Mighty Life List
Aug 30 2011

How Do You Fight Insomnia? My 10 Tips.

10 Tips for Fighting Insomnia | Mighty Girl

Tempur-Pedic asked me to track my sleep habits with a Fitbit and share the results. This is the first time I have been paid to sleep, but I have made it a professional goal to pursue further opportunities in this field. You know how to reach me.

Raise your hand if you ever have trouble sleeping. Actually, if it’s 3 a.m. you can let your hand fall listlessly by your side, I already saw you on Twitter.

A few of you have asked me how I like my Fitbit. Until Tempur-Pedic asked me to use one to track my sleep, I never bothered to learn how. Now, after sleep tracking for a week, I think it’s the most useful feature. It proved something I always suspected about myself. When my health and stress levels are in order, I have a straightforward relationship with sleep. Things have been going better lately, which means the worst night of sleep I got last week looked like this:

While waking up 11 times may not be ideal, I’ll take nearly nine solid hours of sleep any day. You can even throw in a nap, and I will not complain.

When I’m under heavy stress, however, my body prefers to be conscious enough to fret. As you might imagine, a few months ago I was awake. For weeks.

Because insomnia is such an indicator of anxiety for me, I do everything I can to get my sleeping habits back to normal. These are the top ten tricks that work for me:

1. Clear your head. Anxiety is a stimulant. I put stressful tasks at the top of my to do list in hopes of making headway before bed. For larger tasks I find it helps me to make a plan — a detailed list for the next day, an outline of a project that will take weeks to complete. If my worries are more emotional, I write stream-of-consciousness in a journal. This way I don’t waste sleep time worrying about things I can tackle in the morning. Speaking of which…

2. Keep a pen by the bed. There will always be something you forget to write down. Something so pressing that it jolts you from sleep at 3 a.m. Don’t regain consciousness while you worry about remembering the important thing. Write it down and roll over.

3. Get off the couch. Exercise. Harder than you usually do if you’re athletic. One of the less-touted benefits of strenuous exercise is that it exhausts you. Perfect.

4. Stop the nightly grind. This isn’t an issue for everyone of course, but I grind my teeth in my sleep. I didn’t realize how much it was waking me until I got a mouth guard, and so I mention it here. Consider it, my stress-ball friend.

5. Clear out electronics. They say you need to remove even the tiniest lights if you don’t want to mess with your circadian rhythms, and maybe that’s true. Illuminated clocks are so accusatory they might as well have an exclamation point after the time. But the little charging lights on my computer, phone, iPad, camera? Those are more of a problem if I’m already awake in the dark. Each one is a tiny siren song, coaxing me to conquer another level of Plants and Zombies. Not to mention how often my phone wakes me with a late-night text or call from one of the many inconsiderate louts who I have come to love. So when I’m having trouble sleeping, all the gadgets go in the living room.

6. Don’t play dead. When I’m up, I just get up. I won’t stay in bed awake for more than fifteen minutes because I don’t want my bed to become a place where I worry about not sleeping. I’ll take a bath or go read on the couch, any activity I can do supine. And if you fall asleep in the bathtub? Success.

7. Stop taking uppers. No more caffeine. If I can’t sleep, I stop ingesting stimulants because they are chemically designed to keep me awake. (I’m wacky that way.) I’ll take a two-day withdrawl headache over a month-long stint as a zombie.

8. Shower before bed. The warmth is supposed to sleepify you, and maybe it does, but I find it relaxing just to climb into bed clean. Sleeping with freshly shaved legs is also a nice bonus.

9. Get stuck. I get regular acupuncture, and I almost never have trouble sleeping on days when I have a session. The effect is similar to a good massage.

10. Powder your nose. When you finally do get to sleep, the last thing you want is to be woken by your bladder. Use the bathroom right before bed, and limit liquid intake an hour or so before you (hope to) go to sleep.

According to the Fitbit, my bout of insomnia is mercifully in past. To whit:

BAM! How you like that, Insomnia? Come and show your face, if you got beef! Or perhaps you should come back in the morning when I’m awake. We’ll discuss your behavior over a leisurely breakfast. You can do the dishes.

So that’s what works for me. How about you? How do you get to sleep?

Let me know if you need me to come over and spoon.




If you want more information on how to buy a good mattress, you can get it here. The folks at Tempur-Pedic want me to remind you about this, “This post is sponsored by Tempur-Pedic, because we think you deserve to get your best night’s sleep every night.” Thanks, Tempur-Pedic. You’ve got my back. (Pun brought to you by Maggie as a reward for reading the fine print. You’re welcome.)

27 Responses to “How Do You Fight Insomnia? My 10 Tips.”

  • Nancy King Says:

    Legs up the wall. Yoga move. Also genius for jet lag too.

  • jen Says:

    Goddess Pose – Supta Baddha Konasana, done in bed…and not perfectly, but well enough that I center myself a bit. I also have a silk eye mask to help with the light, but it took a while to get used to sleeping with something on my face–it almost always winds up on the floor by morning.

  • Anna Says:

    Agreed! Climbing in bed with freshly shaved is a mini-pleasure of mine.

  • Heather Says:

    Maggie, that image behind the bed is beyond gorgeous- where is it from??
    (I never have insomnia, but hooray for you finding things that work!!)


    It’s one of the Ace Hotels. I think New York. -M

  • Erizein Says:

    I have a bedtime routine that breaks all the rules. I know you are supposed to limit media intake, not see bright lights, nothing distracting, blah blah blah. My problem is my brain does not shut up. Ever. It jabbers at me about the meanest, stupidest stuff. So I’ve turned to audio-books and iphone games. The books have to be carefully chosen to be something i’m interested in, but not riveted by. Stuff I’ve read a thousand times is good. Pairing that with mindless, pattern-matching games manages to turn going to sleep in to a reliable, half hour process instead of the many hour bloody knock down fight it used to be my whole life. I feel silly having headphones in bed and clinging to my phone(even on camping trips)like a sacred relic, but darn it, it works SO well for me.

  • Jeri Says:

    I finally found a routine that works for me and must be followed to ensure a good night’s sleep. I need time outside (walking the pups!), a warm shower, time to turn the brain off (reading a book) and a totally dark and very cold bedroom. If I skip a step, I might sleep anywhere from okay to full blown insomnia but not with the same quality and consistency than if I follow my routine. That said, I can sleep outside for any reason at any time with no sleeping issues at all. Sadly, I cannot live in a tent. The piano won’t fit. :(

  • jodi Says:

    i’ve been using some of andrew johnson’s relaxation apps on my iphone. they really help me fall asleep; it’s kind of amazing.


    Are you talking about the 17th President of the United States? I’ll assume so. -M

  • findingmagnolia Says:

    I find that showering at any time of day helps with any anxiety I’m feeling, and I also have a thing about not wanting to put dirty summertime feet into clean sheets, so showering at night is de rigueur. The more stressed out I am, the longer I allow myself to stay in there. I still need time to unwind after the shower, but it feels so good to just relax in pajamas while my hair air dries a bit that it’s usually enough. If I’ve got a book to read that’s good, but not *too* good so I want to stay awake to read it when I could be sleeping, even better. I wait until I’m sleepy, and then crawl in and curl up. Sleep never takes long to show up after that.

  • dooce Says:

    Very, very strong medication. Over time you get over the inability to wake up in the morning.


    Ah. That explains why you don’t sound like you’re breathing when you sleep. I had assumed it was the bourbon. -M

  • a. Says:

    I tend to get insomnia when I’m avoiding something. Sometimes I don’t even know what the problem is until a few miserable nights go by. Once I figure it out and deal with it, it goes away.

    There are a few things on your list that have helped me a lot over the years, in particular the mouth guard for teeth grinding. They seem like an unsexy pain in the ass, until you wake up the next day and feel your jaw unclench and have previously unknown amounts of pep during the day. Worth it.

    I’m also a believer in a shower before bed and clean sheets. Sometimes the old sheets just get bad sleep juju after a rough night. A fresh start can really help.

    Sleeping pills, etc, have never worked for me, but I did have great results with melatonin. It doesn’t knock me out, it just makes my body more amenable to my mind’s idea that going to sleep would be great. It turns “I should go to sleep, but…” into “I’m going to sleep. Now.”


    “Avoiding something” is a perfect description of the state of mind that keeps me awake too. Exactly right. -M

  • Kristy Says:

    Wow, this is very timely for me as I have just emerged from a prolonged bout of insomnia brought on by all the caffeine I was drinking to combat jetlag from a recent overseas trip!

    My hot tips are very similar to yours – hot shower, read before bed to calm my mind (something you have read before so you won’t stay awake trying to see what happens), exercise as soon as I get up in the morning to tell my body it’s morning, try to sleep at approx the same time every night, and valerian is all working for me.
    My head tends to race with random stuff – song lyrics, plans for the garden etc so I try to stay conscious of this and use breath – focusing meditation to help stop it racing. If all else fails, get up and read for 20 minutes to get your brain off that track.
    And if course cutting out caffeine and sugar! The first few days are like being hit by a bus, but it gets better and totally helps..

  • greta Says:

    very, very timely! it takes me forever to wind down, and once i do fall asleep, i wake up frequently. some of that is just the discomfort of being pregnant (due with #2 in 8 weeks), but the wind-down part is really making me crazy. i’ve already cut out the caffeine, but i have so many pre-baby projects on my mind that it’s hard to for me to tell my brain to turn off! writing things down before bed is a great idea, i’ll have to try that.


    Oh man, with pregnancy all bets are off. I think this is why so many women take to knitting booties. Something to do with your zombie hands at 3 a.m. Congrats, by the way! -M

  • Amanda Says:

    Such great tips! I find that the nights I sleep the best are the nights I’ve gone for a run and then showered. I sleep like a baby.

  • raina Says:

    I am sprinting to my nearest Tepur-Pedic mattress dealer the next time I wake up! I can’t wait for a better night’s sleep!

  • dgm Says:

    I’ve heard wearing thick socks to bed will do the trick, but I can’t stand anything on my feet when I sleep so I haven’t tried that one. (However, apparently one way to stop night terrors in kids is to leave their feet clear–no footie pjs–so they don’t sink into a deeeeeep level of sleep wherein night terrors take place. So maybe there is some connection?)

    Deep breating and counting backwards from 300 by threes almost always does the trick. Only twice have I actually succeeded in counting down to zero, and on the second round I didn’t make it to 100.

  • norm Says:

    I like to read a book I’ve already read, so it clears the mind but doesn’t grip me to the point where I can’t put it down.

    Although spooning is good. I like that.

  • denise Says:

    I like hearing my dog breathe while he sleeps at the foot of the bed. Sometimes it’s a light snore. Comforting. In addition to my other bedtime rituals, in the summer, when I’ve been walking around all day in sandals or flip flops, I wash my feet just before bed and put peppermint lotion on them. Goofy?

  • Anne Marie Says:

    I find that using a little lavender lotion will help me feel relaxed and calm. Another trick that my friend told me about is while you are laying down with your eyes closed, look down at your feet. There’s something about the angle that trips something in your brain and helps you feel sleepy. I don’t know why it works, but I’ve found it helpful.

  • leela Says:

    thank you! this was perfect timing, as i just started a stressful job on monday and have been having some trouble sleeping. of course, the lack of sleep problem was compounded when i accidentally took two pm pain relievers this morning for my allergy headache – those things’ll knock you out.

  • Melissa Says:

    My two best sleep aids are sex and Ira Glass. No joke.


    Ira Glass is a stimulant. Unless you mean sex, and then Ira Glass as some sort of auditory cigarette replacement? If so, then carry on. -M

  • elayne Says:

    I would like to know how the hell you fall asleep in six minutes. I can’t do that even with 20 mg of Vicodin, 300 mg of Neurontin, and 10 mg of Ambien, all taken 15 minutes before I get into bed! (Ermm, not that I would ever double my dose of Vicodin, Doctor… that would be Wrong. ::koff::)

    90% of my insomnia is PMS related. Unfortunately, my PMS lasts at least 2 weeks a month (and this is the full-on raging PMS, the kind I refer to as PMP – pre-menstrual psychosis. I can’t WAIT for menopause), so it’s a pretty permanent thing. Which is miserable.

    I am with Erizein, though – especially on the pattern-matching games. My favorite one for sleep is “Rise of Atlantis” because it has this very woo music, and I can turn off the snick-snick-bkshoom noises of the actual game.

    A well-loved book is always a go-to, especially if it has a tear-jerking passage; a little bit of that burning sensation helps me rest my eyes long enough for my brain to pick up the “hey, it’s dark, let’s sleep” message. Clean feet and tightly tucked sheets are a must, and clean hair/scalp is often my last resort, even if it means sleeping with wet hair.

    I also find that getting into an unusual position – sitting up, legs up against the wall, sleeping sideways or upside down in the bed, or even just moving the bed to a slightly different spot in the bedroom – sometimes helps reset my brain enough to help me fall asleep.

    One lady who has written about fibromyalgia (and other chronic pain/fatigue issues) insists that eating a plain baked potato before bed will guarantee a good night’s sleep. I have thus far been unable to resist loading the baked potatoes with butter, salt, pepper, green onions, and a speck of sour cream, so I can’t yet vouch for her claims. (I’m not sure if the author of Potatoes Not Prozac is the same woman, but it sounds like the same concept.)

    *Not sure if the link borkd my comment, but she’s on Amazon.

  • Sassafras Mama Says:

    I had a hefty dose of insomnia when my first partner and I broke up. It was made worse by the presence of my 6 year old…..because I needed that sleep. Big time. The trick: benedryl and then reading in bed until I fell asleep. Bonus points: it’s not addicting and just took the edge off.

    I still use it when anxiety strikes. I call it Mama’s little helper.

  • Calypso Says:

    one word to cure insomnia: MARGARITAS!!!!!!!!!!

  • Calypso Says:

    Oh by the way.. we DO have a tempurpedic bed.. it’s… heaven………. seriously.

  • Auntie Says:

    Sleep? What’s that?

  • Isiah Demus Says:

    I’ve locate this blog about Coldplay which capabilities news and genuinely cool video clips of their most current stay performances.

  • Rebecca Says:

    I’m recently experiencing insomnia and I’m not sure why, but I am also being awakened by mini-earthquakes we’ve been having over here in Virginia that are inexplicably happening early in the morning. Almost no one else I know can feel them (they’re about 2.0-2.1) but the US Geological Survey confirms that they’ve been happening. Not being used to earthquakes around here they’re startling to say the least.