The Sleep Aid Epidemic – How to Treat Insomnia Without Pills

Sleep aid

According to the CDC, on any given night approximately 9 million Americans use sleep aid devices to help them fall asleep or stay asleep. Pharmaceutical users often report unexpected stress, sickness or chaotic schedules for occasional use. For those who are reliant on sleep aid devices, underlying psychological and medical conditions that prevent the natural process of sleep from occurring often go unrecognized and untreated. While sleep aid devices may provide some real, albeit temporary, relief for those with actual sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome and insomnia, the continued reliance on these medications, which do not primarily address the root cause for insomnia, may perpetuate a cycle of unwanted dependence.

So, what are some ways on how to treat insomnia?


We’ve all had that thought, “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll have exactly 6 hours and 32 minutes until my alarm goes off.” In reality, sleep is a neural process that is not immediate nor under your direct control, similar to temperature regulation or your appetite. Insomnia is the most common sleep-related symptom reported by patients, and one of the most prevalent sleep disorders affecting approximately 30-40% of Americans each year. When insomnia becomes a recurrent or chronic problem it is often associated with anxiety about sleep that perpetuates the ongoing struggle. As insomnia sufferers contend with unwanted sleepless nights, they usually accentuate the problem by becoming active, doing housework, watching TV, using their computers or eating. In particular, exposure to blue-green light emitting devices is known to not only activate the brain for wakefulness, but also to inactivate your natural drive for sleep. What’s more, Insomnia is largely associated with stress and depression, which are symptomatic of anxiety disorders, making it difficult to differentiate between cause and effect.

To complicate matters even more, in our studies on how to treat insomnia, we found that it often comes paired with other sleep disorders like restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea. Having one or more of these other disorders on top of insomnia makes the battle for sleep that much more difficult. Consequently, individuals suffering with untreated sleep disorders and the symptom of insomnia often receive a medication to boost the drive for sleep, but remain sleep deprived due to the unaddressed sleep disorder. This, obviously, isn’t the best answer on how to treat insomnia. Sleep deprivation impairs cognition, mood and behavior so much so that individuals often exhibit elevated levels of moodiness, forgetfulness, and slower reaction times that are equivalent to people with neurological and psychiatric diseases. This in turn presents problems at work and in relationships. As poor sleep persists, these problems begin to impact an individual’s quality of life, which is when most turn to sleep aids to cope.


For many people, sleep aid devices are just part of their routine for a good night’s rest. Unfortunately, the false sense of control that these medications provide can deter people from understanding the root cause of their sleep problem. It’s similar to when a person has a leaky pipe in their home and they use a quick-fix solution to stop it without considering the actual cause. Eventually, as a temporary sealant wears off, the pipe may burst, and flood the entire house. When people approach their sleep in the same way, they prolong the damaging effects to their health without realizing it. Those who experience sleep issues such as insomnia have a greater chance of developing certain, costly, chronic conditions down the road. This is why it’s important to identify and treat the root causes of insomnia with the help of professionals rather than relying on medication for a short-term fix. We can show you how to treat insomnia without pills.


In learning how to treat insomnia, we must understand the concept of cognitive behavioral therapy. When insomnia is properly treated, patients can experience regular, restorative sleep. Most successfully treated insomnia patients utilize a treatment known as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBTi. It consists of a structured course of thought and behavior modification concerning sleep over a few weeks with a trained practitioner. Those undergoing CBTi learn new ways to think and behave around sleep. CBTi incorporates behavioral methods that allow individuals to create new routines and personalized environments that stimulate their natural sleep process. The purpose of CBTi is to train the brain and its physiological responses so that the natural process of sleep can return without the recurring use of sleep aids.

Over time, those utilizing CBTi achieve longer, more restorative sleep on a consistent basis, without unwanted side effects or issues of medication dependence. In short-term studies comparing CBTi to the use of sleep aids, CBTi is as effective at restoring sleep as medications. The additional benefit of CBTi is noted when the two methods are compared over time. In a study comparing CBTi with sleep aids, subjects treated with CBT-i showed a 55% reduction in wake time after falling asleep compared to a 46.5% reduction seen in the pharmacotherapy group. These results were sustained in multiple follow-ups extending up to two years. In studies that compare the singular and combined use of CBTi and sleep aids, short-term benefits were equivocal for one therapy vs another, but a combination is noted to have improved initial response rates over the first 6 weeks. Those who continue using CBTi alone demonstrate significantly better long-term outcomes (67%) compared to groups using sleep aids alone or a combination (41%) at 6 months. All of this research supports the claim that learning how to treat insomnia without medication is very possible.

In May 2016, the American College of Physicians published their clinical guidelines for the treatment of insomnia in the Annals of Internal Medicine. They recommend that all patients receive CBTi as the first line of therapy for insomnia, and medication therapy be reserved for select individuals in whom the use of CBTi alone is not effective. The medical evidence and supporting recommendations are now clear for those suffering with chronic insomnia. Start by addressing the thoughts and behaviors that impede the natural process of sleep.

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  1. CDC
  2. NY Times
  3. Sleep Foundation
  4. NCBI 
  5. JAMA
  6. ACP