My Insomnia Story (& Tips!)

health Dec 08, 2016
My 20 year insomnia story and tips for better sleep

It’s 2 am and I’m staring at the ceiling again. I’m tired. I know my baby will wake up again in a couple of hours. I’m aware that this is my one moment to get some sleep between the constant feedings that go with the newborn stage—but there I lay awake. The fact that I know my toddler will be ready to start his day at around 6 am and that I’ll have no hope to try to sleep again after the next feeding, only added to my stress and frustration. My husband was on another business trip, so I knew there were no reinforcements. It was me and me alone who had to face the next day—sleep or no sleep.

So this was it—my moment to sleep—but sleep wasn’t coming. 

My Insomnia Story

That was probably the absolute worse time in my insomnia journey. It still shocks me that even in my most sleep-deprived season of having two babies back-to-back I wasn’t able to sleep. You’d think that not even insomnia would stop a new mom from sleeping when she had the chance to.

I started suffering from insomnia around 1998. What’s crazy is that I used to be able to sleep through anything. I was even a really good power napper. My college roommates used to laugh at me because if I had ten minutes before I had to leave for my next class, I’d take a quick nap.

So, what happened in 1998?

Well, I got married in 1997 and moved halfway across the country. Ha! No, my husband didn’t cause me to have insomnia. I also don’t think Chicago caused my insomnia either. However, sleeping with another person in my bed was an adjustment. So, I do believe that threw off my sleep routine a bit, but it didn’t cause insomnia.

Stress caused my insomnia!

I truly believe that my insomnia journey started when I started experiencing more stress in my life. Around 1998, I started experiencing a lot of strain in key relationships in my life. I started feeling alone and depressed. I started gaining weight which fueled my old eating disorder—compulsive over-eating. Luckily, I was still really active, so my weight gain wasn’t as bad as it could have been (I worked in a gym). But the weight gain made me start getting more self-conscious and triggered old baggage. Baggage. Gotta love old baggage. Ugh! So, I was experiencing stress on many levels.

{My depression and eating disorder stories will have to be covered at another time.}

Insomnia REALLY is Torture!

Sleep deprivation truly is torture.

We’ve all heard stories of war camps that deprived prisoners of sleep. Yep! I felt like a prisoner of war in my own home. My prison of insomnia that never seemed to get better.

Regardless of what is causing your insomnia—stress, depression, anxiety, hormonal imbalance, busyness, or some other unknown factor—there are things you can start doing today to help you start getting more sleep.

What Helped Me With My Insomnia

I have to admit that the writer/blogger in me wanted to keep this subtitle within my brand and call it “Simple Solutions to More Sleep.” Ha! I couldn’t do that! I wouldn’t do that! It’s not simple. It takes time. Some people have fewer contributing factors, so their solution really may be “simple.” But for the rest of us, who have suffered severely for years, I’m going to keep it very real.

My insomnia comes and goes now. I’d love to say that I’m totally cured. I’ve had so much success in the last several years. I sleep better now than I have pre-1998. I go long stretches without insomnia. But it sneaks up sometimes—especially if I have unresolved conflict (more on that in a bit) or if I have something early in the morning I need to be sure I’m up for.

Natural Insomnia Helpers

1) Reduce Stress!!

Okay, I’m going to get painfully vulnerable with you for a moment. My stress was so severe at one point that my body was reacting in more ways than just insomnia. I started suffering from incontinence. Yep! I said it. I peed on myself. I couldn’t control it. I had some almost really embarrassing moments. It almost happened in front of some colleagues. It was horrible!

I saw so many different specialists and had numerous really uncomfortable tests done. They couldn’t find any physiological reason I was having incontinence. Good news, but I was still having accidents. Finally, I was in with one doctor and she happened to ask me if I had any stress in my life. I laughed at her and started telling her just a few things that were going on. She smiled and said she found the problem.

I saw a counselor later that week. I poured my heart out to her. As I wiped away my tears and tossed the piles of tissues off my lap and into the trash, she reassured me that what I was going through was normal. Somehow just un-bottling everything I’d had pinned up inside of me solved my problem! Can you believe it? A trip to see a counselor cured me of my incontinence. 

I share that story because it shows the severe effect that stress has on your body!! No, my depression and insomnia—nor my stressful issues—were solved at that time. However, it was a start!

Here are a few little tips if stress is possibly causing your problems. Do note that one of the tips you’ll read about in articles for reducing stress is sleep. Ha! That doesn’t help if you have insomnia. When I read that once, I laughed then got more stressed that I’d never get better.

  • Prayer and Time in the Word!! I can’t stress enough how important it is to “cast your cares on the Lord" (Psalm 55:22). When my stress is at its worse, I often find I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off and haven’t been slowing down to rest on the Lord. I share some helpful tips on how I make time for Bible study and prayer in my book, Sanity Saver for Moms.
  • Unresolved conflict!! Unresolved conflict and sleep don’t mix! “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” (Ephesians 4:26) is God’s awesome advice. I've found that journaling and opening up lines of communication helped a lot with resolving conflict. It's not always that easy. However, it does lead me to the next tips...
  • Counseling!! I think every person—and married couples for that matter—should go in to see a counselor every few years. Sometimes just talking to a pastor at your church or finding some Titus 2 women in your life makes all the difference.
  • Slow Down!! Busyness is a definite culprit in insomnia and stress. Again, I have more on slowing down in my book if you want to read more about it.


Believe it or not, I can finally drink caffeinated coffee after almost 20 years of not sleeping for a day or two if I had even a small cup in the morning. Yep! Even a little dark chocolate would get to me. If I had any dark chocolate, coffee, or black tea, I knew I was making a conscious decision to have at least two bad nights of sleep. I was that sensitive. Basically, I hate to say it—BUT IF YOU SUFFER FROM INSOMNIA, YOU SHOULD NOT CONSUME ANY CAFFEINE!! I’m so sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But that morning cup of coffee that you swear by to get you through the day, IS affecting your sleep if you suffer from insomnia. {Again, I’m sorry!}

3) Supplements

  • Vitamins: Good quality vitamins are really important for overall health. However, when it comes to getting good sleep, I've found that good vitamins and supplements are so helpful. Vitamin A, B12, and D are great sleep-helpers. I take an extra dose of vitamin D above and beyond what my multivitamin contains. (I use doTERRA Lifelong Vitality Pack for my multivitamin and omega 3.)
  • Magnesium and Potassium: Both magnesium and potassium are known to be helpful for bringing on sleep. I have several friends who found relief just by taking magnesium. I found that magnesium made me dream really vividly if I took it right before bed. I may just be weird. I just take it in the morning and don't seem to have that problem. Potassium is supposed to be good for helping you stay asleep.
  • Essential Oils: I've always loved using lavender hand lotion before bedtime. I love the smell. Now I just use the real deal. The essential oils I use to aid with a restful night's sleep are: Lavender, Serenity™ Calming Blend, Vetiver, and Roman Chamomile. I put them on my neck and feet (the Vetiver goes on my feet...I find it too oaky to be on my neck for me to smell all night). 
  • Melatonin: You've probably heard a lot about melatonin. It helped me a bit when I was first starting to look for all-natural help. Lots of people swear by it for getting sleep. When my insomnia was severe, it didn't help much.

4) Create a Bed Time Routine

Our bodies love routines and rhythms. Think of it like creating a Pavlovian response to sleep. By doing some of the same things, at the same, regular time, your body will start clueing in on the fact that it’s time to sleep.

  • Have a set bedtime—I fought this for years. It made me feel like I was being restricted. However, the more I keep to a “normal” time for bed, the faster I fall asleep.
  • Set the “mood”—Research shows that bright lights before bed stimulate your brain and make it harder to get good sleep. So, dim lights while you are getting ready for bed. Definitely avoid fluorescent lights. Those are the worst.
  • Don’t do, read, or watch anything exciting—Ha! I don’t mean that every night has to be boring. The key here is not to get the brain all amped up on adrenaline from doing something exciting or watching something exciting. You also don’t want to leave your poor brain “hanging.” What I mean by this is that you don’t want to be reading a suspenseful book right before bed. Personally, I’ve learned to do these kinds of activities a little earlier in the evening. So, my brain has time to process things and slow down. Otherwise, I’ve found that I just lay in bed thinking about what I think the main character will do next.
  • Do the same things every night before bed—This is not always possible, but it is helpful when trying to create a routine.
    Have a relaxing cup of herbal tea—Chamomile, peppermint, or whatever your favorite non-caffeinated tea is, get your mug out and have some. There is even a Sleepytime tea that has some valerian in it. Valerian is another helpful herb for sleep.
  • Take a hot shower—I found the research on this really interesting, so I tried it—and it helps! Basically, the shower makes your body temperature go up. Once you are out and finish getting ready for bed, your temperature drops. This kind of acts like an “off” switch for your body. Here's the article I learned about it.

5) Get Rid of Sleep Disruptors

Okay, I know kids are sleep disruptors, especially newborns. Don’t get rid of them. :) I’m not going to tell you that having small children who wake you up at odd hours is a season either. I’m a mom of five. So, I guess you could say it’s a season, but my season keeps repeating itself with each new child. However, there are things you can do to help with sleep disruptors…even the kid kind. :)

  • Ear Plugs!!—I swear by my earplugs!! They have made a world of difference. I have a severe case of “mommy ears.” I wake up to every little sound. I can still hear a child if they are crying hard. My husband tells me sometimes I sleep through someone waking from time to time. I try to only use earplugs when my husband is home. If he’s traveling, I usually sleep without them.
  • White Noise Machine—Okay, don’t get a white noise machine if you have earplugs in. That’s kind of counterproductive. But a white noise machine may drown out all the odd noises that are keeping you awake. {Maybe put it on the ocean mode and dream of Hawaii.}
  • Take turns sleeping in a different room—Ha! I always get laughed at when I suggest sleeping apart from your spouse. However, if you have had some really bad nights with no sleep and really need a good night’s sleep, then it’s something to consider. This is a great trick during those first couple of months when you just bring a new baby home.
  • Get black-out curtains—A dark room really helps! Summer was always such a killer for me since it got bright so early. Getting good black-out curtains or shades is really important.
  • Invest in a good mattress or mattress pad (& pillow)—It almost goes without saying that comfort is important. My husband and I finally invested in a Tempur-pedic mattress several years ago. We love it. (No, this is not a sponsored post for them. In fact, a different mattress company contacted me about writing for them.) If you are not ready for that big of an investment, then consider getting a really good foam mattress pad and a good pillow.

6) Exercise at the Right Time

Confused? Is there really a right or wrong time to exercise? When you have insomnia—Yes!  Exercising right before bed is not a good idea. Kind of like the whole “don’t do anything exciting” right before bed. This gets lumped in that category. Exercise is really good for you regardless of what ails you. So, I highly recommend exercising at some point in your day—just not within a couple of hours of bed.

Medication: A Severe Insomniac's Best Friend

*See my special note below about consulting your doctor first!

Over the Counter:

Initially, medicine was the only thing that could get me to sleep. I started with Benadryl, Unisom, or Tylenol PM to help me get to sleep. Well, back up a bit, I first tried A LOT of the natural remedies above first. They helped a little, but the insomnia was still really constant. The problem with these medications was that I woke up groggy and so tired. It took me forever to snap out of it. I will say the I do still use either of the before-mentioned OTC meds when I travel across time zones and am completely messed up. Usually, one night is all I need of the med.


Ambien—Ambien helped a little. I didn’t wake up quite as groggy. Overall, my insomnia was so severe, it didn’t really touch it.

Lunestra—Lunestra is really strong! Ha! I took the big dose. It’s crazy! My girlfriend who told me about it warned me to be “completely ready for bed, then take it.” I didn’t totally understand her warnings until I woke up one morning to my husband laughing at me. Apparently, I fell asleep mid-sentence that night before. Ha!

Sleep medicine scared me. If I couldn’t remember if I took it or not, I’d skip it. Then I’d lay there stressing out about whether I’d fall asleep or not.

The Best Kept Secret with Sleep Medication!!

HERE’S THE TRICK WITH PRESCRIPTION SLEEP MEDICATION!!  A friend of ours who is a doctor gave me the most incredible advice ever! Ready? He told me to take my sleep medicine for 7 days, then take 2 days off. Then 7 days again, then 2 days off. Basically, you are using sleep medicine to help your body get a jump start on reconnecting with its natural biorhythms to sleep. You are in essence training your body how to sleep again. The way it worked for me was to start stretching out those days off the medicine until I reached a point where I didn’t need them anymore. This was probably the biggest helper for me. Insomnia did continue to come back after I did this, BUT I was able to use the above natural helpers (I hesitate to say remedies) to get myself back on track.

So, try medicine as a last resort and make it your goal to use it as little as possible. But, if you suffer from severe insomnia and have tried every “trick” every written about, then it is an option. **BUT TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST!

{I did this “on-again, off-again” regime when using Lunestra. I’m not sure if it works using over-the-counter sleep meds.}

**I don’t endorse any medications I am mentioning in this post. I use their names so you can know which ones I actually did use. PLEASE always consult your personal physician before you start any kind of routine with medicine. I’m not a medical doctor. Some of these meds may eventually have infomercials by ambulance-chasing lawyers for their crazy side effects. Ha! Again, talk to your doctor! **

What to do when you can’t fall asleep or can’t go back to sleep?

One last little thing to mention here. Insomnia is different for different people. Some people have no problem falling asleep, they just can’t stay asleep. In my case, it was both. After hours of praying sleep would come, I’d roll over and wake myself up and repeat the process. Not good!

There are different schools of thought on this one. Most of the things I’ve read say to get up and do something (not exciting) for a little bit and try to go back to bed. You can try that, I do that from time to time. Honestly, I use it as a time to pray. It’s amazing how much ground I can cover while I’m laying there. At times I wonder if it is the Lord keeping me up so I can pray for people and situations. If I still don’t fall asleep, then I get up and read the Word—usually Psalms or Proverbs. 

Sweet Dreams!

Okay, that’s it!! That’s all I’ve got! I have brain-dumped almost 20 years of insomnia tricks on you. :) There are a few other things that I’ve tried, but I wanted to stick with the things that have worked the best for me. I pray that they help!

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