Insomnia Natural Treatments

Insomnia Natural Treatments

Reviewed & edited by Dr. Jeffrey C. Lederman, DO, MPH and Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP

Insomnia is medically defined as the inability to obtain the proper rest needed for adequate functioning throughout the day[1]. Insomnia may often present as a symptom of an underlying medical condition, be traced back to lifestyle habits, mental or emotional disturbances, or linked to a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm — the natural 24-hour clock that has been observed in humans, plants, animals, and cyanobacteria.

The following provides information on insomnia natural treatments.


Insomnia is experienced differently by those suffering from the condition, but it is marked by the inability to feel sufficiently rested, regardless of the amount of sleep acquired during the night. In some individuals, insomnia and its symptoms follow a night of restless tossing and turning but for others, insomnia sets in despite six or seven hours of sleep.

Unfortunately, insomnia can affect individuals at any age. It is estimated that 30%-50% of the population is affected by insomnia at some point in their lives, and 10% suffers from chronic insomnia.[2]

There are many medical conditions that can cause insomnia like Sleep Apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome.  These diagnoses often go undiagnosed for many years and a discussion initially with someone who can monitor your sleep may lead to a discussion with a medical clinician for further testing.

How Insomnia Feels

Common symptoms of insomnia include difficulty in falling or remaining asleep throughout the night, feelings of exhaustion throughout the day, an inability to focus, feelings of anxiety or of being “on edge,” intestinal distress, tension headaches, and dizziness.

Prolonged insomnia can lead to inner ear disturbances such as tinnitus, or persistent migraines. Long-term insomnia is also linked with an increased risk for heart disease, certain types of cancer, and automobile related accidents. Moreover, insomnia can be both a symptom and a sign of an underlying medical condition.

How Insomnia is Conventionally Treated

Treatment for insomnia may be sought through a psychologist, physician, counselor, or social worker. Because of insomnia’s complex nature, treatment will vary from individual to individual. Conventional treatment often suggested by physicians includes the use of prescription drugs. Some commonly prescribed drugs used to treat insomnia include Ambien (zolpidem), Lunesta (eszopicilone), Rozerem (ramelteon), Sonata (zaleplon), and Silenor (doxepin).

However, prescription pills, along with over-the-counter sleep aids, should not be taken unless a doctor is consulted and a full seven to eight hours of sleep is possible or individuals may potentially experience morning grogginess and other side effects. Many of the conventional sleeping medications may only be prescribed temporarily, as they can be habit forming.

Struggling with insomnia is extremely difficult and the frustration, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness that insomnia brings can push even the strongest personality to their breaking point. The good news for insomnia sufferers is that there is hope beyond temporary medication. There are many holistic therapies available for treating insomnia that can help improve your health and well-being.

Holistic Healing for Insomnia Sufferers

A holistic approach to treating insomnia focuses on the individual and not just the symptoms. Holistic therapies address the mind, body, and emotions. This multi-prong approach is effective for treating insomnia because insomnia’s root can often be traced back to emotional disturbances, stress, and/or depression. By treating the whole person and not just the symptoms of sleep deprivation, holistic and natural therapies provide a comprehensive approach for handling insomnia and renewing a natural sleep cycle. Some of these holistic therapies include Behavioral Therapy, Relaxation Techniques, Acupuncture and Acupressure, Yoga and Meditation, and Biofeedback.

Behavioral Therapy

One of the most effective behavioral therapies for insomnia is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, otherwise known as CBT-I, addresses sleep habits, scheduling patterns, and thoughts and emotions that may be keeping you from much needed restorative rest. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works through several techniques in which a CBT-I clinician will document sleep assessments, have the individual record a sleep journal to track sleep patterns and habits, and provide information on techniques like Sleep Restriction Therapy, Stimulus Control, and Sleep Hygiene. Each of these techniques are designed to help reprogram the brain and negative sleep patterns that have developed over time. One of the major benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the self-empowerment it provides, especially when it comes to relapse prevention. While CBT-I will take time and effort, rewards include gaining valuable knowledge and key practices that can help combat against recurring insomnia.

Relaxation Techniques

Individuals suffering from insomnia often have an impaired ability to relax. The mind races, the body is restless, the breath is irregular, and a continual series of mental and physical irritations prevents the onset of sleep. Relaxation techniques specifically designed to soothe tight muscles, increase regular respiration and clear the mind are particularly useful to stave off insomnia. Common relaxation techniques include deep abdominal breathing, meditation, and exercises that will relax each muscle group before bed and during the night.

Acupuncture & Acupressure

Founded on the concept of removing blockages in mental, physical, and emotional life force and energy, acupuncture is the science and art of restoring the balance of natural energy to the body. Developed within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this form of therapy has proven useful in alleviating numerous conditions and disorders. Similarly, acupressure promotes physical, mental and emotional healing. As insomnia oftentimes reflects a disturbance to the body’s natural sleep cycle called the circadian rhythm, acupuncture and acupressure are highly effective forms of treatment to restore sleep.

Restorative Yoga & Meditation

The mind-body practices of Restorative Yoga and Meditation work hand-in-hand with holistic therapies like Biofeedback and relaxation techniques.


Biofeedback is a non-invasive way to monitor your body’s relaxation levels and in turn, mentally manipulate your heart rate, blood pressure, and other physiological responses. Utilizing biofeedback as a holistic treatment of insomnia subscribes to the belief of “mind over matter.” In a typical biofeedback session, sensors are attached to the patient to record the presence of muscle tension, heart rate, breathing rate, and hand temperature. The visual, and sometimes audio, recording of the fluctuating physiological responses helps the patient to recognize and become familiar with their stress and subsequently practice relaxation techniques to alter their responses accordingly.

In a Biofeedback session, a patient may notice sweaty palms, increased heart rate, and faster breathing when asked to recall an unpleasant situation. In doing so, the patient will witness the rise and fall of stress levels in their systems by releasing their muscles and taking slow, deep breaths while watching the monitor. This mental recognition allows the insomnia sufferer to have greater control over their bodily stress responses, empowers the patient, and teaches them relaxation practices to employ as they seek sleep in the comfort of their own bedtime routine.

Holistic Lifestyle Changes

Holistic lifestyle changes are extremely powerful when taking action to relieve insomnia. By following sleep hygiene practices, creating and adhering to a routine daily schedule, and employing tried-and-true holistic therapies such as aromatherapy and blue light therapy, the active education of sleep is possible without the aid of medication.

Common aspects of sleep hygiene include:

Holistic Diet & Nutrition

In addition to making schedule changes and practicing sleep hygiene techniques, there are also several diet and nutrition modifications that can be made to promote better sleep. There are a host of wholesome foods that contain melatonin, a naturally occurring chemical that has been found to help induce sleep. Alternatively, there are also caffeinated foods and beverages that should be avoided as when seeking to improve insomnia

Eliminate Sources of Caffeine

Nutritious Sleep

The addition of certain foods to your diet can help induce or sustain much needed sleep for proper daily functioning.

Products & Equipment

Community Resources

Living with insomnia does not have to become a lifetime of insomnia. From aromatherapy to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to adjustments in diet, schedule, and mindset, an array of treatment options exist that can bring relief and rest. Insomnia sufferers can take heart in the knowledge that there are many actions to take today for a good night’s rest tomorrow. If insomnia persists, there are numerous resources available for treatment including therapists, holistic providers and sleep centers.

National Sleep Centers

Community resources and social support provide a much-needed avenue of encouragement for insomnia sufferers Sleep centers are available nationwide to conduct a host of assessments and sleep studies and enable insomnia sufferers to better understand their natural sleep rhythms and potential insomnia triggers. Led by specialists and physicians, a local sleep center will be able to provide a deeper understanding of the insomnia‘s root cause, provide a care plan, and oversee the recommended course of treatment. A list of national sleep centers can be found at Sleepfoundation.org.

Updated: March 2014

Written by Kristin Accorsi
Reviewed & edited by Julie Cerrato

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