Treatment options for insomnia 

Treatment
Pros
Cons

Self-help

Good sleep habits

Simple measures to help you get a good night's sleep, such as having fixed times for going to bed and waking up

  • Simple measures you can use at home 
  • Can be effective for some people within a few weeks 
  • Doesn't involve taking medication, so there's no risk of side effects 

 

  • Don't work for everyone
  • May not be suitable for people with long-term insomnia 

Cognitive and behavioural treatments

Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)

A talking therapy specifically designed for people with insomnia

  • Can lead to long-lasting improvements in sleep
  • Doesn't involve taking medication, so there's no risk of side effects 
  • Uses fairly simple techniques, such as relaxation training, to help improve your sleep 
  • Requires several weeks of treatment
  • Usually only recommended if you've had sleep problems for more than four weeks
  • Availability is fairly limited

 

Medication

OTC sleeping tablets

Over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping tablets available to buy from pharmacies

  • Available without prescription
  • May be useful if used very occasionally 
  • Not recommended as a long-term solution
  • Evidence for their effectiveness is limited
  • Don't tackle the underlying cause of the insomnia
  • Can cause side effects such as drowsiness that continues into the following day
Benzodiazepines

Prescription medicines that can help reduce anxiety and promote calmness, relaxation and sleep

  • Can be a useful short-term treatment for insomnia
  • May help ease the symptoms of severe or persistent insomnia
  • Only available on prescription
  • Not recommended as a long-term solution
  • Don't tackle the underlying cause of the insomnia
  • Can become less effective over time
  • Can lead to dependency
  • Can cause drowsiness that continues into the following day
  • May cause a wide range of other side effects, such as difficulty concentrating and feeling emotionally numb
Z-drugs

Newer prescription medicines that work in a similar way to benzodiazepines

  • Can be a useful short-term treatment for insomnia
  • May help ease the symptoms of severe or persistent insomnia 

 

  • Only available on prescription
  • Not recommended as a long-term solution
  • Don't tackle the underlying cause of the insomnia
  • Can become less effective over time
  • Can lead to dependency
  • Can cause drowsiness that continues into the following day
  • May cause a wide range of other side effects, such as diarrhoea and confusion
  • Can lead to increased risk of falls in the elderly
Melatonin (Circadin)

Medication containing melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle

 

 

  • Can be effective in relieving insomnia in older people 
  • Can be used for up to 13 weeks at a time
  • Side effects are less common than with other sleeping tablets  
  • Only available on prescription
  • Only licensed for people who are aged 55 or over
  • Not recommended as a long-term solution
  • Doesn't tackle the underlying cause of the insomnia
  • Possible side effects include headaches, cold-like symptoms, back pain and joint pain

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