Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Seeing a therapist who specializes in insomnia might help 70 to 80 percent of people with chronic insomnia, often providing a “cure.” (Pills treat the symptoms.) To find a sleep center where CBT is offered, call the American Academy of Sleep Medicine at 630-737-9700 or go to www.sleepcenters.org. Ask your insurer about coverage.
Exercise. A study of more than 3,000 adults, published in December in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, found that 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity, such as running, improved sleep quality by as much as 65 percent.
Treat the causes
If you often have trouble sleeping or wake up tired, talk with your doctor about whether one of the conditions described below might be causing the problem.
Sleep apnea. Symptoms of this disorder include frequent, loud snoring. It can cause breathing to stop for 10 seconds or longer throughout the night, disrupting sleep and increasing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, mood and memory problems, and driving accidents. Shedding excess pounds can alleviate it in some cases. Avoiding alcohol, smoking and sedating medication can also help, as can sleeping on your side. In moderate and severe cases, the most effective treatment is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, which involves using a mask that blows air into your throat to keep the airways open. Dental appliances that reposition the lower jaw and tongue might help in mild cases.
Restless legs syndrome. The condition, marked by a strong urge to move your legs, worsens in the evening and when you’re lying down, and is often accompanied by leg-jerking before sleep. To manage symptoms, take daily walks and avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Before bedtime, do calf stretches, take a hot bath, massage your legs or do relaxation exercises.
Frequent nighttime urination. This is the No. 1 cause of insomnia among older adults, because aging bodies produce less of a hormone that enables people to retain fluid. But multiple bathroom calls might also signal uncontrolled diabetes, prostate enlargement, sleep apnea or a urinary tract infection, so talk with your doctor. Limit your consumption of liquids two hours before bedtime, especially alcohol, citrus juices and drinks with caffeine or artificial sweeteners.