10 Former Insomniacs Share the Trick That Finally Worked for Them
There are almost as many insomnia treatments as there are insomniacs. Here's how people with insomnia overcame their sleepless nights.
Not sleeping is no fun
Tossing and turning is misery, and it’s the kind of misery that has plenty of company: About half of American adults will battle insomnia at some point, and this sleeplessness is about twice as common in women as it is in men, reports the Cleveland Clinic. Even more frustrating is the lack of effective answers for insomnia. But with persistence—and a little inside knowledge—you can rediscover restful nights. Check out how these people found blessed relief from their insomnia.
Listen to your inner caveman
Former attorney and current health coach, Jeff Hughes, had insomnia for most of his life. It started when he was a child, and lasted well into his 30s—that was 25 years and a lot of trial-and-error insomnia fixes ago. “How did I move beyond it? Unfortunately, there was no quick fix,” he says. “I tried and tested lots of things until I developed a routine, that worked for me. The main elements included not drinking alcohol right before bed, not having caffeine in the evening, meditating regularly, and using blue-light filters on my electronic devices since blue light suppresses melatonin production,” he says. All those habits are smart sleep hygiene techniques, but for Hughes, the most important change was learning to respect his circadian rhythms. “Humans evolved to wake up when it’s light outside, and to fall asleep when it gets dark. In modern times, we create our own schedules, often staying on our electronics 24-7. My body is more comfortable with the stone age pattern and I now follow it on both weekdays and weekends,” he explains. (Here’s how light therapy for insomnia can reset your circadian rhythm.)
Combine M&Ms: meditation and melatonin
Jennifer Bright Reich, co-author of The Mommy MD Guide to Getting Your Baby to Sleep, started experiencing insomnia when her boys were five- and three-years-old. Her theory is that her newfound insomnia was caused by a very common combination of stress and perimenopause. “Ironically, when my boys were little and didn’t sleep well, I could fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Then, suddenly, I couldn’t. I started to do two things: take melatonin and listen to meditation tapes. Both worked wonders,” she says. Reich takes ten milligrams of melatonin in the form of gummy bears each night before bed, and she now has sweet dreams, instead of sleepless nights. (Watch out for these “harmless” habits that are actually causing your insomnia.)
Movement specialist Janis Isaman is committed to helping people achieve health and wellness, but when it came to her own insomnia, she was at a loss. Isaman’s tossing and turning could be partially explained by having a rib that regularly dislocates, causing her physical pain. She also experienced random periods of unexplained wakefulness that had her up for two-to-three hours a night. “I typically woke up between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. and stayed awake, unable to get back to sleep until 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. It was basically misery because at that time of night there’s nothing to do. I sometimes listened to yoga Nidra or Deepak Chopra meditations, and I sometimes read. But I also sometimes lay there, tossing and turning,” she says. Isaman’s physician finally asked her how she was sleeping after seeing how exhausted Isaman was. He suggested she try magnesium; several studies, such as one in Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, suggest the supplement can help with poor sleep. Isaman’s doctor suggested a dosage of three 100 mg. pills for her to try—and it worked. While the recommended dose for women is between 310 and 320 mg a day, a lot of people end up falling short if they miss out on whole grains and dark leafy greens. Here are some more sleep tips for people with insomnia.
Try cognitive behavioral therapy
Like many people, Mary Kaarto‘s unending bouts with insomnia left her too exhausted to exercise, or to work. An author, Kaarto found herself unable to put two words together. “For years, I was treated solely by my primary care physician, who prescribed various sleep medications. Most of them worked for a while, until my body developed a tolerance for them.” Frustrated, Kaarto turned to a board-certified sleep specialist, with little success. Then, she learned about cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) on her own and started working with a CBT therapist who specialized in insomnia. CBT is a powerful form of therapy, designed to help patients identify, and change, negative thoughts, and actions—and CBT-I is a specific short-term course of therapy for patients with insomnia. “My therapist assured me that she would make sure I was cured no matter how long it took. The confidence she had helped give me the faith, confidence, and hope I needed so desperately,” says Kaarto. She’s been sleeping soundly for more than two years, now.
Develop better daytime habits
Mary Ladd would spend sleepless nights in bed with a spouse who could sleep through anything. “My insomnia was so lonely because I could hear him sleeping in bed next to me. The fact that he could sleep through the night, and I couldn’t, reminded me that my eyeballs felt dry and tired. I begin to tally up the things I did wrong that day or stress over what I needed to do the next,” she shares. The San Francisco native dealt with feelings of anger about her insomnia, and then, was able to create a change. “What works for me is visualization—picturing myself being cocooned in a nice, fleece blanket, and meditation, to decrease stress, and anxiety.” The 43-year old mom also keeps to a solid sleep schedule, which includes waking up when her body wants to wake up instead of when an alarm clock says it’s time. “I also had to scale back on booze and caffeine—many medical folks told me that my two-to-four bowls of daily coffee may have been part of the problem,” she adds, laughing.
Keep a sleep diary
Bedtime became far less stressful for Amy George—a former insomniac—when she got some life-changing advice. “Three years ago, I spent the summer seeing a sleep doctor—a psychologist, not an MD. I didn’t want to keep relying on drugs like Ambien. She had me keep a sleep diary, so I could see that I was nodding off on the couch when I should be going to bed! She also said something I still remember: ‘Don’t put sleep on a pedestal.’ In other words, stop making it so important. Tell yourself if you lose sleep it’s OK. You’ll still function. You’ll still get through the day. Sometimes that’s what you need to do to calm down and go to sleep.”
Try essential oils
Painkillers, muscle relaxants, and anti-anxiety medications: Lynn Julian Crisci had tried them all, and none could provide relief from her 10-plus years of insomnia, following a head injury. “I could only get a few hours sleep in a row each night. Nothing helped. Last year, I tried hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a proven treatment for multiple medical issues.” With the treatment, she sat in a pressurized room filled with pure oxygen. Crisci feels confident that the treatment helped heal her brain tissue, starting her on her journey of sleeping through the night. But that’s not all she did to get the result she was hoping for. “I added CBD oil to my morning and nightly supplements. Since then, I’ve been able to sleep through the night every night and wake up rested. I live in Boston and obtained a medical marijuana card, to get the cannabis-derived CBD oil,” she explains, which she found more helpful than hemp-derived CBD. Here are 11 weird tricks that help you go to sleep.
Learn to recognize when you’re sleepy
Psychologist Sally Nazari is a well established New York therapist, but her many years of practice couldn’t hold off insomnia. “I had a significant amount of trouble falling asleep and none of the home remedies were working for more than two or three nights.” She decided to try cognitive behavioral therapy: In Nazari’s sessions, she began to recognize cues that affected the way her brain and body responded to her bedtime routine and rituals—and she began to change them to help herself wind down. “I also focused on working through the thoughts related to how I reacted to the possibility of yet another sleepless night and, instead, be more ready for a better night of rest. Without those concerns, I can more easily settle into the night and let my body’s natural sleep rhythms take over,” she adds.
Focus on work-life balance
Marketing and publicity can be high-stress pursuits. Despite knowing this, Jasmine Powers started not one, but two agencies. “I began suffering terribly with insomnia, and also had trouble eating. The anxiety from my first year of full-time self-employment and client demands made it hard to relax, so I worked around the clock. What helped was taking anti-anxiety meds, and working with higher-paying—and lower stress—clients. Now, I work part-time, balancing that with lots of time outdoors, practicing mindfulness, and aligning my sleeping times with daylight,” she explains.
Invest in a new mattress
“In my experience, it’s not just one factor that must change when you are addressing insomnia in your life,” says Hilary Thompson is a freelance writer, and former insomniac. “I was struggling at work, to keep up with demands. I got up every morning desperate for more rest. The desperation drove me to seek a solution. It turns out I had to change several things I was doing to finally get that coveted full night’s sleep,” she explains. Thompson began adopting the habits that encourage sleep: “I found that if I didn’t get enough exercise every day, my body was just not worn-down enough to go to sleep. I also gave up having caffeine later in the day. When I chose to restrict my caffeine consumption to nothing after 4:00 p.m. I was able to fall asleep at the time I wanted.” But the change that helped the most was a new mattress. “My mattress was everything. I tossed and turned a lot and was sore when I awoke. I had low back pain, and I realized that part of my insomnia was due to my inability to get comfortable. There are lots of mattresses on the market for different sleep issues and back pain. I chose a new one and added a Tempurpedic topper, and that’s what made all the difference.” Next, check out doctors’ secrets on for getting better sleep.