I Fixed My Insomnia

For years, I’ve had trouble falling asleep.

When it was time to fall asleep, my mind would not stop racing. I kept thinking about various things related to business, what I wanted to write, the many ideas I’ve had during the day, etc.

This kept me turning in bed over and over, until 2AM, 3AM, sometimes even later. The mere thought that I should be sleeping was only increasing my frustration, and stressing me out. The tinnitus that I’ve suffered from for years, which is at its loudest when it’s quiet, certainly did not help.

Every damn night. I read a lot of Reddit threads during those years.

That was before the pandemic. The quarantine only exacerbated the problem: sometimes I was up until 4AM, 5AM, and woke up at noon or later the next day. The first two weeks of quarantine were the worst. When I was done reading Reddit, I went to 9GAG. Everything was out of whack.

I invested some time and energy to investigate my sleeping troubles and do something about it. I think I solved my problem now. I’m writing this in case my insomnia returns and I forget what the antidote was. Also, my experience may help someone else.

The Cause

Ready for the big revelation? Here it comes:

Because I was going to bed too late, I was waking up too late.

The solution was to get up earlier, but that also meant going to bed earlier (the second part was key for me).

Wow, really, that’s your secret?

Well, yeah? There was nothing physically wrong with me, so all I had to do is try the exact opposite of what I used to do, and see how that goes.

I was lucky that the first and the most logical thing I tried did the trick. It didn’t cost me any money, I did not have to medicate myself (which I started thinking about), and nobody suffered.

Plan Into Action

During the quarantine, I decided that enough was enough. I couldn’t let a good crisis go to waste and sleep through the most productive phase I’ve ever had in my life (no, really: the pandemic has done wonders for my productivity). I needed more time for all the creative ideas I wanted to work on, so I decided to reclaim some of the hours of my days.

Here are the steps I took to get rid of insomnia:

  1. One day, I just set my alarm for 9AM, and woke up at that time.
  2. Every day, I set the alarm five minutes earlier than the previous day. 8:55, 8:50, 8:45… I continued this for weeks until I reached the 7:00 day. Taking small steps has always worked great for me, so I simply applied here what I learned before.
  3. On a 7AM day, I started setting the alarm one minute earlier than the previous day. I wanted to slow down and see where the optimal balance was. This is where you find me today: this morning, on a Sunday, my alarm went off at 6:51.
  4. Saturdays and Sundays too! I could not have a disruption in my routine, because if I did, then I would hate Mondays. I can’t have that.
  5. I resolved to have at least 8 hours of sleep. So, if I wanted to wake up at 7AM, I needed to be in bed sleeping by 11PM.
  6. I created a falling asleep routine, which consisted of shutting down all screens that emitted digital light, at least for an hour before going to bed. There’s science to explain why this is important, google it if you’re interested (it has to do with unnatural light disrupting out internal clock).
  7. After hiding all the screens, I read a paper book until it was time to fall asleep. No Kindle books for this because I read kindle books on my tablet, and tablets were off limits.
  8. I only read fiction books. Business books were forbidden. Non-fiction is dangerous because it makes my brain brainstorm and think too much. Audio books and audio podcasts were OK because narration makes me fall asleep.
  9. When I still could not fall asleep, I applied something I found on the internet: the military method for falling asleep. It begins with conscious muscle relaxation and ends with - and this proved to be more important for me - constantly and very quickly repeating the words ‘dont think, don’t think, don’t think…' in your mind until you fall asleep. This repetitive pattern probably works because it blocks all other thoughts.
  10. The room had to be completely dark. I closed the bedroom door and rolled down the shutters.

Of course, the usual things apply too: no coffee late in the day, no late dinners… You know the drill.

See, it wasn’t that easy after all, because it took everything above combined to do the trick for me. I haven’t had trouble falling asleep since I started this routine.

Change of Story

One more thing I changed was the story I kept telling myself, about myself.

I used to tell myself this: I’M NOT A MORNING PERSON. I believed it and acted in consistency with it.

I don’t tell that story to myself anymore. Even if the old me tries to, the new me does not believe her. I realized I could become a morning person if I wanted to, and that I just needed to find the system that would help me become one.

I always hated getting up early because I always felt soooo sleepy and tired in the morning. I hated that feeling, I hated myself in the morning, and that’s the feeling I started my day with. It killed my motivation to work on all my great ideas.

And why did I feel sleepy? Because I did not get enough sleep! And why was that? Because I had trouble falling asleep on time!

My new experience - and the new story I tell myself - is that I can get up as early as I want to without feeling sleepy anymore, as long as I get my 8 hours of sleep. It just works.

Achieving Optimal Balance

At the moment, it seems that my optimum sleep time is set at 11PM -> 7AM.

In order for me to get up at what I previously thought was an ungodly hour, e.g. at Murakami time (4:00AM), I would have to be in bed and ready for sleep at 8:00PM, which means that my falling asleep routine would have to start no later than 7:30PM.

This is highly impractical. My significant others (my partner and my cat) are still very much active and would disturb my sleep, and I would disturb their activities. No matter how essential sleep is, I also want to have something of my life other than sleep and work: 7:30 is waaaay too early to go to sleep.

Those of you who have been waking up at 6AM for work are now thinking: ‘7AM? That’s cute.' I work from home, so we all define what morning means to us differently. I’m just happy to be able to finally get some sleep.

Cover Photo by Alexander Ramsey on Unsplash

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