Acute (lasts for up to a month)
  • Chronic (difficulty sleeping for at least 3 nights a week, lasting for at least three months)

Although insomnia can affect anyone, Spielman’s 3 P’s Model of Insomnia proposes that predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors contribute to chronic insomnia. Predisposing factors may include things that are out of our control, like genetics; it is important to note that, although there is not much that can be done about predisposing factors, they usually cannot cause insomnia on their own. Precipitating factors can be classified as the short-term or serious stressors that lead to the first few restless nights, such as fighting an illness like a bad cold or a traumatic experience. Perpetuating factors are those habits that are developed as a result of precipitating factors to cope with the first days or weeks of sleepless nights.

Depending on the severity, insomnia can be treated in a variety of ways. For example, a person with transient insomnia can usually find relief if they adjust their sleeping schedule or eliminate distractions before bedtime. For more severe cases of chronic insomnia, doctors may prescribe antidepressants, hypnotics, or benzodiazepines. The most common medications used are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Citalopram, Fluoxetine, Paroxetine, and Sertraline. Prescribing these medications for insomnia is often ineffective and has long-term side effects.

Why do doctors prescribe antidepressants for insomnia?

Doctors may prescribe antidepressants for insomnia because they tranquilize the brain for a short period of time and balance the chemicals that are responsible for regulating mood. However, as many patients discover, the effects of antidepressants are short-lived, as they don’t treat the root cause of insomnia and instead focus only on the symptoms.

What’s more, the antidepressants prescribed for depression (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants) have a long list of side effects that includes:

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Low sex drive
  • Upset stomach

In the first weeks, antidepressants may also cause significant changes in behavior, including depressive and suicidal thoughts, especially in patients under the age of 25.

Alternatives to prescription medication for insomnia

If you have had an unpleasant experience with antidepressants, or you want to avoid the side effects linked to antidepressants, there are cures for insomnia without drugs. These non-pharmacological methods can help you restore regular sleeping patterns without the side effects while targeting the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms:

  • Exercise. Research has shown that up to 83% of people who engage in regular exercise report better sleep quality.
  • Antihistamines. Over-the-counter antihistamines used to treat allergies have sedative properties that induce drowsiness, and that can help patients with acute and transient insomnia fall asleep faster.
  • Meditation and yoga. A scheduled meditation routine helps to change how you relate to stress and worry, which will implicitly help with sleep. Structured relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, and yoga, will allow for you to improve on how you deal with stress and worry.

Why CBT-I may be the best treatment for insomnia

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a form of talking therapy that focuses on the idea that how we think, our habits, and our emotions are connected and influence one another. By challenging our thoughts, changing habits, and being more accepting of feelings, we can alleviate mental suffering. This modern approach to psychotherapy has been clinically proven to treat many mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and substance abuse; according to the American Academy for Sleep Medicine, the American College of Physicians, and the European Sleep Research Society, it can also be effective in treating insomnia.

CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) focuses on the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that maintain insomnia, such as worrying that you’re not getting enough sleep before going to bed, or being frustrated that lack of sleep may be causing you health issues. The goal of CBT-I is to help you go to bed without these feelings of anxiety and frustration and fall asleep effortlessly, just like a person who doesn’t have insomnia. In clinical trials, 80% of people with insomnia who have undergone CBT-I reported better sleep in the end.

Dawn is a safe, step-by-step, evidence-based program that uses CBT-I to transform your sleep and regain your ability to sleep naturally. Backed by scientific research and many success stories, Dawn offers a personalized sleep plan, tracks your sleep each night, and puts you in touch with a sleep coach who answers your sleep-related questions and keeps you accountable.

To learn more about how to effectively treat your insomnia without medication and why Dawn is the right choice for you, please fill out this form to start your journey to a restful night’s sleep!

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty practice in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Areas of expertise include insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Dr. Ehrnstrom is not a medical provider and is not providing any recommendations regarding medications. Rather, she is sharing and reviewing the research as it relates to education when learning how best to treat insomnia.

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