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Treating Insomnia

Many people with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), fibromyalgia, mast cell activation syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and a variety of other invisible illnesses struggle with insomnia.  This might be from lack of exercise during the day, napping, pain, sympathetic surges, or a variety of other causes. Here are some hints that may help you sleep a little better at night.  Consult your physician if your sleep doesn't improve with some of these environmental changes.

General Tips to Promote Good Sleep

  • Try a 10,000 lumen light every morning to reset the sleep/wake cycle
    • Aim the light at your chest for 30 minutes first thing in the morning while you eat breakfast, work on the computer, or read a book
    • The light may also decrease fatigue and brain fog
  • Exercise at least three hours prior to bedtime
    • Afternoon exercise works better than morning exercise in promoting sleep

Foods and Drinks that can Affect your Sleep

  • Schedule your evening meal at least three hours before bedtime
  • Avoid large evening meals high in saturated fat
  • Some vitamins and minerals can promote good sleep: magnesium, zinc, and iron. Please speak with your doctor before trying supplements.
  • Food high in tryptophan can make you sleepy: yogurt, turkey, peanut butter, dates, figs, rice and tuna
  • Eating a small portion of carbohydrates like fruit, almonds, bread, cereal, or pasta 45 minutes before bed can trigger serotonin and make you feel sleepy
  • Foods to AVOID as they may trigger insomnia
    • Those high in tyramine: soft cheeses, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, MSG, and processed meats
    • Nicotine is a stimulant and smokers take longer to fall asleep, wake more often, and experience less deep sleep
    • Consuming 300 mg of caffeine (three coffees or six colas) during the day can disrupt your sleep
    • Alcohol may help people fall asleep faster, but alcohol is also known to disrupt deep sleep

Develop Good Sleep Hygiene

  • Establish a sleep schedule
    • Go to bed at the same time each evening
    • More importantly, get up at the same time each morning
  • Allow yourself enough time to get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep
  • If you sleep in on the weekend, only extend your waking time by 1-2 hours to prevent resetting your sleep clock
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual
    • Warm baths or showers relax tense muscles and warm the body
    • Use a lavender scent near your pillow
    • Drink soothing chamomile tea before bed
    • Listen to soft instrumental music
    • Reflect on inspirational readings
    • Breathe slowly and deeply
    • Keep your feet warm with socks or a hot water bottle
  • Once in bed, use your breath to help you fall asleep
    • Lay on your back and take four deep, slow breaths through your nose
    • Turn onto your left side and take eight deep, slow breaths
    • Return to your back for 16 breaths
    • Turn onto your right side for 32 breaths
    • Continue this pattern of doubling the breaths on each side until you fall asleep

Change your Evening Habits

  • Avoid watching violent or suspenseful shows prior to bedtime
  • Avoid stimulating books directly before bed
  • Limit late-night emotional conversations
  • Avoid exercise for the three hours before bedtime
  • Avoid paying bills before bedtime if it increases your stress level
  • Decrease liquid consumption a couple of hours before bedtime to increase the likelihood of sleeping all night

Make your Bedroom Conducive to Sleep

  • Get warm, soft sheets and blankets that make you feel comfortable and safe
  • Wash your bedding frequently in hot water to eliminate dust mites and other allergens
  • Tidy up your bedroom so that it is clean and cozy
  • Do not read or watch television in bed
  • Avoid working in your bedroom. Move the desk and computer to another room
  • Remove the answering machine and television from your bedroom
  • Turn the thermostat down to 65°F (18°C ) when you are sleeping at night
  • Mask street sounds with a fan, humidifier, or another source of white noise
  • Consider earplugs if you sleep with someone who snores or on a heavily traveled road
  • Ensure the bedroom is dark
    • Hang room-darkening curtains
    • Covering all light sources in the room – light on smoke detector, digital clocks
    • Angle your alarm clock so that it doesn’t face the bed

Sleep Supplement and Medications

There are some sleep aids that you can try.  Check with your doctor before trying any of these options.

  • Melatonin.  Over the counter supplement that can enhance sleep
  • 5-HTP.  Over the counter supplement that can enhance sleep and improve mood
  • Magnesium.  Over the counter supplement that can enhance sleep and decrease constipation
  • Essential oils.  Over the counter oils that can be rubbed on your body, sprayed, or put in an infuser in your bedroom
  • Benedryl.  Over the counter, but for short term use only
  • Clonidine.  Prescription medication
  • Trazodone.  Prescription medication
  • Klonopin.  Prescription medication
  • Xanax.  Prescription medication

Partially compiled from “How to Sleep Soundly Tonight: 250 Simple and Natural Ways to Prevent Sleeplessness” by Barbara Heller