How to Overcome Chronic Insomnia


In my recent post about TMJ, I talked a little about my chronic insomnia. Many of us Spoonies suffer from bouts of insomnia; sometimes even years of chronic insomnia. I suffered with long periods of insomnia from the time I was 9, all the way through college. Sometimes I would beat it for a few months, or even almost a year, before it came back to haunt me again. I could go three days without sleep before I finally passed out for a few hours, naturally only at the perfectly wrong time or in the perfectly wrong place. It can be incredibly frustrating to lie awake all night, praying you will fall asleep as the worry and anxiety of what will happen tomorrow if you DON’T get sleep tonight builds and builds, and ultimately keeping you awake even longer. It’s a horrible cycle that no one should have to be stuck in.

Anyone can get insomnia, but we Spoonies in particular have a tendency towards it for a number of reasons. Just a few are listed below.

  1. Chronic pain and nausea keep us awake so often that we get into a bad sleeping cycle.
  2. We are not always feeling well enough to go outside and get proper sunlight or exercise, both of which play key factors in our circadian rhythm, which allows us to fall asleep at the right times.
  3. Chronic illness is a form of constant trauma to the body, and overtime our brains become stuck in a state of trauma and defense, and are therefor unable to relax properly.

Once I graduated college and my latest bout of insomnia still continued into the summer, I realized it wasn’t just going to end with the stress of homework, a poor class schedule, a flare-up of one of my diseases, or any other factors for that matter. It might subside for a while with certain situational changes, but it was sure to come creeping back as it always had. My insomnia was something I needed to learn how to control on my own, regardless of external factors, including my pain and the trauma it caused. I was determined to end my insomnia once and for all, and though it took hard work and a strict regimen, I am now insomnia-free! There are still a evenings where runs to the bathroom or severe pain leave me awake for chunks of time in the middle of the night, but I always fall back asleep eventually, and it doesn’t disrupt my sleep pattern for days or weeks afterwards anymore. Today I am sharing with you all my tips and tricks for how I overcame chronic insomnia!

Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Your brain recognizes your surroundings as triggers for different thoughts and behaviors, and therefore learns to associate your environment with how it should behave. This is why it is so important to create a peaceful bedroom environment with as little reminders as possible of your busy daily schedule and activities, and to establish a bedtime routine that signals your brain and your body to wind down and prepare for sleep. If you the ocean calms you, fill your bedroom with cool blue colors and seashell décor. If clutter stresses you out, keep your bedroom the cleanest spot in the house. Create and cultivate your own little sanctuary, whatever that might look like to you.

Never bring work into the bedroom. As said above, your bedroom should be a sanctuary that your brain associates with sleep and relaxation. Always work in a separate office or living room space.

Avoid technology in bed. Technology is stimulating to the brain, keeping it very alert and active. On top of that, the blue lighting of computers, phones, and other technology triggers the brain to stay active so if it is on in the room while you are trying to sleep, it will keep your brain awake.

Invest in some comfortable pajamas!: This may seem silly at first, but you’ll find that it is actually a HUGE help in getting better sleep. If you are sleeping in clothes you wear during the day, even to workout or lounge around, your body still associates this clothing with being awake. What you wear is a direct trigger for your brain/body, letting it know what time of day it is and how it should behave.

Establish a bedtime routine:

         – Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, and even on the weekends try to stay as close to this schedule as possible.

– Find an activity that relaxes you, such as a television show or reading, to do for a half hour before getting ready for bed (remember, if you choose technology, do this in another room!).

         – Take a hot shower before bed. The heat relaxes all the muscles in the body and clears out the toxins from the day, and a hot shower is very calming to both the body and the brain. If you have POTS, take a luke-warm shower instead. Give body brushing a try, it helps improve blood flow and detoxify the body, plus it just feels very relaxing!

         – Then brush your teeth, floss, etc, whatever your consistent steps for prepping for bedtime usually are. With time, these simple routine acts will become big triggers for the brain, letting it know it is time to relax and get ready for bed.

Avoid eating close to bedtime. If your body is trying to digest a new meal, it is awake and working hard. In addition, because eating before bed keeps your body active, studies show it causes more vivid dreaming, which keeps the brain from a fully relaxed, deep sleep.

Give meditation a try. There are many types of meditation to quiet the brain and put your body in a relaxed state, ready for sleep. Feel free to explore and find the type that works for you. I personally love transcendental meditation, which is often used to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

If you have taken all these steps and are lying in bed, and you still just cant turn your brain off: First of all, take a deep breathe. This is a process that won’t just happen over-night (pun intended). It may take a few weeks or more of sticking to your new routine. If you are relaxed, then continue to lie down with your eyes closed until you fall asleep. However, if your brain is reminding you of anything stressful, get out of bed, go to another room, and do your chosen relaxing activity (TV, reading, etc.) again for as long as it takes to distract your brain and calm it back down. Then, when you feel ready, try again to get into bed and fall asleep. Repeat this process as many times as necessary. There is no use in lying in bed, creating more stress for yourself because you are alone with your spiraling thoughts, more and more worried not only about your to-do list or other concerns from the day, but about the pure fact that you can’t fall asleep. No need to worry, just go back to your relaxing activity. This is a process, and over time, you will succeed!

Now lets talk behaviors during the day that help you sleep at night:

Work out/Exercise! Even if that means starting with just a mile or ½ mile walk per day. Any exercise that is safe for your personal body is great.

Get plenty of sunshine. Melatonin is a key vitamin for helping your body maintain its circadian rhythm, or internal clock, and therefore is key to getting a proper deep sleep at night, on a good schedule. Even if it is just making sure you go on a walk once or twice a day, get out in the sunshine. You can also ask your doctor about whether taking melatonin supplements is right for you during the winter or during all seasons, if going outside often is not an option for you yet. In addition to melatonin, Vitamin D from sunlight is also important for good sleep. You can get vitamin D from foods such as oranges and healthy fatty fish like tuna, or ask your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement as well.

Keep lots of lights on and make your house feel open during the day. Then, at night, as you are winding down in the hour before bed, start to turn these lights off and let your brain wind down and prepare for bedtime.

Avoid daytime naps, especially while first developing your bedtime routine. If you are exhausted during the day because you could not sleep the night before, great! I hate to break it to you, but if you force yourself to stay awake—even if all you want to do is sleep — you will be exhausted that night and finally ready to pass out when it is TIME. If you nap during the day instead, by nighttime you won’t be able to sleep again and the insomnia cycle will continue. You must break the cycle of sleeping during the day and being awake at night. YOU are in charge, not your body 😉

The number one rule in taking on these techniques for beating insomnia is to stay as relaxed as possible and trust in your new routine. Just as with taking on a new exercise routine to lose weight, results may not happen over night, but they will come. These steps may take practice and a few weeks or even a month to accomplish, but you can succeed and beat insomnia!

With great love,

Jessica Kendall James


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