I’m sure this post will raise some anxiety if I dismiss an insomnia treatment that happens to work for you. I’m sorry, but as you’ll read later, I wonder if it’s really doing anything.
I generally put most primary insomnia treatments (secondary insomnia is a whole other thing) into one of five categories:
- Cognitive Behaviour Training – including things like sleep hygiene, yoga, isochronic tones, meditation – pretty much anything that you do as opposed to what you take.
- Pharmaceuticals – Anything you have to have a prescription for, which changes country-to-country, but generally anything you need a doctors note to buy in the USA.
- Over-The-Counter – Sleep drugs you can buy over the counter in the USA. It might be something completely unrelated to sleep, but it works (eg: Benedryl).
- Supplements would be things we would naturally eat or manufacture, but taking them in higher doses. Calcium, magnesium or melatonin would be included here.
- Herbal Remedies – These are probably the sleep potions your grandmother would recommend – things like Lavendar, Kava Root, Valerian Root, Tart Cherry – the list is very, very long.
An interesting aside from this is that my opinion seems to be shared by a majority of insomniacs. Consumer Reports did a survey of 12,000 people about what worked and what didn’t as far as sleep was concerned. And my results mimic theirs precisely.
My Sleep and Insomnia Remedy Conclusions
Based on trying nearly everything you can to try to get (and stay) asleep at night, and having given most of them at least a week or two to start working (often much, much more), I can say the following. Note that these are my experiences, and your mileage may vary. But I’m pretty typical.
- Cognitive Behaviour Training, or CBT, is the best of the lot. It has no side effects, and has the best long-term results. I associate all the improvement in my sleep to CBT. Note that this isn’t one thing, it’s many things. Regular schedules, limiting TV, managing light, learning to wind-down, they’re all habits with me now, and I regularly get 5-7 hours of sleep a night.
- Pharmaceuticals work as well. Some of them. I tried the “non-addictive” stuff like Trazadone with no effect. When I tried benzodiazepines, they worked well at first, but lost efficacy after a short while. For the infrequent night, the heavy duty drugs (including the newer non-benzodiazepines like Ambien) work well. But they have side effects like deep sleep supression or next day drowsiness. Sometimes the side effect outweighs any benefit.
- Over The Counter remedies like Tylenol PM, Nyquil, and Benedryl work (not quite as well as the pharmaceuticals, but they work) but have similar next-day drowsiness side effects like the pharmaceuticals. The advantage here is that they are generally deemed “safe” for most people and you don’t need a prescription. It’s easy to become dependent on these products, too … so be careful. Occasional use should be just fine.
- Supplements are a bit harder to measure. I believed for a while that taking supplemental calcium and magnesium improved my sleep because when I stopped (why?), my sleep suffered. Alas, sleep has returned to normal sans the supplements so I can conclude that they weren’t a part of the process. I’ve had no luck at all with melatonin, although some swear by it.
- I’ve listed herbal remedies last here for a reason. They come last on the Consumer Reports findings as well. Overall, they are all poorly tested in any kind of controlled experiment – and when they are, the results are barely better than statistical noise. But back to CBT for a second – it could be that people who believe that the herb is doing something, actually experience an effect. The placebo effect has been proven. So this could simply be that!
So there you have it – Sleeping Potions in a nutshell.
The very best one isn’t a potion at all.
“Sleep is all in your head”…