How I Cured My Chronic Insomnia

by | Feb 20, 2013
Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

I don’t use the term chronic insomnia lightly. Have you ever heard of a kid who fakes naps during preschool just to placate the teacher? That was me.

Despite my parents letting me stay up to 9-10pm when I was 8-years old—way later than most of my peers (thank you Dad, you rock!)—I inevitably drove them crazy by waking up at the crack of dawn (literally) on weekends ready to kick off the day.

In high school I averaged maybe 5 hours of sleep a night. Even today I rely on the occasional Ambien to make sure I sleep through a flight or get enough rest the night before an important event.

My insomnia is multifaceted. I have trouble falling asleep because I am very sensitive to light (sometimes I joke that I have invisible eyelids). I’m also very sensitive to sounds and have difficulty getting comfortable.

Once I’m asleep, it’s also way too easy to wake me up. And once I wake up, falling back asleep in less than two hours is nearly impossible. I wake up at any hint of light entering the room, or any abnormal noise.

I’ve tried melatonin, tryptophan, St. John’s wort, camomile, kava kava and antihistamines. Most of them just make me extra miserable because I get groggy and drowsy, but still can’t fall asleep. Ambien has been the only prescription sleep aid that works for me without major side effects, but it is not for everyone and I certainly did not want to rely on it for my day-to-day sleep hygiene.

But with a combination of these techniques, I’ve been able to control my insomniac tendencies and boost my sleep to a solid seven hours a night.

9 Tips To Cure Insomnia

1. Get on a consistent sleeping schedule

This one is probably the most important. The circadian rhythms that control your sleep-wake cycle originate in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus (specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus, for you neuroscience geeks).

These neurons are sensitive to light and work to sync your biological clock to regular light-dark hours. The more consistent these are, the stronger your body will respond to natural circadian rhythms and the easier it will be to fall asleep when you’re supposed to.

2. No interactive screen time 1 hour before bed

As mentioned above, bright light can impact your circadian rhythms and staring into a computer screen late into the night can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Working and other mental activity can also keep your mind alert and prevent it from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to unplug when you’re a workaholic, but a good night’s sleep does more for my productivity than I could ever achieve in the 12th or 14th hour of my workday, so I’ve learned to disengage well before bedtime.

Though I haven’t had any problems from watching TV or a movie, it’s best to stay away from any devices that require input from you for the last hour before bed. This means you should turn off the computers, smart phones, video games and tablets, no matter how badly you want to level up. Instead, try to quiet your mind by taking a bath, reading a book, having some herbal tea, cleaning up the house, listening to music or practicing meditation.

3. Don’t eat too late

Eating close to bed time, particularly a high-calorie, heavy meal, is associated with poorer sleep quality. I’ve also noticed this in myself, and when I avoid late night eating I get better, more consistent sleep. If you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water and going to bed on an empty stomach instead. You certainly won’t starve to death.

4. Exercise daily

The best sleep I ever got was when I was marathon training at 5am every weekday before school. I fell asleep like clockwork at 10:30pm every night. It was glorious.

Heavy exercise is certainly a great way to invoke sound sleep, but even moderate activity like walking 10,000 steps each day can make a big difference in sleep quality. If you aren’t sure how much activity you’re getting, a Fitbit pedometer might be a good investment.

5. No caffeine after 1pm

This one was hard for me to believe. I’d been a heavy coffee drinker from a young age, and never thought it affected my sleep one way or another. If I was really tired during finals, coffee never seemed to help much and there were a few times when I fell asleep not too long after having a double espresso.

I’m not sure if I changed or if my sleep cycle was just so messed up that I couldn’t detect relevant differences, but now that I’ve switched to drinking mainly tea I’ve noticed that if I drink any caffeine too late in the day it is harder to fall asleep. I try not to drink coffee after 12pm, but 1pm is sometimes more realistic.

6. Use a white noise machine

My old apartment was just two doors down from a bustling freeway off ramp, and as you can imagine the traffic noise was constant. As someone who is very sensitive to noise, this posed a tremendous problem.

I’ve tried sleeping with ear plugs, but I have small ears and find them very uncomfortable. The solution that works best for me to control noise disturbances is the Sleepmate, a white noise machine that is quiet enough to ignore but drowns out most other ambient noise. This thing is a lifesaver if you’re stuck in a noisy neighborhood.

7. Black out shades or sleep mask

I realized early on that I’m sensitive to even the slightest amount of light in a room, even small ones like a laptop charging light.

If you’ve taken care of all the light sources inside your bedroom but are still bothered by light that sneaks in under the door or through the window, consider getting some black out shades or a sleep mask. The shades work great but can be expensive and kind of ugly. If you go with a mask, I find that the cheaper, less cushy ones are the most comfortable. Mine looks a lot like this one for under $2.

8. Don’t drink too much alcohol

Though a small nightcap can often help me relax and fall asleep faster, too much alcohol is proven to disturb sleep and can cause you to wake up early. If you like to party, keep in mind that it may be impacting your life in more negative ways than you think.

9 . Practice mindfulness

Though light, noise and bad habits all play a role in my sleep problems, I’m convinced that at the root of it all is a wandering mind. These other factors just add levels of distraction to my already overstimulated brain.

In our plugged in world, constant interruptions are making it progressively difficult to keep your attention on a single task long enough to get it done. For me, the nightly task that eludes me is sleep.

Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis (e.g. spending a few seconds a day focusing on my breathing or taking the time to eat a bite of food slowly with my eyes closed) gives me the power to truly relax my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep rather than letting it drift to all the things I need to get done the following day.

Mindfulness isn’t easy, but the only way to get better is through practice. Whenever you’re waiting for an elevator, standing in line, walking up stairs, taking a bite of food, take a few seconds to reflect on where you are and how your body feels. Focus on a few breaths, in and out, and get accustomed to letting go of your worries. The longer you can sustain this practice the easier it will be to let go of your problems and get a good night’s sleep.

What helps you sleep better?

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247 Responses to “How I Cured My Chronic Insomnia”

  1. Justin says:

    Why not taking 1 glass of milk with honey in the evening before you go to bed, it helps.

  2. Justin says:

    Why not taking 1 glass of milk with honey in the evening before you go to bed, it helps.

  3. Jasmine says:

    This type of meditation is also helpful so give it a try, you can find it on [link removed].

  4. Sara says:

    You can do meditation to get yourself totally relaxed, this one has helped me so much so I hope it can also do good to you, it’s available on [link removed].

  5. Jenn says:

    Insomnia is a sign of depression problem so meditation is advised to avoid it.

  6. Maddie says:

    Pills can help but only temporarily and get side effects, meditation is only a practice so it’s more interesting.

  7. Anthony says:

    What about trying this method? It worked for me so I hope it will also work for you, [link removed].

  8. Ankitaa says:

    Hello,
    I am worried about my mom. she has never been to a doctor or therapist, but I think She is in depression. she is suffering from Insomnia. I’ve tried everything to make her sleep but it doesn’t really help. she is 40 year old. Taking pills and painkillers are harmful for her as she has stomach ulcer. she also has migraine which is one of the reason she cannot sleep.Also she is obese. and she has tried everything to lose weight but nothing helps. not even exercise and diet. even if she does she has to do an intense workout and cut everything she likes out of her diet. she has been prescribed alot of medicines. she is been eating medicine since years. She is a housewife and I know she doesn’t feel good about herself. I wanna help her I don’t know how. i can’t see her in so much misery. I need advice. I need to help her. I FEEL HELPLESS.

  9. Ganesh says:

    I also wanted to share my bad experience with insomnia.

    I am 38 years old living in India and suffering from heavy chronic insomnia for the last 3-4 years, currently i am taking Quetigress (Quetiapine) 25 mg tablet for the last 1 month and prior to that was Serilept 25 mg, qutan25 as per Physciatrist’s advise. he said this is a mild dose and not to worry. for life long will i have to take these medicines?

    I am able to sleep only if i take the above Quetiapine tablet, my mind is relaxed, no tension, but still not even a single minute i am able to get natural sleep. even if i take this tablet, i have to close my eyes for atleast 15 to 25 minutes to get the sleep or else there is no sleep at all.Day by day situation is getting worse for me, earlier i was taking half tablet, now i had to take full tablet to get sleep, if i take half, i only get 4 to 5 hours of sleep and after that there is no sleep. there is no improvement rather than it’s getting complicated, sleep is a dream for me nowadays.It’s very painful and makes us depressed.

    Last month i had a pathetic experience for 2 to 3 days where i was travelling and also had to attend a function, so there was hardly 2 to 3 hours of sleep with the above medicine, the next day everyone in the family and friends were sleeping as if they were drunk or beaten, but i did not get any sleep at all, though my body is very tired, eye is tired, mind is calm, still no sleep at any time, i was completely frustuated as why iam living in this world.

    in 2012, i was getting 4 to 5 hours of sleep, in 2013, it got reduced to 2 to 3 hours, in 2014,2015 & 2016 i can only sleep with the medicines, without medicine big 0 sleep. i tried calming down myself, keeping mind relaxed, but still no sleep. tried accupuncture, auyerveda treatment, exercise, calm environment, but it did not help, last 1 month i am trying pranyama and meditation, but i still did not see any difference, don’t know what to do, i am just 38 years old. i am living artifically in this world. I am guilty to discuss this with my friends or family members, they will be disappointed too, if i tell my parents their sleep will be lost thinking of me, day by day i am going down. i have no family problem, less stressed in the office, but still no sleep for no reason.

    Side effects if i don’t take medicine – completely no sleep in the night causing – negative thoughts like suicide, blood pressure going high, eye pain, dark black circles near the eye, very tired during day, difficuly in concentrating, memory problem in the day time

    Side effects if i take medicines – day time drowysiness and very tired till atleast 11 am.

    I have only 2 choices either take medicine and feel the hangover or completely no sleep with above side effects. I choosed medicines as i have no other option, whatever happens.

    None of the doctors knows what is the root cause and permenant solution for this without medication.

    Do we have any solution or live with this pain daily?

    • Ashley says:

      Same. I either take my sleeping pills and deal with the side effects or not sleep at all. I’m not sure what the solution is. And it isn’t fair how others are able to seemingly pass out so easily!

  10. Aswin k s says:

    Hi, Madam my name is aswin ks and i am from kerala,india.I read the article about insominia. I am suffering with the insominia for the past one year. when i in tthe 12 th classes i got poor sleeps at nights due to lot of works such as preparing lab records, assignments etc.
    now i really want to ride out this insominia
    Please help 🙂

  11. Ashley says:

    I have severe insomnia that is triggered by anxiety and stress. When under periods of stress, no natural cures work. I’ve tried exercise, meditation, etc. I don’t drink caffeine or alcohol. The most effective thing I’ve found is Phenobarbital- it actually allows me to fall asleep at midnight- but it is difficult to get a prescription for. I take Klonopin now, and I’ll fall asleep on it eventually (usually between 2 and 5 AM), but I really need to be asleep by midnight or earlier… On some days, I need to be awake at 8 AM, and that is impossible to do if I don’t/can’t fall asleep until 5 AM (I’m either too sedated from the Klonopin or else I have to not take the Klonopin and risk driving to my meetings and attempting to function on zero sleep)

  12. Steve Lo says:

    I had chronic fatigue, insomnia, depression, and ADHD. What I found only very recently was that eating food with refined sugar, gluten, corn fed dairy, and soy tend to create the symptoms for me. If I cut them out, I am good! Even my sleep apnea disappeared, so I believe my problems were inflammation. It was not just luck. I did my research and found so many people did what I did and recovered from their conditions.

    I no longer skip sleep for 36 hours at a time. On the other hand, I take supplements such as GABA, cod liver oil, vitamin C, and I don’t even grind my teeth at night anymore. Its been magical and give my life hope. Wish I discovered this earlier but then the Internet was immature.

  13. Uche says:

    Thanks rose, I think my is a wondering mind, I learn a little from ur writeup, I will imply and see if it will workout

  14. Uche says:

    I HV same problem for some years now, my is that I hardly sleep in the night but the next morning immediately I reach my shop in the market after eating I easily sleepoff, also in the crowd like church congregation I sleep easily, can someone help me out, I HV blood preasure

  15. Joanne says:

    I had tried everything after suffering with chronic insomnia for 20+ years. But the one thing that really worked was to eliminate SUGAR, including fake sugar like splenda/aspartame. SUGAR is in everything, as you will see when you start reading food labels.
    Even peanut butter and salad dressing have sugar in them! You can pick up a great book called “The Case Against Sugar” to help you realize how this addictive substance has caused a host of diseases since it was first added to the Western Diet.
    Good Luck!

  16. Sara says:

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but I have been suffering from insomnia virtually all my life. As a young child, as a teenager and even now in my forties, I would love to hear that others have had insomnia all their lives. All I seem to find online is people who have occasional insomnia, or pepole who don’t actually know what insomnia is. I wait at least 2 hours to fall asleep. and the longest I stay asleep for is 4 hours, That is a good night….Most nights it is 30 minutes to an hour……I go to work, I need to, but I need help

    • Mark says:

      Hi Sara,
      I’ve had severe insomnia since the age of 24 and am now 39. My sleep was noticeably poorer than my friends at age 15 and there was a progression into severe insomnia when I was studying at university. For me, the quality of sleep has been awful and 30 minutes to an hour would be fairly typical. The last time I slept 7 hours was in 2002 and at that time I was taking Amytryptiline.

    • Les says:

      Sara I was born with insomnia my parents told me I didn’t sleep as a baby I’m 50 now. I had my DNA analyzed from those at home DNA kits I carry a bad Short Sleeper Gene mutation. If you want to talk let me know

  17. Gabriel26 says:

    Rivotril is the only thing that worked for me for around 4 months , i would take 1mg mid day which helped me nap an hour and 2mg at bedtime which gave me solid 6 hours of sleep straight.Eventually i build tollerance to it , big mistake i did taking the sleeping pills each night but after 12 years of cronic insomnia i just couldn’t get enough.If you find a sleeping pill that works i advise taking it once or twice a week to avoid tollerance build up.I tried a bunch of other pills but they gave me an hour or two at best and after a short while they stop working.
    I recently read how thoughts can influence mind and keep you awake so negative self talk ” i will never sleep again” is something to be avoided ,althought for me the main cause of negative talk is my inability to socialize , more specifically i have lost my sense of humor with people and my mind is blank so i never have anything to say
    which deelpy stresses me out as i cannot make friends and bond with others.So the root of my insomnia might be this constant struggle of trying to find a way of integrating myself in society.Everyone have struggles.
    Currently i sleep 1hour in a good night , but haven’t slept for 7days at this point.
    People complaining they sleep 4-5 hours , that’s not cronic insomnia!

  18. Ethan says:

    Hypnosis is unexpectedly effective. For sure, you won’t ask you won’t ask for a specialist to work with your problem every time you go to sleep: D Fortunately, we have the Internet now and the Internet easily providing us private hypnosis sessions. I had mine on this site https://sleephypnopill.com. Highly recommends. You can change voice and background music for any you like.

  19. Mastura says:

    Though I have no sleeping problem,I notice that whenever I go to bed at night and spent more time on social media and it is past 12.00, I feel it is too difficult to go back to sound sleep

  20. I have been trying these tips from years but my insomnia never stopped disturbing me. Few months back, I started using Salt lamps from Saltean and may be it will help many of you like me that I saw a positive change in my sleeping patterns. It may sound like I’m bragging about it but I actually see a change in me. These lamps relax the surrounding. I hope it helps you guys too!

    Best Regards!

  21. Karen says:

    Hi-

    I’m glad to see others suffer what I suffer, but I feel very sorry for us. I have had insomnia for about 8 years now. I feel as though it gets worse with age. Before I suffered OCD. I had a huge trauma that somehow shifted my anxiety to insomnia. I went three days with no sleep and went to the ER begging them to just end my life. I know everyone on here understands how that feels. I have tried many drugs and the only one that works is Xanax. I hate taking it. I usually wait until 6/8am when it’s my last resort. Then I cry when taking it. I will sleep four hours and be a vegetable the rest of the day. If I don’t take it then I will be awake all night and not function with a headache. This insomnia has taken over my life. Only one month this year I was able to sleep drug free and it was amazing. I envy my husband who can sleep and wake up whenever. He tries to understand, but I don’t think he does. He looks at my like I’m worthless and I’m sure this will end up in a divorce. My thoughts are “oh no it’s passed 2 am I won’t sleep” “ oh no my husband gets upset if I don’t sleep and I know he needs to wake up in three hours” “oh no it’s 6am the sun is out- I need to get my day started soon “oh no it’s time to go to bed I wonder if I will sleep tonight”
    I have tried all herbal supplements as well. Melatonin helps sometimes, but I feel my brain is too powerful and likes to resist it. I might go on antidepressants but I fear of getting cancer. I feel all these drugs contribute to cancer somehow, but I was thinking of trying an antidepressant again.

  22. Clyde Larson says:

    The problem is, when I go to sleep earlier I don’t get that full eight or nine hours; I usually wake up at 5 or 6 AM so I’m still getting the same amount of sleep I would if I was closing my eyes at 1 or 2 AM.I am aware that sleeping regimens need time to kick in with the cycle, but it’s been months now and I have no reprieve. Should I see a doctor? Take medication? Should i try taking medicinal cannabis like this one [link removed] ??
    Sucks, man. By like 3 or 4 PM I start dozing off again, and I come home and I just want to take a nap. Lack of energy, which impacts my gym regimen and general welfare. I don’t want to do chores, or work, or even play video games in my down time because staring at the screen tires me out.

  23. Adriana says:

    I know what it feels like to be plagued by the inability to sleep. I tried for years trapped in my own mind. A sea of bitterness overtook my every movement. Sluggishness enveloped me as I walked about with a constant drowsiness. That continued until I got referred by one of my friends to this program: [link removed] It helped me in my time of need and I know it will for you too. Best of luck, Adriana.

    • Mary Gold says:

      I have been reading these responses back to 2013. I have insomnia since my teenage years. My brain is racing & it won t switch to sleep mode in fact it fights to stay awake. Some brains are like that as we all have found out. My “cures ” currently are melatonin 7 mg sometimes 10 my dose. Sometimes I use the 10th slow release along with the regular dose, it works sometime. Once when I had a bad episode I bought the supplement SAMe this balanced my neurotransmitters actually worked but then I refrained from using it now I think I may buy it again.
      As far as Rx. No one has mentioned Gabapentin/ Neurontin. A capsule of this along with melatonin seems to be my holy grail right now. But occasionally my brain will over ride & I will have a sleepless night. (Sigh)

  24. David says:

    Apologies but you mention you PhD a fair bit. Yet I have actual insomnia and have read a lot of these ‘sleep hygiene’ articles. This one is almost word for word exactly the same as all the rest! None of this makes any difference if you really want sleep! None at all. I thought because you had a PhD the advice would be your own and genuinely helpful. But I am sorry to say this is not any of that. It’s just a carbon copy of any dozen sleep guides. I’ve tried all of these. That’s why I am here. None of this works. Saying it helped you and giving a story first, makes it sound like you really were going to be genuine. But then the article became just a standard copy and paste job.

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