5 Tips to Deal with Insomnia

Recently I had a bad night of tossing and turning. I was up for a few hours, then overslept the next morning.

And while I was lying there, unable to sleep, I knew I was violating some of the beat-the-insomnia advice that experts give. Though, true, to give myself credit, I was following some advice.

These tips were on my mind, because I’d just read Andrea Petersen’s Wall Street Journal piece “Middle-of-the-Night Insomnia Blues.”

I violated one of the most basic back-to-sleep tips — the tip to get up, rather than toss and turn.

If you have trouble with insomnia, here are some of the tips from the article:

1. If you’re wide awake, get up.

I just kept lying there thinking, “I should get up.” Somehow, I couldn’t muster the energy to get up. I would’ve been a little cold, when I got out from under the covers, and I didn’t feel like reading my book…so I just stayed put.  Bad idea.

2. I love this tip: If you watch TV, wear sunglasses.

Hilarious! It helps to block the light that will mess up your circadian rhythm. I couldn’t watch TV during my insomnia because (this is embarrassing to admit) my family and I were staying in a rental house, and I didn’t know how to turn on the TV.  TV-watching is so confusing these days. If I’d been wide awake, I could’ve figured out how to manage the TV, but I couldn’t face the challenge in the middle of the night.

3. Don’t eat.

make a point not to eat between dinner and breakfast, as a habit for healthy eating, but the article makes an interesting additional argument: middle-of-the-night eating can condition you to keep doing it in the future. I was reminded of a dog-training story I just read: a couple  had trouble because their dog kept waking them up in the middle of the night to eat. Turned out that the dog had been conditioned to do that, because they’d had a new baby, and the father was getting up to the feed the baby, and at the same time, he gave the dog a snack. The baby started sleeping through the night, but the dog still wanted the snack.

4. Don’t sleep late the next morning.

Which I did, by accident.  Usually I set my alarm, and I really don’t know why I forgot to set it that night. Bad timing, but fortunately, I slept well the next night.

5. If you get up, keep lights dim.

I’m good about doing this. It really does help. When we moved into our apartment, I was careful to make sure to put dimmable lights in the bathroom.

Interesting fact I learned: “Waking up–and staying up–in the middle of the night is more common than having trouble falling asleep.

I wrote more sleep-related tips here: 14 tips for getting more sleep–and why it matters. I’m a sleep zealot!  I’ve learned through tough experience that it’s hard to be happy, and to stick to my good habits, when I’m exhausted. In fact, “sleep” is one of the key habits for the Strategy of Foundation that I write about in Better Than Before. If you want to change a habit — any habit — getting enough sleep is a key first step.

Do you have any good tips for battling insomnia?

  • Gillian

    Interesting tips. I’ve heard the first one before – get up – but I’ve never been able to talk myself into getting out of bed in the middle of the night, no matter how wide awake I am.

    I usually wake up a couple of times during the night but fall asleep again within 5 minutes. Only on rare occasions do I have trouble getting back to sleep.

    I am more likely to have trouble falling asleep in the first place. This often has one of two causes. Sometimes, I will finally realize that my feet are cold. Solution: put on a pair of socks and I’m asleep in minutes. I now keep a pair of socks beside the bed so that I don’t have to get up to find them. The second cause and its solution fly in the face of your third tip – don’t eat. If I have eaten dinner earlier than usual and/or have eaten less than usual, I will be hungry when I go to bed (I don’t snack in the evening) and this keeps me awake. If I get up and eat a very light snack, it solves the problem.

    If socks and food don’t do the trick, I resort to fantasizing – basically create a lovely pleasant scenario and day-dream about something very relaxing. That has about a 50% success rate.

  • Brittany

    I loved the podcast interview with Arianna Huffington. I have seven month old twins and a just-recently-turned two year old. My husband is also a doctor who is often on call and has night terrors. I feel like there is no end to the number of things that keep me up or wake me up. I had been woken up so often with the twins that even once they started sleeping better, I would have lots of trouble falling or staying asleep; I was always half expecting crying to start. Ariana’s advice about showering has eliminated any difficulty for me falling asleep. Room temperature is also huge – if it’s too hot, I have a hard time falling asleep, or I will wake and be restless. Fresh air from an open window seems to work like a sleep elixir. I love it. Also, if I am up in the night, I find it easier to fall asleep quickly if I have gotten a bit chilly and then can get really nice and warm as soon as I get in bed. I’ve also noticed that I have abverybhard time falling asleep between 11:30 and 1. If I’m not asleep by 11:30, I’m guaranteed to be awake until after one. I call it the white zone. It’s very frustrating.

  • Tamar

    I used to think that I sleep badly, because I wake up in the middle of the night.
    Reading that our natural pattern is to devide sleep into 2-3 sections made me relax.
    Here is a link to an article about it.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I usually have trouble falling asleep on weekends, because my husband and I stay up late (for me) watching Netflix. Then I’m jazzed from whatever we’ve been watching, plus there are the sounds he makes just moving around the house (he generally stays up later than I), and I’m laying there tossing and turning. On weekdays, I go to bed earlier (around 9:30) with a book, and read until I get sleepy (which usually isn’t long). Then I sleep like a rock.

    On nights when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, I move to the sofa. For some reason, I seldom have trouble falling asleep on the sofa. But, yeah, I have trouble practicing tip #1. I hate getting out of bed once I am in it, even if I can’t sleep.

  • chris339

    #4 helps more than one would think. I’ve also had friends who’s found insomnia relief from developing a sleep routine to follow each night.

  • Donna

    Ekhart Tolle said that your thoughts cannot be in your body and outside at the same time. Usually busy thoughts that I cannot shut down keep me from falling asleep. He says to concentrate on relaxing a finger on your hand then moving to the next one. I start out thinking it is not working and wake hours later completely surprised.

  • Ann S

    Seems like the advice used to be to get up, get tired, go back to bed. Anyway, sometimes the thought/plan to get up is enough to lure me back to sleep. Meditating about how comfy and warm and sleepy I am helps, as does inventorying my relaxed body parts. If my mind is really busy I usually read (with a tiny solar-powered light I hold in my hand and doesn’t light up the room), but it can’t be anything very exciting!

  • Snore yourself to sleep, or take a tip from your kitty and purr. I find that resonating my trachea on the inhale dissolves that empty feeling in the pit of my stomach and — zoing! — I’m asleep!

  • Mike Rommal

    When I can’t sleep, it usually means I need to face something. So I sit up and mindfully face whatever is coming up: I feel the feelings, let the thoughts say what they say (but i don’t run with them or entertain them) and I feel the energy in the body. Sometimes though, its something that needs to be done or addressed. In that case, I will get some paper and write down whatever ideas come.

  • Dave Hewitt

    Instead of sunglasses at night, you should wear BluBlockers. Those are the yellow shades that they rapped about on 80’s infomercials. They block the blue light that interferes with melatonin production. You can get inexpensive yellow safety glasses at Home Depot that do the same thing for a fraction of the cost.

    Incidentally, I get much better sleep now that I’m hooked up to a C-Pap machine all night. An expensive sleep study found that my breathing was interrupted 80 times an hour. It was worth the expense.

  • Lisa Becklund

    when I was very young I had terrible nights. Nightmares etc. I finally talked to my mother about them and she told me I should turn my light on and read. I never considered that to be and option. Once I did, a whole world opened up for me and I not only became an avid reader but a sound sleeper. I cant do that much anymore and reaching the far depths of middle age I find I do wake up often. I never try to work out problems during this time since I read about a study which, well something to the effect of the brain on psychedelic mushrooms during that time. So instead I just concentrate on listening to the sounds of the night…. some times that sound is the snoring of my dear spouse which is music to my ears. Knowing she is at least sleeping soundly makes me happy.

  • Marianela Pereyra

    It does help to block the light that will mess up your circadian rhythm. Awesome tips =) Thanks for sharing.

  • Cindy Ayala

    A tip from my doctor works wonders for me. Focus on breathing while counting to 99 and back to zero BY THREES (0,3,6,9,…..93,96,99,96,93,90). This takes far more focus than counting 1,2,3,4,5,…… and tends to prevent other active thinking. My doctor’s advice was do this three times and if still awake then get up – I’ve never had to get up! My own rule: if I lose track of what number I am on I go back to 0 or 99 and start again.

  • AmandaG

    I think of friends and family. I picture faces and then I say a prayer. I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but this eventually makes me fall asleep.

  • StacyMAK

    I struggle with this for sure. What helps me the most is to plug into a meditation or hypnotic session. I buy them through my audible account. I can’t listen to anything interesting or it will keep me awake, but the guided meditation helps me to methodically relax and drift off to sleep. I have a few different ones that I use and I bought some innovative headphones called Bedphones that lay on my ear instead of an earbud. I’m a side sleeper so that can be uncomfortable. Next project Gretchen, guided meditations to support new habits 🙂 I’d love to fall asleep to that!

    • Stefanie

      What are these audio meditations please.

  • Abi Franklin

    I highly, highly recommend the Sleep With Me podcast for insomnia. I battle with insomnia off and on, but the worst sleep I ever had was when I ended up in the hospital for two weeks. Sleep With Me helped me through that time.