Insomnia Hacks


As the light fades to winter darkness here in Finland, I’ve been pulling out my woolens and preparing for my annual fight against Seasonal Affective Disorder. What I hadn’t planned for, however, was a bout of insomnia.

I often struggle to fall asleep (or go back to sleep if I wake in the night) when I have a lot on my mind. And boy do I have a lot on my mind this month. We’re planning our move back to the US, with fewer concrete details and less time than I would like, trying to sell our house in Colorado after quite a bit of fixing up/painting/cleaning and hiring a new realtor, and on top of that, I’m querying the book I wrote last year as I work on finishing a different manuscript. Whew! No wonder I can’t sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that 48% of Americans struggle with insomnia, 22% chronically. They also point out that women are 1.3 times more likely than men to suffer from insomnia. Being over the age of 65, or being divorced, widowed, or separated are also all risk factors. I don’t know if this makes me feel better because I’m not alone or worse because so many people know exactly how lousy I feel right now.

I need to be alert to make it smoothly through the next two months of writing/moving, so walking around in a daze until the sleep goddess returns to me is not an option. But neither is taking a pill, since they typically make me feel ill and groggy. So here is a list of natural insomnia remedies that I’ll be working through this week as I try to sleep. If you also struggle with insomnia, maybe they’ll help you too.

Eight ways to combat insomnia:

  • Exercise – This is the best natural remedy I’ve found for insomnia. Part of my problem with sleeping this month is that I’m also nursing an injury that has kept me away from my usual routine. Luckily, I returned to my beloved footy this morning and I already feel more alert. Just remember to exercise early in the day. A 10pm run is likely is to wake you up instead of help you drift off. The National Sleep Foundation has more detailed information here.
  • Supplements & Herbs – Taurine, Tryptophan, Magnesium, Valerian, Melatonin, L-theanine, and GABA are recommended in various places, including this detailed WebMD article and this one from Psychology Today. I’ve tried GABA and Tryptophan with great results and Magnesium is good all around for lowering stress. I haven’t tried melatonin, taurine, valerian, or l-theanine, but I may have to if things don’t get better soon.
  • Turning off the screens – If I write in the late evening, it’s almost a guarantee that I won’t sleep. I even try to avoid checking in on Facebook/email in the hour before bedtime. The light itself can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms and on top of that, anything that makes your mind active is likely to prevent you from sleeping. If you read on an eBook reader of some kind, use the black background/white text option and turn the brightness down for that bedtime reading.
  • Consistent bedtime routine – This, in combination with turning off screens an hour before bedtime, really does help with insomnia. We have to wake up at the same time every day to get the kids to school, so now we go to bed at approximately the same time every night, with quiet reading time each night before we turn the lights out. I haven’t yet added yoga/meditation to the list, but Dr. Weil and Mayo Clinic both say I should.
  • Skipping the Nightcap – This may sound counter-intuitive, but I can no longer deny it–I sleep better on days when I don’t drink. Prevention Magazine agrees.
  • Watch caffeine intake, especially after noon – This is hard for me, because I often write in the afternoon and a pot of tea is my constant companion. But I’ll be switching to herbal today.
  • White Noise – After several years spent coaxing a reluctant little girl to sleep and using white noise to try to keep her asleep, I have also added white noise to my own bedroom in the form of a fan. It’s a double-bonus because I like to sleep cold, so I use the fan even through the Finnish winter.
  • Sex before bed – Well, it’s worth a try, right? And Psychology Today says I should, so…

Do you have any other tips for breaking the insomnia cycle? Share them in comments!