What Finally 'Cured' My Insomnia (And All the Things That Didn’t)

Last updated: September 2021

During my 2-ish year struggle with active insomnia, I felt as though I was living my life through foggy glasses. I spent so many days feeling as though I was trudging through mud, just trying to survive. I would almost describe it as a purgatory – during both the day and the night, I couldn’t escape my discomfort, and everything became dictated by my inability to sleep.

Despite feeling like my head was underwater, I was a woman on a mission: I needed to solve my issue and to sleep soundly once again. It wasn’t easy, and I oftentimes felt as though all hope was lost.

Here are all the things I tried. At some point, I was willing to try anything -- I took suggestions from doctors, herbalists, friends, family, cab drivers, Tinder dates, message boards... This is what worked, and what didn’t, for me.

What didn’t work for my insomnia

  • Melatonin. This was something recommended to me by dozens of people, including my doctor. I thought it would be a magical cure – I tried all different doses. None of it worked.
  • Magnesium. Another supplement touted as a magical insomnia & anxiety cure, I started taking it before bed each night. I lasted about 2 weeks before I threw the bottle in the trash.
  • Hot baths. A hot bath felt great, and relaxed my muscles, but it definitely wasn’t a cure.
  • Massage. I thought that if someone could just rub the tension out of my tired muscles, my brain would get the signal that it was time to visit dreamland. It felt great in the moment, but another sleepless night awaited me.
  • Benadryl. This was suggested by several people, and also something that I remembered knocking me out as an allergy-suffering kid. I took the recommended dosage, which just made me feel loopy but somehow not at all sleepy.
  • Sleepytime teas. I tried valerian, chamomile, lavender, and other blends. It was a surefire way to make me have to pee, but did nothing to make me sleepy.
  • Exercise. I tried a few different types – going on runs, going on walks, lifting weights, in the morning, at night…I thought it would tire me out and re-regulate my nerves. But for me, it just made my nerves feel extra haywire.
  • Basically every sleep hygiene recommendation. I avoided naps, caffeine, alcohol, using my phone, I kicked my cat out of my bed, I avoided screens before bed, and all the other suggestions that ultimately just limited my ability to find comfort in any capacity.

What kinda worked

  • Acupuncture. I was really blunt with my acupuncturist about how I was struggling, and he took my concerns seriously. It felt good to be heard. I slept well every time I had a session, but it wouldn’t last longer than a night or 2.
  • Super gentle yoga. There were a few videos on YouTube designed specifically for sleep that included really gentle stretches and meditation, which would sometimes help me drift to sleep for a few hours. But again, no long-term relief.
  • ASMR videos. A quirky YouTube subgenre, ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. These videos (which many people find super weird) usually include someone speaking softly to you about various things, making soft sounds. They really soothed me, but again, they only worked sometimes and didn’t provide long term relief.
  • Meditation. Again, this would help me breathe deep & accept my predicament, which would calm me down. But on its own, it wasn’t enough for me.
  • Talk therapy. I had a wonderful therapist during my years of insomnia, who provided great support and some helpful tips & tricks. But again, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) wasn’t the end-all-be-all cure for me.

What really worked

  • Benzodiazepines. These are generally not considered a long-term solution, but were the only thing that would help me get some sleep. For a few months, I took a super low-dose of Xanax a few times a week just to get some rest. I was then prescribed a low dose of temazepam by my doctor, which I took every night for about 6 months, and it finally allowed me to reach some semblance of a normal sleep schedule. I started to associate my bed with rest, and was able to wean off of the medication fully after about a year. To this day, I rarely need it, unless I’m really jet lagged or extremely anxious. (Please speak with your doctor before trying any new medication – benzodiazepines can be very addictive.)
  • SSRIs. I had initial reservations about trying an SSRI, but I knew that for me, I had to get my anxiety in check before I could consider sleeping normally again. And it really helped me. I started taking 20mg of Lexapro (a very personal decision!) and after about a year I noticed incredible differences in my sleep regularity and general nervous system arousal.
  • CBD. These days, in addition to my Lexapro, I find CBD incredibly helpful on nights where I feel wound up. It truly helps relieve my anxiety and restlessness. I generally take it about an hour before bed when I feel particularly anxious.

The journey to find something to manage your insomnia is personal. You’ll see that for me, psychiatric medications were some of the most helpful in reigning in my sleep. But remember that everyone is different – what didn’t work at all for me might be your cure.

What things worked, kinda worked, or didn't work at all for you? Let us know in the comments below!

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