My whole life I suffered from insomnia. I used to think it was because I was a night owl – even as a baby I apparently stayed up late and slept in. Being woken up for kindergarten but desperately wanting to sleep more is a vivid memory for me.
In high school I’d read for hours at night. I just wasn’t wired to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and when I tried, I’d just lie there.
Fast forward to graduate school when I was so starved for sleep I ended up with a prescription for Ambien. It helped for a while but wasn’t a long term solution.
As a working adult, I’d suffer through my workweek. Getting up in the morning was literally painful. I’d feel sick for the first hour or so. By mid-morning I’d feel okay but I never felt great. Like clockwork, as the day wore on I’d perk up somewhat and then be wide awake at night.
The weekends were when I’d “catch up” on sleep – sleeping in as long as I liked. Finally feeling rested. But then Sunday night I’d lie there, wide awake. Followed by a harsh Monday morning.
Over the years I tried all of the advice out there: limiting screen time before bed, watching caffeine, alcohol, and sugar intake, not eating too late, working out more, banning my phone from the bedroom, establishing a nightly routine, get a new mattress; darken the room. No luck.
To be honest, there was one piece of advice I refused to try for the longest time. And it was the strategy that ended up curing my insomnia.
During the summer of 2013 I began to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every day – even on the weekend. Especially on the weekend.
My bed time varied by no more than 15 minutes and my wake time didn’t vary at all. No hitting snooze allowed. At first I had to move my alarm clock out of reach – snoozing was a habit I formed in grade school.
Once I established that protocol it only took about two weeks before my insomnia left me for good. (To be fair, I’m sure the other pieces of advice helped lay the groundwork.)
For the past 5 years, I’ve regularly been able to fall asleep within about 10 minutes of my head hitting the pillow. Such a refreshing change from the 35 years prior.
It’s an ongoing challenge to stick to my routine but I force myself. I’d much rather stay up later on the weekend or when I’m on vacation. These days when I do indulge and push back my bedtime, I make sure I get up on time (even though it feels awful).
My friends have adjusted to my routine. If I’m out past 9 p.m. they joke about it being Pajama O’Clock for me. (I get up at 5 a.m.) I’ll gladly take the jokes in exchange for regular sleep.
I’m happy to report I rarely have insomnia any more. And when I do, it is never for multiple nights in a row.