Ok girls and guys, I’m 27, I’ve had insomnia for as long as I can remember, let’s see if journaling and/or advice will help me solve it.
Often it takes me 3–5 hours to fall asleep.
Since I feel very restless just lying in bed and doing nothing, I end up: watching YouTube, going outside, looking for things at various forums that I could reply to, opening and closing apps without rhyme or reason, etc.
I have no idea how often I have insomnia (every night? every second night? once a week? does it come in waves or not?).
When I do fall asleep, I have no idea how exactly I managed to do it.
Bonus: in my mind I treat insomnia as a personal failure, because I half-believe that if I could just overcome myself and not watch YouTube/etc, I’d actually fall asleep. Therefore I have no right to complain.
What I’ve tried
Loona (a coloring app): I think it works, but I don’t enjoy it and that’s why I gave up after trying it for two weeks and having moderate success with it.
Medical marijuana: it worked very well for about a month, but only together with tobacco. After a month I started doing like 5–8 joints a day. I don’t want to constantly feel low energy, have sore throat, and eventually lung cancer, so that’s not a solution.
Autogenic training (a short meditation that goes like “your limbs are getting heavy” etc): tried it today, didn’t work. It’s 6am now and I haven’t slept yet.
Alcohol: I think it works, but simultaneously makes my sleep worse? I don’t know how to explain it. Regardless, not a solution.
Sleeping next to someone: works really well. But finding someone to sleep next to is its own challenge.
Melatonin: doesn’t work.
Dayvigo (sleeping pill): doesn’t work. Makes me sleepy but not asleep.
Having a cat: I once hosted a cat for a month and it was helping me wake up early, but I think after a couple weeks I just was constantly sleep-deprived. So consistently waking up early hadn’t led to going to sleep early.
I don’t know how to track cause-and-effect here because I don’t know how to spot the moment when I fall asleep. And it seems to be very random regardless.
Here are some potential causes as well as things that are often listed as causes:
Caffeine: I think I’ve had insomnia already at the age of ~14, before I was drinking coffee. Nowadays there are days when I don’t have any caffeine at all, and days when I take ~600mg of pure caffeine, and I haven’t observed a significant difference between those.
Smoking: I wasn’t smoking at all until 2022, and then spent a ~year smoking somewhat heavily. I have quit now. Again, I haven’t observed a significant difference.
Stress: no idea because I’m bad at noticing stress. It’s possible that I’ve been stressed all my life but it’s hard to say.
Bedroom situation: I have lived in many different places in the past ten years. I can’t recall ever moving to a new apartment and being like “oh huh, my insomnia is gone”.
Non-24-hour sleep–wake disorder (a “day” that’s longer or shorter than 24h): I think this would imply that my bedtime would shift steadily, but I haven’t noticed that.
Naps: this one is a genuine possibility because I have almost no memory of whether I’ve taken a nap in the daytime or not. So, even if there’s a 100% correlation it’s possible I wouldn’t have noticed regardless. This said, I almost always feel more sleepy and generally bad after a nap. Sometimes I try to trick myself by taking a nap at 9pm and hoping that it would convert into a normal night’s sleep, but no, it doesn’t.
Insufficient sleep: I already know that I need at least 9 hours of sleep. It’s possible — for example — that whenever I get less than 9 hours of sleep, it triggers a bout of insomnia that lasts [some unknown amount of days]. However, for the past year I had nothing going on that would require me to wake up early, and I still had insomnia.
Potential things to try?
ADHD medication: I feel like ADHD <=> restlessness looks reasonable. I hope to start taking ADHD medication in a month, and we’ll see if it helps.
Anxiety medication: I haven’t ever been diagnosed with anxiety, but recently I started explicitly noticing when I feel anxious and it happens quite often. Maybe I actually have GAD or something and I don’t know. We’ll see.
Going to a doctor and saying “I have insomnia, help me”: another thing I hope to try in a month.
Having money, which will make me 10x less stressed probably: again, we’ll see in a month.
Using an Apple Watch or smth to track sleep: ditto.
What I’ll be trying right now
Recording severe insomnia (I can’t track the exact time I go to sleep, but I can track when I didn’t go to sleep at all)
I have GAD and I will say it definitely effects sleep. The medication they gave me on now called Lexapro actually makes me quite tired so I take it at night and have been getting great sleep ever since. Glad to hear your going to a doctor to get some help. I wish I would have gone much sooner. It’s amazing not being bombarded by anxious thoughts.
For example the bottom plastic piece of my car started hanging down. I went and zip tied it with no issues. Does not seem like a big deal but this happened before but called my dad to do it because I had the following thoughts run through my head:
I will break the car.
The car will collapse on my head.
The car will start rolling and crush my head.
It will leak oil and somehow kill me.
I will get bitten by a spider and die.
I knew the above were irrational but I just could not for the life me overcome the anxious thoughts. Now with lexapro the thoughts are much less frequent. Even when they do happen I am able to push away the thought with ease instead of having it on loop for 6 hours. To be clear I am not trying to push a specific medication. Everyone is different and have different reactions to different medications. All I am saying is you are talking the right step going to the doctor.
Things that might be useful (or might not, I’m just drawing on my own experience here) that I don’t think you’ve mentioned
get up at a standard time, even if you haven’t slept much, it really helps if it’s morning as well (though I just noticed your cat comment which might mean you’ve tried this already - my cat’s idea of when morning is and mine differ by about 4 hours though so I still think there’s something in scheduling yourself to get up but don’t make it too early!)
get enough exercise, e.g. go out for a walk even if you’re tired (though I’d beware that making yourself super tired through exercise can just make things worse if you then don’t sleep!)
get outside in the daylight, especially in the morning
try and limit what you do in sleeping times, eg just read rather than find interactive stuff to reply to
track what you can, whether by device or just by writing it down, making a spreadsheet, logging something to a Beeminder goal or whatever you find simple - you often don’t notice small improvements but they become more obvious when you can look back.
Other comments: sleeping next to someone, well then you can get messed about by their sleep problems as well. Alcohol, yes, feels like it works sometimes but I’ve noticed from my Apple watch that it raises my sleeping heart rate so I might sleep more but it’s not the best sleep for sure.
And yes, it’s not helpful to treat this as a personal failure (and the same goes for many, many other things) your sleep is part of a big interconnected system and you have control over some of it and not over other bits. There’s unlikely to be one “if I just did this right” thing that’ll fix it. But I do think you can, in time, nudge enough things in the right direction that you can make things better.
“get up at a standard time, even if you haven’t slept much” — do you know how much time it might take before there’s a noticeable effect? I usually feel pretty bad if I haven’t slept enough, so I’m curious if it’s like — a few days, a week, a month?
Good question but I’m not really sure. I’m looking at it from the other direction, where I mostly sleep ok most of the time, and I notice that after a week-ish of mornings where I don’t get up at reasonable times I find there’s a higher likelihood of not me not sleeping at night which domino-effects itself into sleeping later in the day which further screws things up. It always feels kind of backwards that I end up tireder at the end of a holiday than when it began.
Another update: I thought I only had bouts of anxiety (like a few times a day), but now all the couchsurfers are gone and I’m looking at what I’m feeling w/ no people around, and it’s just a sort of a persistent low-key dread.
Seems entirely possible that I’m just feeling it all the time and not noticing it. Doesn’t feel like an abnormal state, also feels like something deserved (“yeah of course you should feel dread, you have been ignoring emails for a while now”).
Which could also influence sleep either directly, or indirectly by making me want to scroll my phone all the time to distract myself.
Did you try different ranges of dosages? Some people prefer megadosing, some others need half a gram. Half a pill is perfect for me, but one entire one doesn’t do anything.
Some people do fall asleep more easily on a low dose of Ritalin.
I totally see why.
I’ve bought one for this reason and it was a good idea IMO.
EDIT: it’s actually a Pixel Watch – I do not recommend it because of the battery life; but well, as long as I keep it charged, it does the job
Made it way easier to fall asleep in my experience. Make sure to differentiate between anxiolitics and antidepressants. The former is for acute anxiety issues, the latter is for generalized issues.
I’ve been taking an antidepressant for another unrelated reason, and certain dosages make me super sleepy. It’s a good thing for me, as long as it doesn’t happen in the day.
I believe that it kind of fixed my sleep; and now, I use other stuff to make it awesome (Melatonin, Zinc, Magnesium, NAD+, Vitamin D, Beeminder tricks to sleep earlier – damn, that’s a lot).
Some stuff to consider:
What kind of sleep are you having; what kind of sleep do you need? → do you need more REM sleep? Do you need more deep sleep?
There are supplements that reliably improve sleep, like Zinc and Magnesium. Ez win with these ones, with almost 0 risk. Don’t quote me on that though.
Antidepressants are kind of the nuclear option… If you get one, make sure to pick one that has a long long half life; because otherwise, it’s a hell to get off of them. Duloxetine is 19 hours, Prozac is like a a few days. Obviously, it’s harder to get off Duloxetine.
I just kinda blindly followed SSC’s advice that “higher doses can’t possibly do anything extra once a certain threshold is reached”, but your experience re/ half a pill vs a whole pill seems to completely void this. So maybe I should try again w/ different doses.
There are supplements that reliably improve sleep, like Zinc and Magnesium.
I’m taking magnesium citrate every day in the morning as a very mild laxative. Never heard that it could affect sleep though. Do you have a more specific rec (morning/evening, specific compound, etc)? Same for zinc.
What kind of sleep are you having; what kind of sleep do you need? → do you need more REM sleep? Do you need more deep sleep?
No idea. The issue I’m struggling with is more like “falling asleep at all”. Eg. it’s 2am right now and I’m sleepy and I have no desire to go to sleep. If I do go to bed now, I’ll just be back here again in half an hour.
My money stress is more like “I didn’t have a job for a few months and in the meantime I still had ongoing expenses/debts that couldn’t be canceled”.
Will look at it, thanks
Avoid “sleep medication” like Xanax – it’s not going to get you really good sleep in the same way that weed destroys REM sleep, which is kinda super important.
Hm, okay, will keep in mind.
My fix for that was to go to a coworking space; once I’m out, I don’t care about emails.
I’ve never actually tried a coworking space in my life, so that might also be a good idea, yeah. I do work better when I’m around people. For my actual job I have an office, but for all other emails I don’t.
Magnesium and Zinc before sleeping. This is what I’ve found to be the most effective in my research, and what I’ve found to work the best in my personal experience too. I truly feel more refreshed and have a weird visual fluidity when waking up after this combo. Worth a try
Some other stuff to know; sleep can be considered as a balance with two weights:
Sleep pressure: is your body exhausted?
Sleep cycle: is it “the right moment” for sleep?
(FWIW; I believe this model is considered obsolete; but it served it’s purpose well for my needs )
For sleep pressure, well, take a run in the day. For me, pushing my brains to the limits is what works best. Solving complex problems.
For sleep cycle, there are tons of stuff you can do.
Some of the most effectives ones, on the top of my head:
15-30mn of sun the earliest possible in the day. Truly get out and get true sunlight. Lights from the inside are not powerful enough to trigger the effect you are looking for.
Cold showers (tried it 3 times in my life; hate it; but if you can do it, can be good)
Viewing sun in the afternoon!
Compounds that sync with circadian clock like NAD+ (maybe Vitamin D, don’t quote me on this…)
Forcing yourself into bed at a specific hour. I had the best sleep of my life when I forced myself to brush my teeth and go to sleep immediately after dinner for a few weeks.
Update: I looked at the Peter Wozniak links but I’m not sure it’s relevant for me.
In other words, free running sleep occurs when you go to sleep only when you are truly sleepy (independent of the relationship of this moment to the actual time of day).
For example, if your preferred waking time is 9 am, in 17.5h waking day, your bedtime should be 9+17.5=26.5, i.e. 2:30 am.
I think I’m truly sleepy right now, and quite tired, and yawning. But still if I go and lie in bed it will take me several hours to fall asleep.
Right now I just did a little experiment and tried to lie in bed with my eyes closed, and felt like I’d rather be doing anything else but this. I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t have the willpower to endure this “lying in bed and doing nothing” state for several hours.
That’s the most annoying thing btw — somehow if it’s not “official bedtime sleep”, I usually don’t have this thing! I can take a nap at 8pm, at 3pm, whenever, I enjoy the nap (although I feel meh afterwards). I tried tricking myself by leaving the clothes and the lights on, and it actually works sometimes.
I did try a few times to just skip the night entirely, and then I always crash in the middle of the day.
I feel like this looks like ADHD
Yeah, it could be.
Sleepiness is when you want to close your eyes and lay down. You feel like passing out. Tiredness is when you feel a lack of energy; those are not the same thing.
Hm. I can’t say right now which one I am. I definitely feel like I want to close my eyes and lay down. I just tried closing my eyes and it’s actually somewhat enjoyable, but the moment I think “this is in order to fall asleep”, I stop feeling like I’ve closed my eyes and start feeling like I’m actively looking at the darkness. No idea whether I’m tired or not but I know for sure that if I went out on a night walk right now I would easily walk for a couple hours and even feel sorta energetic.
5:30 am and I’m still awake while feeling sleep-deprived at the same time, so this counts as another insomnia night even if I manage to fall asleep in a few hours.
Didn’t eat enough today? (light breakfast + quite good dinner + random snacks)
Didn’t walk enough today? (10k steps, down from 30k the prev day)
No physical touch / contact (apart from cashiers and waiters).
Anxiety about tasks has returned.
After paying rent etc, I only have about $150 of my own money left for the month, which will turn to zero if I decide to pay the hosting bills as well (which is one of the tasks). This is survivable because there are people I can borrow from, but it doesn’t feel like “my money”.
I drank a shot of vodka at 3am because “it’s more fun than doing nothing”, although I was already in the likely-insomnia state before that.
I feel like I did nothing today in general. Like, a very uneventful day compared to the days when I host couchsurfers or go to work.
Walking outside (14ºC) without a jacket? Feeling like I have a slight fever.
No caffeine tabs today but I did drink one cappuccino. Which admittedly seems very mild compared to my normal caffeine intake.
I think (4 5 7 8) are the important ones. If you strongly disagree, feel free to point it out.
More things to try in addition to the previous ones:
No caffeine at all might be interesting. I still don’t think it’ll work but the prior is so strong (everyone says it’s important) that it’s worth a try. Luckily a new month has started, so: no caffeine whatsoever in May. No coffee, no tea of any kind, no caffeine tabs. Out of abundance of caution, caffeine-free coffee and herbal teas are also verboten.
Magnesium every night, as recommended by @clouedoc.
Eating at specific times – usually it happens automatically for two out of three meals on workdays, but three out of three might be better.
I’m explicitly ignoring some ideas like “no phone in bed” or “use your bed only for sleeping” because I don’t have the willpower to implement them. I’ve actually tried the phone thing already and it didn’t stick.
(NB: adding vit D to the list of things that don’t work because I’ve already been taking 2000 IU/day for the past few months)
Found a different kind of insomnia! I went to sleep at midnight and felt pretty comfortable just lying in bed. Didn’t feel like “staring into the darkness” (good). Regardless, I think that I was still awake at 2am so it took at least two hours to actually fall asleep.
I already don’t remember what I ate yesterday or what I did yesterday so I can’t comment on that unfortunately. I wonder if other people generally can remember well what they did yesterday.
This said – no drinking, no smoking, no coffee/tea, and I did start taking Mg before bed.
When in a fight-flight-freeze situation, I usually choose “freeze”. So yesterday I smoked four cigs at midnight in order to actually do/fight some of the tasks, after three weeks of not smoking.
Upsides: very easily reduced my hosting bills from $380 to $150/mo. Paid some of the “final urgent warning” bills.
Downsides: Jesus Christ that was a trip. Sleep paralysis; trying to record voice messages and hearing something entirely different on playback; knowing for a fact that Greg Davies moved into my apartment (somewhere there in the darkness) and invited friends and now silently wants me to sleep on the sofa because the bed is too big for me and I’m being inconsiderate. I didn’t even get to talk to Greg! Press F in chat.
I don’t know when I fell asleep but I think it couldn’t have been earlier than 3am.
It’s not red because I actually had sleep and didn’t wake up sleep-deprived, but neither it was a good night’s sleep.
I asked this question to myself too, asked a few people, turns out that I was the only one living in a constant today. Whole events of my life are missing from my memory, and I only recall them from secondhand stories from friends and family. This was kind of scary, especially because I’m in my early 20s .
I thought that I was brain damaged and on track for Alzheimer’s, but I believe more now that it’s both bad attention and poor poor sleep.
With great sleep, I got a better sense of time passing. For instance if someone asks you “when did you go eat lunch with John?”, you will be able to reliably say “oh, two days ago”. But without great sleep, you will have trouble locating it. Was it today? Was it yesterday, or one week ago?
Same goes for free recall “what did you do yesterday?” → instead of a blank page, you’ll at least be able to pull out a few ideas and backtrack your day from there.
I’d say the sleep was still not ideal, although honestly I don’t remember anymore. I went to sleep at around 2am and the alarm woke me up at 8:30am ('cause work). Without caffeine, it takes me 1.5h from [waking up] to [being outside]. Would be nice to reduce that number.
I think I’ll end up being sleep-deprived by the weekend, but we’ll see.
Smoking again b/c urgent tasks again, but I threw away the pack afterwards. (Tbh I don’t even know if it influences my sleep positively or negatively.)
Social life! Played Mario Kart with a few other people.
Holiday in Poland, so no work.
No drinking, no caffeine.
Two (light) meals + snacks.
The important ones are probably (2 3). Yesterday was also probably my sleep baseline. Not sure.
Things to try:
No new things to try. I’d like to wake up without an alarm but I don’t know how to accomplish that given that I need 8 hours of sleep. I feel like it might still be helpful if I didn’t spend extra time in bed. Again, we’ll see.
Update: actually, I can work from home in the morning, then join ppl at lunch and only go to the office afterwards. Then I will be able to wake up a bit later.