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Treatment for insomnia

2-minute read

In most people, insomnia goes away naturally without any need for treatment. The first step in overcoming insomnia is to learn healthy sleep habits and change any lifestyle factors that may be contributing to the problem.

Tips for healthy sleep

  • Have a regular sleep routine: try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Cut out caffeine, nicotine and alcohol - or at least reduce them - and limit your lattes to mornings only.
  • It may help to reduce or stop some types of prescription medicines, but only under the guidance of a doctor.
  • Get regular exercise, but not in the evening.
  • Avoid daytime naps.
  • Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dark and not overheated.
  • Avoid TV or computer screens in the bedroom or for an hour before bed.
  • If you can’t sleep, go to another room and do a quiet activity until you feel tired and then try again.
  • Do something relaxing before bed.

Relaxation techniques

Learning to relax before bed can help you let go of worries and prepare your body for sleep. Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can be useful techniques before sleep

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is usually the first line of treatment if sleep strategies and relaxation are not effective. CBT, a treatment based on the idea that how you think and act affects how you feel, is usually provided by a psychologist and can be done individually or in a group. CBT is effective for insomnia, anxiety and depression.


In the case of chronic insomnia where other methods have not helped, doctors may prescribe medication. This can be useful for a short period of time. However, long-term medication use can cause addiction and may have side effects. These could include night wandering, agitation, excessive drowsiness, impaired thinking, balance problems or allergic reactions.

You may also be referred to a sleep specialist or clinic, who may suggest a sleep study to understand what could be causing your poor sleep.

Other treatments

  • Light therapy: the use of bright lights can change the internal body clock and improve sleep
  • Sleep restriction: this method reduces your sleep hours, causing sleep deprivation; once sleep has improved the sleep hours can return to normal.

If there is an underlying cause for the insomnia, such as sleep apnoea, a doctor may recommend investigations and other treatment.

Last reviewed: July 2017

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