Tuesday 4th August 2020
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Night of the living sleepless

Apologies for the radio silence, ladies. I’ve been plagued by a powerful case of insomnia and well, let’s just say that I now acutely understand why sleep deprivation is often employed on prisoners of war as a form of psychological torture. This Hello Kitty Zombie  is available as a T-shirt, by the way.

Insomnia is one of the best recipes for ugly ever—no amount of makeup can cover it up. And it’s a one-way ticket to Stupidville too. When you can’t follow the plot twists in a phone conversation with your ten year-old nephew, for instance, it might just be time to wrap yourself up in a nice big old blankie and gently weep.

Ambien doesn’t work—it gets me to sleep but does not keep me there. Warm milk can do the trick, but then one runs the risk of having to get up in four hours to pee, and the journey begins again.

Last night was all right, but my under eye circles would still scare small children if I wasn’t taking care to wear Olsen-size sunglasses every time I hit the street. I need solutions, people. Care to share?



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Posted on December 6th, 2012 52 Comments

52 Responses

  1. MsAmanda says:

    While I don’t suffer from insomnia, several of the men in my family do. I thought this blog post from earlier this week had great tips.


  2. laura says:

    Sometimes you need to physically exhaust yourself.
    Resolve any issues that may be nagging at you.
    And a little melatonin helps me. I like this one best : http://www.purematters.com/rest-easy/p/816116010709/
    Also set a regular routine, lowers the lights an hour or so before going to bed, try lying flat on your back with your legs straight up a wall for a bit before heading to bed, focus on deep slow breaths…
    Thanks all I’ve got! been there, hope you get some rest soon

  3. Susan says:

    A yea to the physical activity, but not too close to bedtime, or you rile yourself all up.
    I find that doing yoga during the day helps me fall asleep faster. (Here’s some suggestions if you’re so inclined: http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/1467) And some kind of non-intellectual, non-dramatic reading at night.
    A friend of mine swears by making her “to do” list an hour before bed, promises to do them, and stops thinking about them.
    Good luck.

  4. Sheryll says:

    I have a similar form of insomnia….I can fall asleep easily, but wake up around 3 am and cannot get back to sleep until about 6 am. Which is right around the time my alarm goes off. After about 3 years of it, I’ve gotten pretty used to it, and my body has adapted. Cold comfort, I know. BUT during particularly long and exhausting stints, I actually find that turning the tv on very, very low helps make enough background noise to quiet my busy little mind, allowing me to fall back to sleep. I’m sure a white noise machine would provide similar aid. I’ve also tried that new, supposedly non-addictive Nyquil sleep stuff and it has worked fairly well. Good luck.

  5. Sarah M says:

    This sounds like a cliche, but what kind of mattress do you have? Mr. M and I just (like slept-on-it-for-the-first-time-last-night just) got a new memory foam one in hopes that it will help with his constant back problems and Oh. My. Goodness. It is UNREAL, the difference. I realize that this is not a long-term study by any means but I have been known to take up to three hours to fall asleep, and wake up in the middle of the night and none of that happened. Also, Mr. M woke up back pain free, if that’s a thing that you deal with as well. So I suggest you evaluate your mattress situation.

    • RebeccaNYC says:

      We also replaced our mattress which has helped incredibly, but with the exact opposite type of mattress. We went from a very very expensive memory foam mattress that we had for 3 years. Neither of us could sleep, and it just killed our backs. The night would start out fine, but as it wore on, the indentation from our bodies just got bigger and bigger, and around 3am, we were sleeping in what appeared to be hammocks. When I developed a pinched nerve, my doctor suggested switching our mattress to an old fashioned firm one. I cannot tell you how much this has helped. I guess memory foam is one of those things you either love or hate.

  6. Maureen says:

    You might also try to stop using all electronic devices about an hour before bed (tv, ipad, tablet, smartphone) as the blue light quality associated with these devices is known to interfere with sleep.

  7. Meghan says:

    As a terrible sleeper who already does all of the things you’re supposed to do to sleep well (dark bedroom, sleep routine, exercise, not exercise too late, etc.), my therapist suggested cooling down my bedroom, and it worked like a charm. I use fewer blankets/wear lighter pajamas than is quite cozy, and I now sleep like a baby.

  8. Cate says:

    I suffer from it and have tried everything that any insomnia article will tell you to do (winding down before bed, using the bed only for sleep, new mattress, ear plugs, black-out blinds etc, etc) but have found only two things that can (usually) help: (1) A super-hot bath with epsom salts and lavender oil when I wake in the night can make my body feel limp, and calm my mind. (2) Meditation. I know, I know, but Tibet House in NYC has free Intro to Meditation every Tuesday night that is not at all guru-y but instead a very smart, sensible way of working to get yourself to that calm, stress-free place. It’s run by Columbia University prof (and Uma’s pop) Robert Thurman, so really, none of that false idol, touchy-feeling stuff that can make this (cynical) NYer roll her eyes. I’m not terribly dedicated, but I really, really do notice the difference when I make the effort.

  9. Joanie says:

    60 minutes of challenging aerobic exercise mid morning – there should be lots of sweat. It really helps with the stay asleep

  10. lizzie says:

    the mattress helps, but i still wake up after about 3 or 4 hours. working myself physically during the day, like a farmer in the fields, really helps-your body will not be able to wake up. but of course this doesn’t usually happen.
    my friend from china told me about this. you get up and wash your feet in the bath tub, dry them, and go back to bed. it worked twice for me so far! a miracle.
    so done with any medications.
    also, welcome sleep. its a luxury and a beautiful journey and escape. surrender yourself to it. “a” types and controlling people have a hard time with this, and i am definitely in that catagory!
    best of luck, and many zzzzz’s!

  11. Cricket says:

    I’m really not one for hippie remedies, but this has truly changed my life: http://www.calmnatural.com/ It does have the have to get up to pee problem, but I have no trouble going back to sleep.

  12. SandyJ says:

    Okay, no studies done on this one, but I’ve have had great success reading technical manuals. With my apologies to the author — I highly recommend “Understanding Fiber Optics” by Jeff Hecht, which you can get for $0.01 used on Amazon. It is readable and aimed at the novice, but that said, it really did put me to sleep. Even while standing.

  13. c.w. says:

    After a year of ambien and temazepam and sleep doctors etc. etc. etc. I quit it all and, instead, have been getting acupuncture. I sleep like a baby. I also turn off my computer at 6 p.m. (painful), but the light that comes off the computer screen really screws with your circadian rhythms. I’m not kidding when I say acupuncture/getting sleep has changed my life. There is also a book and workbook called “No More Sleepless Nights” by Peter Hauri which has really useful tips regarding identifying what is causing your insomnia and how to deal with it. Cheap on Amazon. Good luck!

    • Cate says:

      Yes, cutting out the iPhone, the iPad, the iBook and the (i)TV a few hours before bed and reading books has helped me. Somthin’ about that light from the screens messing with your brain

    • Donna says:

      Wow, thanks CW. I’ve been taking sleep medicine for so long that I’ve built up a tolerance to almost all of them. I do have a problem turning off my electronics (it’s 2:25 am and here I am reading blogs), but I have heard about the blue light. I’m going to try your approach, I think. If I could get off the meds it would be great.

    • Et voila! I suffered from insomnia for twenty loooong years and the book “No more sleepless nights” was by far the most helpful and smartest of the bunch. I can’t recommend it highly enough. And acupuncture helped me quite a bit too over the long term. And yoga. And… 😉 Because sleep is so particular that everyone needs to find their own solution, unfortunately!

  14. Greta says:

    A thirty minute walk every day, rain or shine, plus ten minutes of meditation each morning and each night. If I’m not consistent I won’t sleep. Also, I keep a small notebook by my bed so I can write down the thoughts going around and around my head. Somehow writing them down makes them stop circling.

  15. Tucson Diva says:

    I stayed at the Indian River Spa and Resort in Calistoga this weekend, and they had a fantastic CD/book called Deep Sleep 101 that I purchased when I left. I calm my house down and put on the CD as I start my going-to-sleep routine and it seems to have helped. The book has many useful suggestions as well. http://deepsleep101.com/

    When all else fails, I have a glass of wine in addition to the Ambien.

  16. Nancy says:

    Get a memory foam mattress (worth every penny…it changed my sleep life completely) and turn off the electronics an hour before bed. Read, meditate, do yoga…anything non-frenetic and electronic. It really works.

  17. Jill says:

    Hate to recommend drugs, but…well, they’re what I know. Been through years of ’em for Fibromyalgia / sleep issues.

    I get wound up at night and have trouble falling asleep. For several years I took a very low dose of Zanaflax before going to bed. It’s a muscle relaxer and would usually put me to sleep within 30-40 minutes. Side effects for me were slightly dry mouth / eyes but nothing else.

    Recently chatted in-depth with my doc and he said I am not getting good enough sleep on the Zanaflex so switched me to Lunesta. It’s only been two weeks but it’s made a noticeable difference in my pain levels, so I guess it’s doing more than the Zanaflex did.

    For a potential OTC solution, you might try magesium before bed. I’ve done it for leg cramps at night but didn’t notice a sleep difference, but may people say it helps.

    Good luck! I know how awful you must be feeling right now!

  18. Courtney says:

    I keep a cd player by my bed, and turn a book on to help me fall asleep. If I wake in the middle of the night, I turn it on again. I’ve pretty much trained myself to fall asleep this way. I swear an English accent works best, Harry potter is great – know all the plots, so nothing suspenseful – and keep the volume pretty low. Both my kids do this as well!

  19. Courtney says:

    Oh and good old Sleepytime tea. but then the pee problem…

    • Viajera says:

      We sometimes sock 3 or 4 bags of chamomile tea into a cup, maybe even a half-cup. It’s not that much liquid. But I suppose Kim, you’ve already tried this?

      I read somewhere that cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful for chronic insomnia. I have tried CBT and it worked like a charm.

      Otherwise, I think these are great suggestions and you should experiment. Every body is different.

      I too have experienced that super deep sleep you can get after yoga (I’d swear it is related to HGH, in fact, though I have no data). But, I haven’t (knock on wood) had sustained bouts of insomnia at the same time as doing yoga, so I don’t know.

      But it certainly won’t hurt to try some good exercise. Not that you aren’t already. (Be careful on those forward bends, though, if you do yoga. Hiking gave me that deep sleep too, and it’s *much* easier to walk up a hill than do a chattaranga, form-wise!)

      And though I agree with keeping the room cool, some of my best sleep has been in winter when I wore a superwarm wool sweater over my pjs. So just because the air is cool(ish) doesn’t mean you have to be too.

  20. BJR says:

    I have a heating pad plugged in next to my bed. When I wake up at 3am and can’t go back to sleep, I turn the heating pad on low and slide it in bed. I have one that automatically goes off after about 10 min, so I won’t get burned. Something about the extra heat helps relax my muscles.

    Also, exercise, fan in room for white noise, and a glass of wine before bed helps me out. I’ve always been prone to nightmares and I don’t remember a time in my life where I slept well consistently.

    Hope you get some relief soon! You are right, it is miserable to live with. Nap if you can during the day, at least it will save you from full-on crazy.

  21. ACC says:

    I had a terrible bout of insomnia about 8 years ago. Tried most of the tips suggested here, but my problem is I can’t shut my brain off at night. Ambien made me crazy after a few weeks so I was finally prescribed Clonopin, which works great and I’ve been taking 1 mg of it at bedtime ever since. No side effects for me, just helps calm my brain down.
    Good luck! Insomnia is the worst.

  22. Leen says:

    Hot bath, hot cup of your favorite decaf tea, then two Boiron Quietude tablets. Magic.

  23. Leen says:

    Part 2: Also, sometimes silence is deafening. Against all reason, leave the TV on low. Can be very soothing.

  24. RJS says:

    My biggest insomnia issue is my spouse’s snoring. Fortunately, earplugs block it out. Unless he has a bad cold. Then, one of us will snooze on the cashmere-covered couch. I usually volunteer, since it gives me marital “Brownie Points.”

    • Viajera says:

      Sounds like you two have a great system. I will say, when I’ve had a cold, there’s nothing better than sleeping in a recliner!!! Honestly, it’s the best, maybe helps with drainage. Recliners get a bad rap these days, imho.

  25. Amy says:

    I get only occasional insomnia and recognize many of these symptoms. Meditation is really helpful for racing minds and, yet, requires discipline which is not easy. A technique that works consistently for me for getting back to sleep is to stretch – I don’t remember the names of yoga positions so much anymore but this one is stretching to touch your toes from a sitting position. I relax into the pose over several breaths. My body relaxes and I yawn. This does require getting out of bed, sorry! It’s worked almost every time. Good luck!

  26. Kamila says:

    UGH. My enemy – insomnia. All types have plagued me for the past 2 years and you are right: there is no make-up on earth that can substitute for a good night’s sleep. Thankfully I am sleeping again, but I had to make some major dietary shifts over the summer and it worked within a few days of switching. Prior to that, I was taking 1 mg of melatonin about an hour before bedtime. Rescue Remedy has a new sleep formula which is also good, plus it is a spray so there’s no need to take any water. You might try some of the following as well:
    • Give up caffeine after 12:00 PM
    • Take a calcium/magnesium supplement (calms the nerves)
    • Avoid alcohol after 8:00 Pm, earlier if your bedtime is around 10 pm.
    I feel your pain and hope you will be able to sleep again.

  27. Arcadia Girl says:


  28. Kate says:

    Generally I agree with turning off the electronics before bed, but when it gets to be some god awful hour and counting breaths and relaxation exercises haven’t worked, I pull out the iPad and watch Ken Burns in bed. There is just enough content to distract your mind, but it is very soothing and everything is repeated three times. I save it as my last resort because 20 minutes or so seems to put me right out — it took me almost a year to get through one episode of Jazz.

  29. Donna says:

    So many good suggestions already. I’ve had problems with insomnia for over 10 years so I soooooo sympathize with you! It’s terrible. I hate the stupidity effect! I also get very depressed without enough sleep.
    I took Ativan for over 10 years (similar to Klonopin, better than Ambien). It worked like a charm for a long time until I built up too much of a tolerance. It is addictive so Dr’s sometimes won’t prescribe it, but for me it was worth it. I tried Ambien the past few weeks and like you, I could sleep but not long enough. I’m now trying Seroquil. I also use ear plugs, an eye mask, a cool room, and peaceful music. And sometimes a boring technical book, too. I should be shutting off electronics earlier but I’m such an addict! Best of luck with it – I feel for you.

  30. Melissa says:

    I’ve been doing most of the things described above. White noise really helps. I have an air purifier in my bedroom now and I turn it on its lowest setting at night. Turning off all electronics by 8pm, no TV past 8pm and reading printed material every night for up to an hour helps a lot. I find that when I get out of the routine of my “sleep diet” it all goes to hell in a hand basket but once I get back into it I’m able to sleep better. I also go through phases where I take Melatonin every night for a few weeks. I’ve tried acupuncture and it helped (but it’s expensive to keep up with). The other thing is to stop drinking all caffeine by noon and no chocolate after 3pm. Good luck, I know how awful it feels when you’re not able to sleep.

  31. Di says:

    If you want to go the TV route I suggest a shopping channel. It’s so repetitive you can close your eyes and just have it on in the background. It’s never interesting enough to keep me awake and also acts like white noise. The chatter distracts my brain so I’m not stuck in my own thoughts.

  32. Blair says:

    I can never sleep, I’ve tried all of those things. So now I just get out of bed, and read about peri-menopause, and how stupid I’m going to be in the middle of it, brain fog, no sleep, etc. argh.

  33. Lesley says:

    Drugs. Take drugs that knock you out for one or two nights, and it will give you your sleep mojo back. Benedryl or Nyquil or Zquil or whatever works.

  34. Amy says:

    I can’t help at all. Ten years of parenthood-induced sleep deprivation is the only thing that has cured my insomnia. And sometimes even that doesn’t help.

  35. Leah S. says:

    Wow, it’s astounding how many people have problems with sleep. KF, you’ve clearly hit a nerve and you are clearly not alone!

    For me, I find a noise machine can be really helpful (or soft classical music, or touchy-feely meditation-sleep CDs–whatever). Yoga Nidra Cds can be cool.

    And yes, “like a farmer in a field” exercise.

    And, journal that shit out at bedtime(if it’s worries that are hounding you at night).

  36. Christine says:

    My husband has terrible insomnia. In addition to many of the good suggestions here, let me suggest a few machines. They are a little pricy maybe but there’s no other downside:

    If regular meditation is too hard or too “spiritual,” try a Resperate machine. It’s essentially a biofeedback device for slowing the breathing. It’s intended for hypertension but it really helps my husband wind down to sleep. (Trust me, he could NEVER just sit and meditate!)

    In the morning, he fires up a small SAD light (Litebook Elite) while eating breakfast and reading the paper. Seems to help him establish a more regular sleep rhythm.

    Seems like attacking the problem from many angles, and then being patient/gentle with yourself/not freaking out too much work best. Good luck!

  37. mslewis says:

    I had no idea so many people had trouble falling asleep. The only time I can’t sleep is when everything is too quiet. I live, and have always lived, in urban areas where there is always noise at night . . . sirens, dogs, etc., and hearing all that is the only way I can get to sleep. When I vacation in the country or near a beach and there is no noise I can’t sleep at all. So, I have no solution for you Kim, but I do feel sorry that you can’t sleep. I will say though that drugs are NOT the answer. There must be a natural way to end the problem because getting addicted to over-the-counter or prescription drugs is not a good thing.

  38. KimFrance says:

    Thanks for all of the amazing feedback, guys–I’m touched that you care and really impressed with your depth of knowledge on this topic. I’m beginning to think that the problem lies in the fact that I work until very late at night; I’d been warned that the computer’s blue light can keep you up and didn’t want to believe it, but so many of you have mentioned it here that I’m beginning to accept it as my new reality.
    But no screen time after 8pm? This scares me!

  39. Catherine says:

    I know how horrible it is to be chronically sleep deprived. After working for 5 months despite insomnia in a grueling job with its own built-in sleep deprivation schedule, I had to go on sick leave for 6 months for chronic insomnia. I know how scary it is to be so tired that I was afraid to drive and cause an accident every day, so tired that I no longer used the parking brake because I would drive with it on, so tired that I would forget my keys in the worst places (in the ignition of my parked, unlocked car downtown, or in my bike lock, while my bike was “locked” on a busy street).
    I tried everything. All the dietary, lifestyle and environment modifications mentioned in the replies above (including regular yoga and meditation), all the sleep drugs, and antihistamines like benadryl and atarax (horrible and did not help me), many natural sleeping pills (valerian, melatonin, and a few others that I can’t recall right now), listening to the rain or ocean on my ipod, doing The Work by Byron Katie (extremely helpful, but did not help with insomnia), and seeing a terrific psychologist (also very helpful, but not with insomnia).
    Kim, you will very likely find something that works for you in the list above. The thing that worked for me, that allowed me to go back to work (though I still don’t sleep normally, but can function), is something I would be happy to share with you via email if all else fails, but it is not something I wish to post on this site.
    Also, rhodiola supplements from New Chapter have been life savers for functioning despite sleep deprivation. 2 capsules in the morning (instead of the recommended dose of 1 capsule) works for me.

  40. Had to just say, I feel your (sleepless) pain. Hope Mr. sandman pays a visit soon!

  41. katya says:

    Meditation. I had bad insomnia every night for a couple of years- money problems, long distance relationship, anxiety about raising my daughter alone… It was hell. I started to meditate every day. It’s been 6 years. I got my sleep back (and some problems disappeared along with the boyfriend…) I still have the occasional sleepless night out of anxiety, but chronic insomnia is gone.

  42. Mimi says:

    Early morning wakeups (EMW) are usually a sign of anxiety. Your mind just won’t turn off, and wakes you up. Two suggestions: xanax before you go to sleep. I wangled a rx from my internist two years ago when the stress of selling a house/buying a new one and moving was waking me up at 2-3 a.m. for months. I take 1/2 a low dose (0.5mg) and sleep like my dog, which is to say long and peacefully. My doc warned me against this fine drug’s addictive qualities, but after 2 years, I still have 6 left of the 30 he prescribed. I rarely pop a pill because listening to an audiobook usually works. Use an iPod or buy an old fashioned boom box CD player. Plug it in next to your bed. Rent audiobooks from the library. When you wake up hours before dawn, put on earphones and listen to a story. You can learn to locate the buttons on the player in the dark. You won’t disturb your husband. And you get to lie in the dark with your eyes closed. It really works, and usually in less than 5 minutes. In the light of day, I move the player into my bathroom, and listen when I’m putting on makeup, flossing, etc. Just finished the new John Irving novel. Good luck.

  43. Maurine Sauret says:

    Do you know if acupressure works to reduce insomnia. I could really do with that, but I’m not buying a mat if it’s a load of garbage.