What Works for Insomnia

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Some of the most popular treatments for Insomnia are not necessarily the most effective, according to a new study by CureTogether, a free resource owned by 23andMe that allows people to share information about their health and treatments.


People in the study said they found that some sleep drugs and some treatments without drugs – including a dark room and exercise – were the most effective. Conversely some popular treatments such as watching TV and listening to music, were among the least effective, according to the study. Insomnia affects millions of Americans. Finding treatments that work well can be a challenge, so CureTogether asked people suffering from insomnia to rate the effectiveness of different treatments.

Rated Most Effective by People with Insomnia 1. Xanax 2. No light/dark room 3. Ativan 4. Imovane 5. Valium 6. Ambien 7. Sexual activity 8. Exercise 9. Restoril 10. Klonopin

CureTogether’s study compiled responses from 7,422 people with Insomnia, who rated the effectiveness of 93 different treatments. Among the most helpful treatments were Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. Also highly effective for those in the study were sexual activity and eliminating caffeine. Those people in the study also said St. John’s wort and valerian – both derived from plants –  were not as effective.


Where did this data come from? This is the result of a four-year CureTogether study on Insomnia, in which people suffering from the condition shared information about their symptoms and what treatments worked best for them. We’d like to thank those who participated. And just as they shared their experience with Insomnia treatments, we’re freely and openly sharing the results of the Insomnia study.


This is part of a regular series of CureTogether research findings. CureTogether’s research findings are different than those made by 23andMe, which look at genetic associations with illness, traits and drug response. But as we continue our work with the CureTogether community, 23andMe hopes to incorporate more of this kind of self-reported information into our own research. CureTogether present its findings just as they are — patient-reported data — to stimulate discussion and generate new insights for further research.

Please tweet, blog, or pass this along to anyone who can benefit or is interested in Insomnia. Thank you!
  • John McLaughlin

    Very interesting….. I wish the website (curetogether) was up….

    • Hi John,

      The folks at CureTogether are working to resolve the issue! Sorry for the inconvenience.

  • Angela Romagnoli

    The problem with this research is a big one. Those medications found most effective are seriously addictive, produce rapid tolerance; often becoming ineffective at stable doses and creating dependence due to the withdrawal symptoms which include the same symptoms being medicated in the first place. For example, long after the often transient stressful situation causing the sleep problem has been resolved, the person often will feel sick and be unable to sleep unless they take the drug. Furthermore withdrawal from high doses of benzodiazapines(Xanax(alrprozalam), Ativan(lorazepam, valium(diazepam), temazepam, etc is dangerous and can cause seizures and a host of other difficult symptoms. I work in a large psych dept as a psychiatric social worker and have seen serious addiction and dependence with these medications. Though they can be helpful for short periods or acute stress, they are not long term solutions.

  • Holly

    Interesting that the top non-prescription solution is no light/dark room followed by sexual activity and exercise. So many clock radios and other gadgets in bedroom; who would have suspected?
    …and then you have the outliers like me, who with a better understanding of unique personal chemistry, have surprising solutions to insomnia. You’ll never find my cure, branch chain amino acids, on any list of insomnia treatments. That’s because poor protein digestion causing muscle wasting causing insomnia has got to be a rare phenomenon. Always knew I was different!

  • Eric Gingras

    Unisom actually has two variations. The Unisom SleepTabs have doxylamine and the others are diphenhydramine.

  • I find this interesting, as I did with PTSD. I noticed the “listening to music”. There are so many variables in this one statement: what type, what tempo, tunes of preference, with or without lyrics? etc. etc. and one other variable: Music therapy, as in the use of a board-certified music therapist, who is trained to use the elements of music to increase function across the domains of function in a person, support strengths, help weak areas of function, etc. In many peer reviewed articles, and research out there on the efficacy of music therapy, there is much to say to the positive of the use of music therapy, (that is, the use of music within the relationship of a client (s) and a board-certified music therapist) and depression, insomnia, PTSD, etc. that I feel the reading public is not getting enough information with this blog alone. How about the person or persons contributing to this blog interview all therapies and give a good broad view, rather than a few ambiguous reports?

  • Jim

    Wow. Taking Xanax to help fall asleep? Yea, and I get chemotherapy after every time I lie out in the sun. So stupid.

  • karen

    There is a lot of buzz lately about a homeopathic aid for insomnia, Alteril. It is made of the combination of the usual ingredients that help control sleep, such as Melatonin and Valerian among others. Probably is worth trying.