How to Beat Down Insomnia Without Any Drugs

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Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Pretty much everyone has suffered through a night of tossing and turning. But for some people, it's the norm. If you have trouble getting consistent, high-quality shut-eye, but aren't quite ready to go the Ambien route (or even the Tylenol PM route), make sure you try these tips first.

tired man resting with his hands to his head

Use the reverse psychology approach

If you can't sleep, don't wallow in your misery; get out of bed. Having a good relationship with your bed (as weird as that sounds) is essential to a good night of sleep, and tossing and turning might establish or reinforce a negative connotation -- and this is completely terrible for you. Dr. Cathy Goldstein, a neurologist at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center, says that if you're lying there in a state of no-sleep agony, walk around for a bit, or at least change your location. "The bed should only be used for sleep and sex," she explains. 

Make sure you're moving enough when you are awake

Exercise is crucial, not only for your overall well-being, but for a good night of sleep. If you typically sit around like a lump of flesh all day long, get moving. Moderate exercise during the day makes it easier to fall asleep at night, and gives you better quality of sleep once you do drift off. In fact, research has shined some light on how moderate exercise can help even those with chronic insomnia experience better slumber, and conversely, trained athletes had crappier sleep when forced to be sedentary for a day. Your goal? Try for 25 to 50 minutes of moderate exercise at least three times a week (at least three hours before bedtime). You can do it.  

Change up the bed itself

Remember that advice about having a good relationship with your bed? Well, negative associations between you and your bed may be eliminated if you sleep in a different bed. Makes sense, but while this sounds exciting and all, buying a new bed or moving to a new house is likely out of the question every time you experience insomnia.

Instead, you can do a few things to change up your own sleep area to break that association, whether it's rearranging your room, getting a new comforter, switching the side you sleep on, or getting a new pillowcase. Change it up, sleep better. 

a man looking at his computer and working concentrating intensely

Set aside time to worry and stress out

When you crash at the end of a long, high-strung day, the lights go out and your mind begins to subtly betray you as it goes through to-do lists, unresolved situations, and the basic stress of trying to be an adult every day. Instead of waiting for the inevitable, Dr. Goldstein recommends actually scheduling a time to worry or stress before you wind down for the day, and well before you hit the sheets -- definitely do it outside of (and away from) your bedroom. "Give yourself permission to worry about things for a discrete period of time and when you are done, you are done," she says. This will mean you're less likely to lie awake thinking of all the terrible things that await you the next morning.

Plan your days like you're an obsessive

Another way to avoid those late-night stress sessions is to plan your life like crazy when you're actually awake, eliminating your brain's incessant reminders as you drift off that you forgot to write that meeting down. Easier said than done, but there are some simple habits you can start to develop that will make it less of a hassle over time. Make use of your phone's calendar, use a fancy planner, or color code a traditional wall calendar to within an inch of its life. If you tap out or write down things when you schedule them and go about your day, you'll likely have far less to worry about when the lights go down.

Avoid giant meals at night

Sure, it's tempting to eat half a pizza while watching TV in the late evening, but science says that's probably not the best idea -- rich meals late at night can disrupt your normal sleep cycle and can also lead to other unpleasant things, like gaining weight and developing type 2 diabetes. You don't want any of that, and if changing your eating habits can improve your overall quality of sleep as well, that's a win-win for sure.

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Monica Beyer is a health writer who is seriously questioning her bad habits. Follow her @monicabeyer.