How I Beat Insomnia: 7 Sleep Hacks That Actually Work
It’s three in the morning.
You’ve been staring at the ceiling for the past three hours, physically exhausted yet unable to shut off for the night. All you want is to sleep, but you can’t stop counting down the hours until your alarm goes off.
“It’s 3am now, and my alarm is going off at 8. That means if I fall asleep right now, I can get… great, 5 hours of sleep”
At what point do you give up? Maybe it’s time to turn on some late-night infomercials and see if that does the trick, like you’re Ed Norton’s character in Fight Club.
Nope, didn’t work, and now you’ve only got 4 and half hours until the alarm goes off. Welcome to another restless night.
If you’ve ever suffered from a restless night, you can relate to the scenario I just explained. That was most nights for me, for most of my life so far. I’ve had countless nights where I’ve been unable to get a good night’s sleep, leading to weeks of constant fatigue and low mental functioning.
Maybe you drank too much coffee before bed. Maybe you have an important meeting early in the morning, and no matter what you do, your brain won’t stop replaying the worst case scenarios.
If you’ve never suffered from insomnia, you’re one of the lucky ones. I know so many people who are able to lay down and be half asleep before their head hits the pillow, but for me, this has never been the case.
You can be physically exhausted, strung-out on caffeine, and feel like you’re existing with a heavy fog over your life, and still have a hard time falling asleep. It’s frustrating to say the least.
After researching and testing everything out there, I’ve finally started to get better.
Yeah, I still find myself wide awake in the early morning hours from time to time, but for the most part, I’m finally able to sleep through the night. Rather than only getting 1 or 2 nights a week of good sleep, I’ve flipped the ratio, and I find myself sleeping through the night more often than not.
This is a never-ending struggle, but since I’ve managed to get much better at sleeping, I wanted to share what’s worked for me, as well as what hasn’t.
There are plenty of articles out there, with dozens of sleep tricks. While prescription sleeping medicines are always an option, I wanted to avoid this route. I’ve tried just about every sleeping trick out there, and over the last year or so, I’ve finally managed to sleep through the night. Most of the time, anyway.
Since I’ve gotten better, I’m going to tell you exactly what I do now that allows me to sleep through the night.
What Didn’t Work?
Before we get to solutions, let me tell you about some of the failed experiments I ran. After a lifetime of struggling to sleep, it’s pretty safe to say I’ve tried it all. These tricks might work for you, but didn’t have much effect for me.
As a former barista, aka caffeine addict, I’m well aware that too much stimulant intake throughout the day will have a negative effect on your sleep. Personally, I went cold-turkey for a month, only drinking caffeine-free tea. After feeling like I was going to die from caffeine withdrawal for the first week, I slowly adapted.
The caffeine was gone, but I didn’t sleep very well. I felt noticeably more tired during the day, but I still found myself wide awake most nights, or waking up every couple of hours during the night. After it didn’t have much effect, I started drinking coffee again. Caffeine is a regular part of my day, but I try to limit my intake to 400-600mg for the entire day. You can try eliminating caffeine, and you should, but unless you’re drinking coffee late at night, this might not have much effect for you.
Exercising Before Bed
Some people find exercising before bed helps them fall asleep, and some find it wakes them up, and makes it harder to sleep. I’m in the latter group.
I’ve tried only working out at night, to see if the post-workout fatigue helped me. It didn’t. I’ve also worked out only in the morning, but that just made me feel a bit more tired the rest of the day, without improving my sleep.
Exercise may or may not affect your sleeping patterns, so experiment with this yourself. For most people, however, it’s probably safe to say you can just exercise when you have the most energy, and you’ll be good to go.
Prescription Sleeping Medication
Technically, this stuff works. If you take Ambien, Lunesta, or even something like Nyquil, you’re going to be out like a light.
You’re also very likely to get addicted quickly, and become dependent. If you get to this point, you’ll really be in trouble if you’re ever without your meds. I know that I have a pretty addictive personality, so I choose to avoid this route, but I know plenty of people who use these medicines to help them relax at night.
If you and your doctor decide to go down this road, that’s perfectly fine; it’s just not a good fit for me.
7 Sleep Hacks that Helped Me Beat Insomnia
Have you been skimming this article? Cool, start reading here.
1. Sleep in a cold room.
This one has been huge for me. The colder you can make your room, the better. Aim for mid-60s if you can. For whatever reason, sleeping in a very cold environment, under the covers, helps me sleep very well. I know that being wrapped up in a blanket can make your body relax, and the last thing you want is to wake up sweating through your sheets. Keep it cold.
If this isn’t an option, a cheap, $30 fan can be a life saver. When I first moved to San Diego, I lived in a place with no air conditioning, but having a fan next to my bed with an open window got the job done. Do what you need to do, and try to lower your body temperature when it’s bed time.
2. Eat carbohydrates before bed.
Don’t even go there; this won’t make you fat, assuming you budget these carbs into your daily macros. Carbohydrates increase the amount of tryptophan in your bloodstream, which is a precursor to serotonin, one of the hormones that helps you fall asleep. Research supports me on this, as studies have shown that consuming high-glycemic carbohydrates before bed shortens the time it takes to fall asleep.
I prefer to save at least 50-60 grams of my daily carbohydrates for the end of the day, and eat them an hour or two before bed. This may sound counterintuitive, but trust me, it works. I’ve gone through dietary phases with very low carbohydrate intake, and my sleep always suffers during these times.
And, again, you won’t get fat eating carbs before bed. Don’t sleepwalk into the kitchen and eat a pizza, of course, but if the calories are right, the timing of your meals doesn’t matter.
3. Turn off electronics an hour before bed.
This is one of the common tips you’ll see floating around the internet that actually works. Artificial light messes with your pineal gland, which makes it difficult to fall asleep.
Look, I love scrolling through Facebook and watching YouTube videos in bed as much as the next guy. I just know this isn’t conducive to good sleep. Whenever I can, I try to plug my phone in on the other side of the room, or leave it in a different room altogether.
If you’re like me, and your phone is alarm clock, buy a cheap alarm clock off Amazon you can use instead – I grabbed this one for thirteen bucks, and it works just fine. Keep your phone far away.
For those of you who like watching TV at night to shut your brain down, something I did for years, try listening to audiobooks or podcasts instead. You can also try reading some fiction before bed, as your brain can relax. I’d avoid reading non-fiction or business books, as you don’t want to be stimulating your brain too much before sleeping.
If you really can’t go without your phone in bed, at least dim the screen as much as you can. But, for real, just don’t look at your phone in bed. You probably didn’t even have a cell phone 15 years ago; you’ll live.
4. Use a noisemaker, or other source of white noise.
Sleeping in dead silence is the worst. I don’t want to hear every little noise around me when I’m struggling to shut my brain off for the night. Something about white noise really helps me fall asleep, so just about every night, I play something through a speaker in my room.
You can buy a noisemaker, or you can use what you have already. I use Spotify to find something like rain or ocean noises, or even a static white noise, and play that on a timer so it shuts off after an hour and a half or so. I can’t stand the sound of crickets or sounds of the woods, so I avoid those playlists, but anything with water sounds helps me relax immediately.
There’s something very soothing about the ocean, and wave sounds are my favorite.
5. Take the right supplements
There are a few supplements that will support your natural sleep cycle that I’ve found immensely helpful. I prefer supplements that aren’t addictive, which is why I don’t take prescription sleeping medicines, so these are the best natural sleep aids I’ve found.
You don’t necessarily need to take all of these supplements together, so I suggest trying each one by itself to see how you like it. I’m a bro, so I stack a few together, but I’d try them out individually first. I’ve also rated each one based on how much I like it, and list them in that order, just keep in mind this article is my personal opinion.
Melatonin is one of the most readily-available, and easy to use supplements. Just take 3-5mg about 30 minutes before bed, and you’ll be good to go. This one helps me feel relaxed and sleep through the night, but it doesn’t knock me out like a sleeping pill would. Overall, this a pretty good natural supplement to try. I forget to take it half the time, but I do think it helps a bit. You can get melatonin just about anywhere, including the vitamin aisle at your grocery store.
Melatonin is actually a hormone, but this isn’t the same as taking a pro-hormone, and there are no known negative effects with a 3-5mg dose. You should be perfectly fine with this one.
ZMA is a combination of zing and magnesium, with some added vitamin B6 for increased absorption.
This is an interesting supplement to say the least. We know that magnesium is very relaxing for your body, and since I know I don’t get enough in my diet, I definitely notice the effects. It’s also essential for testosterone production, so if you think you may not get enough magnesium in your diet, which you probably don’t, this is a good one to cover your bases.
BUT, and this is a big but, ZMA can cause some super vivid and trippy dreams. Want to ride a unicorn to the moon, while shooting lasers at things floating around you? ZMA can make that happen.
There is no evidence for this, but it’s very widely reported, and for us supplement bros, we’ve all experience the ZMA dreams. Google it if you don’t believe me, this is a real thing.
Your dreams will feel very real, and often times, you’ll do some crazy stuff. I never remember dreams, ever, but with ZMA, I dream nearly every night. This can also mean very vivid nightmares. Not often, but if you’re prone to nightmares, maybe avoid ZMA.
Overall, I think it’s well worth taking, but if you hate dreams, this isn’t for you.
New Mood (A+)
My absolute favorite sleep supplement, and one I’ve been using regularly for the last few months, is New Mood from Onnit.
This is an interesting supplement, because while it’s not directly marketed as a sleep agent, it knocks me out cold. I gave my girlfriend some of this, and she had a similar experience, falling into a deep sleep shortly after taking it. It’s designed to be an anti-stress supplement, and it’s incredibly relaxing.
New Mood contains L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP, two ingredients that help you relax, and combine to form serotonin, that sleep hormone we mentioned earlier. In addition, New Mood contains magnesium, so you can skip the ZMA, and it has other tranquility-enhancing ingredients, like Valerian root, chamomile extract, and lemon balm. This is the ultimate natural relaxation pill.
Because Onnit is such an awesome company, for a very limited time, you can get a full-sized bottle of New Mood from them COMPLETELY FREE. You read that correctly.
That’s 30 capsules, and they recommend taking 2 before bed, so that’s 15 nights of the best sleep of your life, courtesy of my friends over at Onnit.
I wouldn’t sleep on that deal if I was you, since it’ll probably end soon*.
6. Do a brain-dump before bed
One of the biggest reasons we can’t sleep is stress. Worrying about tomorrow, trying to figure out how your day will go… this is bad news. If you have a busy schedule, you may find yourself stressed and anxious about the next day.
What I’ve started doing is grabbing a notecard, journal, or even sticky note, and writing out my next day’s tasks ahead of time. I write the two or three biggest things I HAVE to do, and schedule them. After that, I’ll schedule in a workout time, smaller tasks, meals, and even free time.
Obviously, your schedule may change, but get it all out on paper so you aren’t worried about it. If I can look at tomorrow and know roughly what I’ll be doing, and when I’ll be doing it, then I don’t have to worry quite as much as I’m trying to sleep. I’ve already planned the day for future Matt, so current Matt can relax, knowing the most important tasks will get done tomorrow.
7. Read a Good Fiction Book
I find that reading a good book usually puts me to sleep, or at least makes me very relaxed. This has the same effect as watching a movie; you can get lost in the story, and out of your own head. However, with a book, you don’t have the glaring light that will mess up your sleeping patterns.
It’s important to note that you should be reading fiction. You want to shut your brain off for the night, not kick into overdrive with some heavy reading. If you don’t like reading, try an audiobook.
If you’ve never enjoyed reading, or have a hard time with fiction, it’s time to fix that. Go pick up The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Ready Player One by Earnest Cline, or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. These are all books I’ve recommended to countless people, and everyone who’s given them a shot has absolutely loved them.
Want book recommendations every single month? Click Here to join my free monthly book club, where I’ll send monthly reviews, recommendations, and other literary shenanigans.
Wrapping It Up
Insomnia is a horrible problem to deal with, but these tips should help you get a better night’s sleep.
There are a whole lot of other tips that may work for you, but I found mediocre results with. Using a sleep mask, meditating, doing yoga or stretching, getting sunlight in the morning… all of these things can help in a lot of situations, they just didn’t seem to do much for me.
Regardless, if you’ve struggled with insomnia, know that you aren’t alone, and it can get better.
If you have tips that help you, please comment and let me know. Myself, and many others, are always looking to improve their sleep, so let’s see if we can’t make the biggest list of sleep tips ever made in the comments here.
*Sleep, get it? I made a sleep joke. In a sleep article.