How to Sleep Better Without Medication
Many of those who struggle with insomnia in the United States are aware of the risks of using medication to fall asleep. While substances such as opioids and benzodiazepines are effective, they're not recommended for long-term use and can make symptoms significantly worse.
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation is emerging as a leading, low-to-no-risk therapy for people who struggle to fall asleep. This article explores the causes of insomnia, the effectiveness, benefits, and risks of CES sleep devices, and alternative non-medical interventions for sleeplessness.
What Causes Sleeplessness?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects people in a variety of ways. Some experience it as an inability to fall asleep while others wake up frequently in the night, rise too early, or don't feel rested upon waking. To meet the diagnostic criteria, symptoms must persist for at least three nights per week over a period of three months.
According to the American Sleep Association, insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the United States. Around 30% of adults struggle with short-term insomnia, and 10% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia. Per the Sleep Foundation, single parents, production-focused workers, and active duty service members are most likely to suffer from insufficient sleep.
Sleep is one of the most important functions for health, and regularly missing out on it can have serious repercussions and shorten your lifespan. Insomnia is associated with secondary conditions such as obesity, anxiety, high blood pressure, and stroke. We'll explore the health implications of not getting enough sleep later on in this article.
Types of Insomnia
There are two main types of insomnia: primary and secondary.
Primary insomnia is a standalone disorder characterized by an ongoing pattern of disrupted sleep. It's not a side effect or symptom of another condition, but the exact causes still aren't fully understood by scientists.
It can be a lifelong condition, but primary insomnia can also be triggered by stress or frequent changes to your routine, for instance, as a result of frequent travel.
Secondary insomnia is the result of, or occurs alongside, another condition, such as:
- A side effect of medication
- Depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health conditions
- Restless leg syndrome or other sleep disorders
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Hormone imbalances
- Breathing issues such as apnea and asthma
- Chronic pain
- Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other neurological disorders
- Traumatic brain injury
- Stimulants such as tobacco and caffeine
- Depressants such as alcohol and cannabis
- A sleeping environment that is noisy, bright, unsafe, or too hot or cold
- Having a partner who snores or moves a lot
- Pregnancy and having a new baby
The exact symptoms of insomnia vary from person to person, and you might experience some symptoms but not others. However, if you have difficulty falling or staying asleep, despite having sufficient time and an environment conducive to good sleep, insomnia is a likely explanation.
Other signs of insomnia include:
- Lying awake for a long time before being able to get to sleep
- Sleeping for a short period and then waking up or frequently falling asleep and waking up
- Waking up very early in the morning and not being able to fall asleep again
- Waking up feeling unrested or struggling with sleepiness during the day
- Feeling irritable, depressed or anxious during the day as a result of sleeplessness
What Are the Risk Factors of Insomnia?
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute cite the following risk factors for insomnia.
- Age: While anyone can get insomnia, older adults are more likely to struggle with the condition.
- Genetics: A family history of insomnia puts you at an increased risk of developing the condition.
- Occupational or situational risk factors: These can include working shifts or nights, noisy or bright sleeping environments, too high or low bedroom temperature, and frequent travel to different time zones.
- Medication: Antidepressants, stimulants and long-term use of depressants disrupt neurotransmitters and can lead to sleeplessness.
- Other disorders: From other sleep disorders such as apnea to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, other conditions are a common risk factor of insomnia.
- Lifestyle: Your daily habits play a key role in the onset of sleep disturbances. Inconsistent routine, a new baby, daytime napping, lack of exercise, using substances, and screen-time too close to bed are a few lifestyle factors that can impact sleep.
- Stress: People have different thresholds for stress, so while major trauma can be a cause of insomnia, day-to-day stressors might trigger it in some people.
Can Insomnia Actually Harm My Health?
Sleep is so natural and automatic, it's easy to underestimate the power it has over your well-being. Most Americans live hectic lifestyles combining hard work with family obligations, busy social lives, and unprecedented levels of screen time. With only 24 hours in a day, sleep can seem like a luxury. However, missing out on the minimum of seven hours you're supposed to sleep in each 24-hour cycle can have major health consequences.
Some of the risks of not sleeping enough include:
- Memory issues
- Difficulty concentrating
- Cardiovascular disease
- Mood disturbances
- Increased risk of alcoholism
- Weight gain
- Low libido
- Mental health problems
Insomnia can even feel like something of a superpower to someone who considers themselves highly motivated. But while you might have an extra few hours to take care of business, the quality of your output invariably suffers. Even if you're a high performer on fewer than seven hours' sleep, your health and productivity could improve significantly when you adopt a consistently healthy sleep routine.
Treatments for Sleeplessness
Pharmacists and doctors traditionally recommend sleeping pills for insomnia. In recent years, science has shown the addictive potential of many sleep aids, leading to health-conscious people seeking natural remedies for sleeplessness.
Medication was the go-to treatment for people who struggle to sleep for decades, but is now considered a last resort. Drugs such as opiates, benzos, and z-drugs contain chemicals that depress the central nervous system, leading to almost instant relief from the symptoms of insomnia. Supplements such as melatonin and gabapentin directly impact the circadian clock, also leading to fast results. That said, even the most mild sleep aids can make it harder for people to wake up, and they often lead to daytime drowsiness.
While it might be an acceptable short-term solution for some insomnia sufferers, using medication long-term is risky for a number of reasons. First, it's easy for someone who has always struggled to get to sleep to become dependent on them. When you use them daily for a period longer than a month, tolerance is likely to occur, which means you might need more to get the desired effects.
Taking large amounts of opiates, benzos, or z-drugs puts you at a high risk for addiction. And even if you don't get addicted, the disruption to your CNS could make it even harder to get to sleep than it was before you started the course of drugs. Finally, medication is an ongoing expense, which could lead to stress about finances and ultimately worsen the underlying insomnia.
How to Improve Sleep Quality Naturally
Many people with insomnia have simply accepted that it's a part of their lives, but this doesn't have to be the case. You can unlock more sleep and feel better by taking action and making self-care a priority, starting with your sleeping habits.
Individuals seeking answers about how to treat insomnia naturally can find information about evidence-backed, drug-free protocols below.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
If you're wondering how to help insomnia without medication, CBT is now considered a first-line treatment. To access it, you need to work with a licensed psychologist who's specially trained in CBT for sleeplessness. Its aim is to identify the underlying habits, anxieties, and worries that prevent you from being able to sleep.
Education about health sleep routines, strategies for stimulus control, sleep restriction and compression, and relaxation techniques are often covered by CBT practitioners. While it's low risk and effective for some people, you need to invest significant time and money into regularly seeing a therapist.
According to scientists, correcting disrupted circadian rhythm patterns through lifestyle changes can have major health benefits. Shift work, jet lag, and insomnia can lead to issues with your circadian clock, which essentially governs every function your brain and body perform.
Protocols for realigning circadian rhythms include:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
- Viewing natural light as soon as you wake up, for 5 to 10 minutes
- Viewing light during sunset for five to ten minutes
- Eating to a consistent schedule as much as possible, with breakfast at least 1 hour after waking and the last meal three hours before sleep
- Limiting light exposure (especially bright overhead lighting) for 1 hour before bed
- Limiting screen-time before bed
- Exercising to a regular schedule
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
- Using FDA-cleared devices, such as CES sleep devices
If you haven't been supporting your circadian rhythms for years, making these changes without intervention can be challenging. Instead of trying to implement every protocol at once, take a step-by-step approach.
Breathing Exercises, Meditation, and Yoga
Relaxation techniques can go a long way to reducing stress hormones and promoting restfulness. The speed and depth of your breath plays a key role in whether the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system dominates at any moment.
By paying attention to your breath and actively elongating each inhale and exhale, you promote parasympathetic activity. This branch of your CNS is responsible for decreased arousal and restfulness. Breathing exercises to try include:
- Box breathing
- 4-7-8 breathing
- Bhramari pranayama
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Alternate nasal breathing
- Buteyko breathing
- Kapalbhati breathing
Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation for Insomnia
CES sleep devices are FDA-cleared medical equipment that can improve sleep quality and improve the symptoms of chronic insomnia. They pulse mild, controlled electrical currents into specific areas in the brain to help repair imbalanced circadian rhythms. They don't require the use of any medication, and CES sleep aids are safe, with no lasting or major side effects.
In fact, with CES therapy, it's your brain that does most of the work, prompted by low-intensity currents which are sent through the device. You can use the device from the comfort of your own home, and it's completely non-invasive. By using it for 20 minutes to one hour per day over several months, you could significantly improve sleep quality.
CES is a cheaper and arguably more effective long-term alternative to medication. It's a highly effective standalone tool but can also be used safely alongside the other non-medical interventions mentioned in this article.
How to Use a CES Machine for Insomnia
Using a CES machine for sleep is simple. Follow these steps for the best results:
- Get into a comfortable position in a temperate room with low light.
- Use a conducting solution on the area you're going to apply the device, usually the temples or earlobes.
- Apply the device and relax or meditate for 20 minutes to an hour.
- Repeat daily for two weeks, and then, reduce to 2 or 3 uses per week for at least 3 months.
- Once symptoms improve, use as needed.
What is the Effect of CES?
The main effect of CES therapy for insomnia is the sense of relaxation and detachment that occurs as a result of slow-wave electrical currents. People who use the devices report feeling enveloped by a sense of gradual relaxation, which helps quiet the mind and promote sleep. Initial use often leads to mild relaxation, with peak results felt between weeks two and three.
Other effects reported by users of CES sleep aids include:
- Normalized sleep patterns
- Decreased nervousness
- Faster onset of sleep
- Feeling more rested
- Improved mood
- Fewer night waking episodes
- Diminished mood swings
- Enhanced sense of calm
Is CES Therapy for Insomnia Safe?
One of the most attractive prospects of using a CES device for sleep is the lack of health risks. While medication can wreak havoc with the chemicals that govern your CNS, cranial stimulation does the opposite. Mild tingling, minor skin irritation, and vertigo-like symptoms are the rare side effects of CES aids. Beyond these, there have been no known health issues reported by users of these devices.
Could a CES Sleep Aid Help You Sleep Peacefully?
A sleep assistant device could be the difference between a good night's sleep and another evening of restless tossing and turning. Its lack of side-effects and relative inexpensiveness compared to drug- or therapeutic-based methods make them an attractive prospect to many long-term sufferers of insomnia.
Even people who have previously found non-medical interventions to be ineffective report being impressed by the results of CES sleep devices. Of course, different protocols work best for different people, so be sure to consult your physician before undertaking any treatment for insomnia. For assistance with the appropriate equipment, get in touch with us at Caputron today.