Creative insomnia solutions

Anyone who has been here for a while, or who reads my facebook status updates, knows I am an insomniac.It has come and gone throughout my life. My first memorable insomnia experience was in high school, when I learned that Star Search came on at 2 AM. Not sure why we didn't seek help then. I was regularly falling asleep in class.

Throughout my adult life, it has come and gone in spurts, a night here, a few weeks there. That was until March when it got hella worse. Can I explain what brings it on? Not really. What I do know is that I have "pervasive thoughts." The brain, it just doesn't turn, ever. And while I have heard of people up at night with worry, I'm really just up with my head spinning around dumb stuff. "I wonder if I should buy a hammock", "What do I need at the grocery store?" "what goes with that new shirt I bought?" Seriously! It's annoying. Here is what insomnia, at it's worse, looks like for me: Lying in bed for a few hours before falling asleep, awakening in the wee hours and either not being able to fall back asleep or waking about once an hour until it's time to get up. Total suckage.

I have tried a bunch of things to address this issue:

  • -tried taking an herbal sleep blend. Impact: nothing.

  • -tried taking melatonin. Impact: nothing.

  • -no caffeine after 2 PM. Impact: some improvement in falling asleep.

  • -no alcohol. Impact: hard to tell, plus cutting it out completely is no fun.

  • -experimenting with TV/sleep timer (not using it). Impact: hard to tell.

  • -stopped taking vitamins at night. Impact: none on sleep but I feel less barfy 🙂

  • -focus on breathing. Impact: annoyance.

  • -reducing the temperature in the house. Impact: nothing.

  • -cannot do the warm milk thing...just can't do it. I am weird about dairy.

  • -taking an anti-anxiety medication for the thoughts (I hate that it's anti-anxiety because I don't identify with the anxiety part...I don't feel anxious, just have an active mind). Impact: Able to fall asleep most nights, not able to stay asleep. waking spells are shorter.

I'm sure that I have tried other stuff that I am forgetting. I'm just looking for the right combination. I'm really resisting taking "sleeping pills." At the same time, the insomnia has never gone on for this long. My memory and my focus are suffering (fortunately, I have strategies for dealing with those things).

So here is where I am at right now. Yesterday, I ordered blackout shades for my bedroom and the guest room. It never really gets that dark here; that's one thing I noticed after moving here. Must be our location on the map. I've seen other peoples' blackout shades and they are awesome. Hope mine get here soon.

I also, am turning the guest bedroom into my "quiet place." I try to spend some time in there every day. No clock, no TV, no music, no work or other distractions. This space is for reading and meditating. Yesterday, I painted it the same dark, calm blue that I have in my bedroom, so I am not distracted by the paint color that doesn't go with my home color palate (see how my mind works?). It's a really great space now. I'll post some pictures.

And the yoga. So far, so good. It truly is calming and focuses the mind. The challenge is to figure out when to do it. Late enough that the relaxation benefits my sleep, not too late so the exercise disrupts my sleep.

There will come a time when I go back to the doctor but I want to exhaust all options first. At this point, I am getting better sleep but I would like to sleep through the night. It's happened 2-3 times since March.

And if you think I've spent too much time thinking about this, you're right. I have. It's keeping me up at night! Maybe tonight I'll be kept up by thinking that perhaps I should not use periods at the ends of bullet points.

Comments (42)

  1. patblue says:

    I have been up since 4am local time – blew right through the ambien I took.  When my mind is full – I lay awake, and I hate it.  The wee hours are a lonely place.

  2. Wine-Oh says:

    I am a big fan of blackout shades.  My parents and brother make fun of me for having them. They dont see the point. I Have them in my bedroom and guest room (also good for watching in a room with a tv). Semi black outs in the rest of the place.

    I sleep very well with them. I am very light sensitive. I wwas in a hotel a few weeks ago (a brand I stay at many times), and was looking forward to the blackout shades in the room. Turns out this location hadn’t been renovated and fitted with them yet. So bummed. I think they will help you. I know its helped me.

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    patblue – are you still in London? I think yours may be jetlag. But I agree about the wee hours (but you are only allowed to call them that in the UK). YOu know if you ate some Indian or Thai food, it could put you right to sleep.

    Wine-Oh, I opted for the 97% black out so I could get bamboo instead of romans. But it will make a huge difference compared to the cellular ones I have now. I do hope it impacts the sleeping!

  4. wine-oh says:

    97% is good. I have the honeycomb ones by Hunter Douglas. Also helps with sleeping in on weekends. During the week I am up at 6 am. With the blackouts, I am usually up by 9 if I dont have to be somewhere.

  5. Joe Enos says:

    How about white noise?  That’s supposed to helpful when trying to relax or sleep.  Or maybe sounds from nature, like a rainforest or ocean waves.

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oh man, I would LOVE to sleep in until 9 on the weekends! I was up to watch the sunrise on Saturday and despite the fact that it was beautiful, I would have appreciated 4 more hours of sleep.

    Joe – yep, tried that. I replaced my alarm clock with one with nature sounds. Unfortunately, they are not the kind of distraction that calms the mind, just makes me think about the beach 🙂

  7. Larry says:

    Get thee to a sleep study immediately. Seriously. You need to have a complete workup done on you with overnight observation. I just did for a somewhat related issue (sleep apnea) and learned all kinds of stuff about my sleep patterns and brain activity. I did it through Virginia Mason – all the hospitals in town have sleep clinics because sleep science is booming what with all you over stimulated, overworked, multi-tasking folk wondering why you can’t shut down at night (myself included).

  8. Wine-Oh says:

    I am now a creature of habit due to blackout shades. I am staying with my folks this week due to some minor repair work being done in my apt. My room at their house does not have the black out shades I am used to. So I am running on 3 hours of sleep. I spent most of the night staring at the street light. I have asked my mom for years to put them in. Cant wait to go back to my apt. on Friday.

  9. Pat says:

    Yes it is probably jetlag, but my schedule is off wherever I am.  I actually slept right through to 6am this morning so I was pleased.  Now in Dublin till tomorrow and fly home.  I somehow think that Curry would not put me ‘right to sleep’ HH….  I so wish we had IN/OUT burger  in Seattle- I would so be there when my plane touched down!

  10. Marion says:

    I am not sure that  I can describe my "technique" in a way that it makes sense, but I’ll try.  It always helps keeping my mind empty.

    When I cannot calm my mind at night, I close my eyes and picture that I write the word NO in slowmotion (!!) on a blackboard or large piece of paper but I leave out anything that would distract my eye from "following" the creation of the word, i.e. my hand and arm, the chalkboard/paper, the chalk/pen etc.  As soon as my mind starts wandering back to the things I have to get done or even to stupid stuff (i.e. the color of the chalk, the the board wasn’t cleaned properly, my nailpolish does not match the sweater in the picture I am creating), I force myself to start over.  I tried other words, like SLEEP but it didn’t work the same perhaps because it’s not really about going to sleep but rather stopping the thoughts.

    This sounds crazy – but hell, if it helps me maybe there is a slim chance you can finally sleep through a night again, too.

    Good Luck!

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Larry – I’ll look into that. You know, it never crossed my mind. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Wine-Oh- could you hang something on the window like a blanket or seomthing; incidentally, a decorating tip my previous home owners would have given.

    Pat- InNOut is my favorite. Mmmmm! Have some Guiness while you are in Dublin. My dad said it’s like a beer milkshake there (it sounded good when he said it).

    Marion – that’s really interesting!

  12. Mike says:

    My suggestion is to try a massage chair.

    We originally had an iJoy and then sold it to upgrade to one of the OSIM ones at Brookstone but they both had the same sleep-inducing effect. The massage from these chairs is awesome and it tends to put us to sleep. If I ever have trouble sleeping, I jump in the chair, put my feet up,  and it either makes me drowsy or puts me out.

    They can be a bit pricey but I think they’re well worth the cost.

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    Mike – that does sound pricey. My concern would be that I still won’t stay asleep. Getting to sleep has become easier but I still awaken in the night. See? This is difficult to solve 🙂

  14. Wine-Oh says:

    Yeah I wish I could hang a blanket, but my mother would be too worried what the neighbors might think. It would be reminiscent of a dorm room with a towel or a sheet hanging over the window. I’ll deal. I have 2 more nights until I can be back in my apt.

  15. HeatherLeigh says:

    Mothers and "appearances".  Maybe someone shuold plant pot seeds in their garden just for fun 😉

  16. Ian says:

    This might sound silly: Sit-Coms

    When my mind is still quite active, I put a dvd on to play 1 episode (watching is optional) Usually it distract my mind enough for me to fall asleep within 15-25 min.

    I pick shows that I have probably seen a few times before.  (not new material or action/intense story)

  17. some1'saunt says:

    I was recently in Vegas with my niece who has insomnia too and we pulled the big dark heavy curtains and she slept like a baby all thru the night!

  18. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ian- I have tried the TV with the sleep timer. The problem I have is that TV makes my mind more active. I guess with some people it’s a distraction from thoughts but for me, it’s a generator of them.

    some1saunt- I actually slept pretty well in Vegas. Must have been a combination of the blackout shades, the heat during the day and all that walking around. Not sure I would want to recreate those conditions in my daily life, but shades + exercise are probably a good way to go!

  19. Trux says:

    I’m with Larry on the sleep study, it did wonders for me.

    I have found that to block things out, I read a novel for a while before going to sleep to shut out the other thoughts. No tech reading, nothing about hobbies, just a story that I get lost in. I agree about the TV, it doesn’t work nearly as well.

    I have incorporated this into a routine and the regularity + the novel do the trick for me.

  20. RJD says:

    I’ve been a long time insomnia sufferer, most often when my conscious mind is spinning.  None of the usual tricks worked for me–complete darkness and quiet only made me focus more on my thoughts, not less.  Reading got the brain moving, so did watching TV or listening to the radio (I even almost called Art Bell one night).

    Two things I found worked when used in combination–a notepad, and listening to the TV with the screen dimmed way down.

    Any thought running around in my head gets eliminated when I write it down.  Same technique is covered in David Allen’s Getting Things Done (only he spent more sleepless nights than I did refining the process).  Once it’s on my notepad, I can be sure I’ll address it later, when I get a chance.  I don’t have to remember it.  Could be anything from a question to an idea.  If there are follow up thoughts, they get scribbled on the pad, too.  A tiny LED light helps if you want to read it in the morning, but don’t turn on the lights in your room–that’s your mind’s signal to wake up.  If you want any sleep, you have to clear your mind.

    Next step is the TV.  Once your mind is clear, you have to distract it from having more thoughts.  The TV works, but only if it’s on something I’m completely ambivalent about.  Can’t be History or Discovery channel.  My current favorite is one of the World Poker Tour (or similar) shows.  The commentators are monotone and hushed, there’s no real action to get involved in, etc.  The Golf channel also works.  Just dim the screen (light = awake), and ignore what you’re listening to.  Real sports (even a quasi-sport like baseball) run the risk of something exciting happening, and that will wake you up.  Law and Order puts me to sleep pretty quickly, too.  Anything with a sudden loud noise is going to wake up your brain and make it ask "what’s that?  I need to see if that’s interesting!", and you’re up all night again.  Low, hushed and monotone are the key for me.

    Reading doesn’t work for me because I can only read what I’m passionate about (which gets the mind going), and if I don’t like what I’m reading, the mind wanders and I’m back at square one.

  21. Erik Teutsch says:

    Try counting backwards by 3s.  Pick a reasonably high number (I ususally start at 700).  I don’t remember where I heard that, but it works for me and my wife – she usually takes forever to fall asleep!

    Much cheaper and safer than sleeping pills, anti-anxiety meds, etc.

  22. David K says:

    No one has mentioned this yet: listen to the radio or podcasts. I

    don’t like total quiet because similar to Heather, I can’t stop thinking about dumb stuff. Listening to sports talk radio (KJR 950 am) or public radio podcasts (This Amer. Life, Studio 360, or Sound Opinions) gets my full attention. It takes my mind completely off of thinking about the dumb stuff so I am able to relax and eventually fall asleep.

  23. mrscrooge aka b says:

    Have you ever seen a dietitian? Its so hard for me to consistently eat healthy but I can definitely tell the difference in my sleep when I’ve had a busy week at work and I’ve been eating more processed junk food.

    other things that have worked for me.  (a) sleep mask – it works wonders for me, much more efficient (and cheaper) than trying to control light. You probably have one from flying long-haul flights..

    (b) deep tissue massage like shiatsu – on those nights I’m out like a light and have the best sleep ever

    One thing which I think is absolutely critical that none of us can really take full control of is –  the information overload which has been rising exponentially. If I’d ever joined Facebook, I would’ve been hooked! I recently gave up my 7+ year old netflix account..was sad to let it go but I wanted one less distraction.

    Good luck!

  24. HeatherLeigh says:

    Scrooge – I doubt it’s the diet. I eat much healthier than the average American. I’m all about chicken and fish, whole grains and salad. Only time crap food comes into play is social situations and I have trouble sleeping regardless.

    I do have a sleep mask. Could give it a try. Would be willing to bet that it would freak me out when I wake up and open my eyes. But that could be funny.

    I totally agree with the info overload. I’m reading more books and watching less TV. The lost info is certainly not adding anything of substance to my life (Brangelina? Who cares?).

  25. mszv says:

    Hi Heather,

    It seems to me that the you are doing everything you can to stay healthy and get yourself to relax.  It seems to me that you tried everyting.  You also found one thing that worked, but you seem to be uncomfortable with that solution.  What I would do is go with what worked before.   Go to the doctor, talk about the problem, tell them exactly what you told us here (the long history) and get the anti-anxiety meds.    My recommendation would be to not stress about it.  Honestly, who cares what they are called?  You know, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone, even to yourself.    Those things worked for you before, there are different kinds, and you can get a low dosage.  Go with that, and all your coping skills and see what happens.    

    On staying asleep – most people wake up during the night – they just don’t remember it.  As we age no one sleeps thorugh the night.  The trick is to follow all those coping skills you are already doing to get back to sleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night.

    On what works on calming down – you seem to be on the right track with whatever you are doing.   One other thing you might try is a little computer game – nothing too fast or stressful.   I’d recommend using a portable device, either a portable gaming device or your cell phone.  I like the game Acid Free Cell myself (a version of solitaire) on my PDA.   There are some Nintendo DS games that are good too, and when you play Nintendo you can think of it as “scoping out the competition”.  If the Nintento DS is too much of a leap,  get something that runs the Windows Mobile OS.

    And yes – writing stuff down is helpful too.

    On the days you aren’t working, I know one is supposed to stick to a schedule, but who cares, really.  If you are the sort of person who gets a little sleepy durng the day, or if day sleep is less stressful than night sleep, then take a nap during the day.  It’s whatever works for you.

    Good luck and take care.

  26. Ranthony says:

    I feel your pain. I know you said you tried Melatonin, how much? (it comes in different strengths). I take 2 of the 5mg. (it comes in 5mg, 3mg and I think 1mg strengths).

    Warning (start this on a weekend), because you’ll sail straight through that alarm clock if it works "too good"–learned that the "Hard" way.

    Also, I found that if turn off the computer/internet by 9p.m. it helps A LOT (and I say this as I write this at 9:27 pm.) For me the T.V. does not matter..but something to do with being on the computer and "actively thinking" makes it harder to sleep.

    I’d say try that first and I bet it makes a BIG difference.

  27. Larry says:

    I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t read the Brangelina comment. What’s next? You don’t care about Charlie Sheen’s divorce?

    Heather – sleep clinic. They’ll at least give you a chance to understand your sleep patterns. I mean, you are who you are. You think a lot about stuff, so be it. Rather than stifle it, why not figure out how to incorporate it into your life?

    To me, all the remedies create stress. Who the hell cn sleep when they’re wigging out about the prospect of going to bed?

    Probably not Brangelina I can tell you that.

  28. HeatherLeigh says:

    mszv – already went to the doctor. Take them daily (well, at night). Like I said, I can get to sleep but I don’t sleep through. I’m realizing that people have different sleep styles because playing a video game, for me, would keep me up. I’d be trying to improve my score. I’ve been journaling (gawd, can’t believe I said that) so we will see if that clears the mind.

    Ranthony- tried lower doses. Maybe I’ll get a higher does. I fell asleep without TV last night which was good. OK, so I had a People magazine in bed with me (I’ll be better off when my subscription runs out but it is mindless reading). I’m not really drawn to the computer late at night. On or off, it’s not a problem for me.

    Larry – if I had 8 kids, I’d definitely have trouble sleeping.

  29. Christien says:

    Chamoile tea works for me.  Buy a box at Starbucks.

  30. Rick Pennington says:

    I actually have a lot of the same issues at times with my head just… not… stopping! (or maybe it is the voices therein).  I find that if I read a book before bed, it helps.  It has to be a book that isn’t informative in any way, however.  No Self enrichment (unless you are studying for an IT test… learning how to administer Windows XP is guaranteed to put you out).  I find that if I read predictable fantasy novels, it helps me get to sleep.  I can read Baudrillard when I am waking, but Drizzt Do’Urden helps me get to sleep.

  31. Matt says:

    When I’ve had a bad night I’ve used self-hypnosis and hypnotic recordings to get myself to sleep in the past. What I find easier these days are binaural beats. It’s completely passive and requires no practice, just a pair of headphones. I’ve personally found it to be completely effective without exception.

    If you get the free SBAGen from the exact script I use to drop off to sleep is below. Copy this into a .sbg file and run it… hth.

    -SE -m river1.ogg

    off: –

    ts1: 750+15/8 500+10/4 350+7/0 100+2/0

    ts2: 750+14/0 500+9/8 350+6/6 100+2/8

    ts3: 100+1/15

    00:00:00 off ->

    00:10:00 ts1 ->

    00:20:00 ts2 ->

    00:30:00 ts3 ->

    00:59:00 off

  32. Tyler Ziembo says:

    Oh man, I really feel you there. I’ve tried exercise to the point I dropped to the ground to even staying up for days on end.

    Nothing. Tried SBaGen myself, nothing.

    I’ve tried everything, even the post above me. The only thing that put me to sleep was my Geodon.

    …I’ve been weened off it. I haven’t slept in days. But oddly enough, my memory, physical, and emotional status has cleared up without sleep. This probably isn’t healthy, but shoot. I feel fine. The only thing I really miss is my dreams. I really loved them.

  33. HeatherLeigh says:


    I should probably add an update here that my insomnia is totally cleared up. Combination of meds, light box, blackout curtains and no caffeine after noon. Yep, just those little things.

    I’m still cathing up on my sleep deficit but I feel awesome.

  34. Kappy says:

    hi, I'm just here to say I found the conversations here helpful. Right now I'm studying for my bat-mitzvah, and I'm regularly falling asleep at 2:00 in the morning, and waking up at 6:00 for summer-camp and more studying in a strange language with a different alphabet than English. I read that pre-teens (like me) need at least 9 hours of sleep. Oops. Anyway, I had colored Christmas lights in my room, but I read that I should eliminate light, so I took them down. Result: (don't tell anyone) nightmares because of the dark. White noise. Result: thinking of beaches and warm sand and that one time where we were on the beach when there was a wedding, then we were flying kites. how does a kite stay up? is it like a bird? wouldn't it be cool to fly? but people are to heavy. I'd need to loose weight. does this shirt make me look fat?……… you see my problem? my brain just won't turn off! I tried meditating. Result: my older brother thinks I'm crazy and I still can't sleep. (and I felt kind of silly). I tried an In-N-out burger. Result: I want another burger! IT'S ADDICTING! I suggested a massage chair to my mom. Result: she laughed at me. (she thought I was joking)

  35. HeatherLeigh says:

    Haha! Oh Kappy. Ask your folks to take you to the doctor. I do exactly what you do. People refer to it as monkey mind and there are actually brain chemicals that cause it. A couple other things to try are staying away from strong lights the couple hours before you want to sleep and no caffeine after noon. Also, exercise helps, even if it's just walking.

    I hate to think of you up at night like that. Are you in junior high? It's an important time to get some sleep. Please ask mom or dad to take you to see a doctor.

  36. Kappy says:

    Hey! it's me again! Kappy Kaplan! (god I hate my name, it sounds like a name from a bad soap opera) so, Heather (i love that name, always have) thank you for the ideas! here are my responses to your suggestions.

    1. I stayed away from bright light before bed. Result: Nothing

    2. I don't drink caffeine anyway (coffee, tea, soda YECH!!!!!!!)

    3. I can't commit to doing any sport but swimming for more than 20 minutes!

    P.S. I can't afford to go to a doctor for a little insomnia problem.

  37. HeatherLeigh says:

    Keep working at it, kid! If you are looking up "insomnia" on the internet, it's not a "little insomnia problem".

  38. Kappy Kaplan (the one and only!!!) says:

    oh, the irony of looking up insomnia suggestions at 2 in the morning! THE IRONY IS KILLING ME!

    (or maybe that's the fact that I'm punchy from sleep medicine that I may add, is NOT WORKING!!!!!!!!!)

    Oh, for all it's worth to my dedicated readers and many fans our there. I broke my toe.

    to me, it doesn't make sense that evolution or god or whatever great power of science or religion made humans to walk on earth MADE FIVE SMALL EASILY DAMAGEABLE, SENSITIVE, AND NOW BROKEN APPENDAGES ON THE FRONT OF FEET THAT ARE IN CONSTANT DANGER OF BEING JAMMED INTO SOMETHING BIG AND HEAVY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!DOES THIS MAKE SENSE TO ANYONE OUT THERE!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? cause if it does, i want to know why it's fair that my toe is now quarter of a pound heavier because of a toes cast.

  39. Kappy Kaplan (the one and only!!!) says:

    I found a 3D computer game where you are a flying person and you go through a city and it's awesome! but I stayed up until 12 playing it. oops. gotta "sleep" now. (translation sit in bed forever before falling asleep)

  40. HeatherLeigh says:

    OK, kiddo. I'm gonna cut you off here. Maybe you can start an insomnia blog!

  41. Kappy Kaplan (the one and only!!!) says:

    sorry, I tend to blab on and on and on………

  42. the king says:

    Sounds like you have some issues, i do not know much about insomnia, but i can sometimes have trouble sleeping, however those things you mention that you think about, all are about buying stuff, you like buying ***? When i have trouble sleeping it is always because i concentrate to much on sleeping, usually happens if i see a clock when i am trying to sleep. But enough about me, dude you should try to smoke a spliff before bed, i assure you that you will have the best sleep of your life.

Skip to main content