When You’ve Tried It All: 9 Tips for Struggling Insomniacs

  • Woman Using Tablet in Bed
    What do you do when you can’t sleep?
    Insomnia can be very disruptive, causing you to feel listless and irritable during the day, and anxious and fretful when you wish you were sleeping at night. For most people, treating chronic insomnia is a matter of trial and error. It might even require a combination of strategies. Consider these tips for when you’ve tried everything and still need to find something that will put you on the path toward sleeping better with insomnia.
  • hand-holding-cup-of-coffee
    1. Make sure you’ve eliminated the most likely culprits.
    If you’ve struggled with insomnia for a while, you’ve probably already tried a lot of the typical strategies. You stopped drinking anything with caffeine at night since the caffeine can prevent you from falling asleep. You gave up indulging in alcoholic drinks in the evening, since they tend to make you wake up in the middle of the night. You stopped eating large meals at night, too. You avoid the temptation of a cozy nap during the day because you know it will interfere with your nighttime sleep. But if it’s been a while since you committed to these behavioral changes, take an honest look. Are you still avoiding those potential culprits? If you’ve backslid, you may find that you need to try again.
  • Woman reading and texting on smartphone in bed
    2. Banish your electronics from your bedroom.
    For many people, insomnia or not, banishing the smartphone or tablet from the bedroom is absolutely a last resort. But it probably should be one of your first steps if you are struggling with insomnia. These devices emit a blue light that can make it harder for you to sleep. Blue light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, which can throw off your circadian rhythms and prevent you from sleeping. You could wear blue light-blocking glasses while you scroll through all your social media platforms before bed, but putting away your devices a few hours before bedtime may be more effective.
  • pills-and-bottles
    3. Take stock of your medications.
    You could be unintentionally sabotaging yourself and your sleep by taking a medication for a totally unrelated condition. For example, you may be taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant or an asthma med that’s interfering with your ability to sleep (and stay asleep). Certain medications used to treat high blood pressure, such as alpha blockers and beta blockers, are also notorious for contributing to insomnia. And there are other sleep-disrupting drugs you might want to watch out for. Talk to your doctor about your medications to find out if you could switch to something less disruptive.
  • woman-sleeping-in-bed-snoring
    4. Get checked out for other health conditions.
    It’s entirely possible you may suffer from an undiagnosed health condition that may be causing your insomnia–and once you treat that condition, you may find you can sleep better. For example, you might have sleep apnea, in which you stop breathing periodically at night. Or you might have restless legs syndrome, where twitching in your legs or feet can wake you up out of a sound sleep. Untreated depression and anxiety can also trigger sleeping problems. Treating these conditions can help improve your sleep and your overall health.
  • senior woman taking a deep breath
    5. Try deep breathing techniques for insomnia.
    If only the key to success for sleeping better with insomnia was breathing, since you have to do that anyway, right? But actually, engaging in some slow, deep belly breaths really can help, and you might not even think of this as a possible solution. As you control your breath, you can actually reduce your heart rate and your stress levels. It sends a message to your brain to relax, which in turns helps your body to relax, too. Try inhaling through your nose while counting to four or five. Then slowly breathe out through pursed lips. Repeat several times until you start to feel your muscles relax and your anxiety ebb.
  • woman-getting-restful-sleep
    6. Try cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
    Sleeping better with insomnia may be more achievable if you try cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. CBT-I is often recommended as a first-line treatment for people struggling to fall and stay asleep. CBT helps you learn to identify thoughts and behaviors that might interfere with your ability to sleep and then eliminate or replace them with helpful thoughts and behaviors. It’s been shown to be very effective, so it’s worth asking your doctor for more information.
  • smiling-woman-with-daughter-outside
    7. Get more light during the day.
    Many sleep experts recommend that you get plenty of bright light during the day, as it can actually help you sleep better at night. Open the blinds or curtains in your bedroom when you wake up. Step outside first thing in the morning and soak in a little daylight before breakfast. And try to see the sun later on during the day, too.
  • Senior Caucasian man in bed  with insomnia
    8. Don’t try quite as hard.
    Believe it or not, you can try so hard to fall (or stay) asleep that you actually inhibit yourself from doing so. The more you can let go, the more success you may experience. Yes, it’s much easier said than done, and it might not work for people who have underlying health conditions causing their insomnia. But you could give it a shot by training your body to associate the bedroom only with sleep and sex. That means getting up out of bed as soon as you realize you can’t sleep. Instead of lying in bed miserable, get up and find something quiet to do to take your mind off the problem. You could read a book, draw a picture, wash dishes, or work on a project for a while, then try heading back to bed when you feel sleepier.
  • prescription-medication-woman-with-pill-bottle
    9. Consider sleeping medication.
    If you don’t have any underlying health conditions (or take other medications) that might contraindicate their use, you could try a sleep aid. However, most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines, and you can develop a tolerance to their sedative effect, so they’re best only used occasionally. Additionally, they can make you groggy the next day. If you’re really struggling with persistent insomnia, talk to your doctor about a prescription sleeping medication that might be more effective. There are several different kinds, and one might work for you.
Treating Chronic Insomnia | Insomnia Tips When You’ve Tried Everything
  1. Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation. University of Michigan Health. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255
  2. Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
  3. Insomnia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167
  4. Insomnia: What You Need to Know as You Age. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/insomnia-what-you-need-to-know-as-you-age
  5. Khan M. 6 tips to break the insomnia cycle and get some sleep. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/six-tips-to-break-the-insomnia-cycle-and-get-some-sleep
  6. Robinson L, et al. Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment. Helpguide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/insomnia-causes-and-cures.htm#
  7. Sleep aids: Understand over-the-counter options. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep-aids/art-20047860
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Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 2
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