How to Cure Your Insomnia
From acupuncture to sex, science-backed ways to get a better night’s sleep.
I was desperate. It was March, and the signs of spring were popping up all around me, bringing warmer temps and gorgeous blossoms. But I could barely keep my eyes open to see the colors. No matter what time I went to bed, I couldn’t get more than three hours of sleep a night, and I didn’t want to depend on medication — been there, hated that.
After a couple weeks of suffering in silence, I turned to my primary care doctor, my therapist and the homey Google and learned I was not alone. About half of adults in the United States experience insomnia at some point, and according to the National Sleep Foundation, Black folks are more likely than our white counterparts to deal with insomnia and the things that come with it, including sleep apnea, poor sleep quality and daytime exhaustion. But as I quickly found out, all is not lost. From acupuncture to sex (!), here are seven science-backed, sleeping pill-free ways to kick insomnia’s ass.
Smell the flowers.
I used to add a couple drops of lavender essential oil to the tub to help my little one sleep. Turns out, it works for adults, too. Studies show that lavender makes for better, longer sleep and increased energy and general well-being. Try diffusing the oil while you sleep using a spray on your linens, or take a note from my baby-washing days and drop it into a hot bath before bedtime.
Pop a pill.
Our bodies produce the hormone melatonin at night, and it’s the mastermind behind our circadian rhythms, which govern when we sleep and rise. When we don’t have enough of it, our sleep quality and duration suffer. Up your supply, and you can fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and wake more refreshed. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults start with 0.2 milligrams an hour before bedtime and slowly increase the dose up to 5 milligrams as needed, but talk to your doctor before taking new supplements.
Break a sweat.
You know how kids get the best sleep of their lives after a day of running you ragged? The same goes for grown folks. Researchers say that moderate aerobic exercise and resistance training are both associated with falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. Check out “ The Girlfriend’s Guide to Strength Training” for pointers.
This treatment worked best for me. Backed by thousands of years of success in traditional Chinese medicine, this practice of using thin needles to stimulate points on the body positively impacts physical and mental health. A 2009 analysis of 46 trials found that people who used acupuncture to fight insomnia saw bigger gains than those who relied solely on medication. And another study proved that the improvement is long-lasting.
Ignore your phone.
You know that basking in the blue-tinted light of your phone at night can disrupt your melatonin production and throw off your sleep cycle; that’s why tools like Twilight and Night Shift exist. But a 2016 study found that using your phone during the day ups your risk for insomnia, too. The more hours you log on your phone, the longer it takes you to fall asleep, the fewer hours of shut-eye you get and the poorer the quality of the sleep you get.
Now pick it back up.
There are many apps for guided meditation and relaxing sounds and even a bedtime story podcast meant to help you fall asleep. But if you really want to get to the root of sleepless nights, download the CBT-i Coach app. Developed by the Stanford University School of Medicine, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD and the Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology, it employs cognitive behavioral therapy to train your brain to conquer the factors that contribute to insomnia — including anxiety and negative thoughts — and create a new routine that promotes restful sleep. CBT-i is a proven treatment for insomnia, and you can use this app solo or in conjunction with therapy.
Get it in.
This is my favorite recommendation: A small study from CQ University in Australia found that 64 percent of participating women saw improved sleep after reaching orgasm with a partner. Researchers attribute the finding to increased oxytocin, prolactin and estrogen and a decreased amount of the stress hormone cortisol, which, combined, make us extra relaxed. You know what to do.