Wide Awake at 3 A.M.? Readers Offer Advice on Insomnia


For some of our readers, the most effective sleep aid at 3 a.m. is a boring book or pleasant sound. Several told us that these distractions stop them from thinking about the state of the world and getting agitated.

Karen Sandness in Minneapolis said that anytime she wakes up in the middle of the night she grabs a nonfiction book, “preferably a difficult and detailed one.” With the right book, she said, “there’s none of the ‘I can’t wait to see what happens next’ problem. The book will fall out of my hands and onto my face after a couple of pages.”

A few of the methods we heard about might raise some eyebrows among sleep experts. Susan L. Paul, a retired nurse in Asheville, N.C., told us that when she finds herself awake in the middle of the night, she brings her laptop into bed and watches the “Great British Baking Show” on Netflix.

Sleep doctors typically urge people not to use computer screens in bed because they emit sleep-disrupting blue light. But Ms. Paul likes to bake, and she finds that watching her favorite baking show has a calming effect that quickly sends her back to sleep. “It helps if you have seen it all at least a few times and remember the bakers as old friends,” she said. “It’s very relaxing, and I’m usually asleep again before the dough has a chance to rise a second time.”

Food is something that many people told us they rely on. Juliet Jones in Memphis said that over the years she has tried various strategies to combat her occasional insomnia. She has counted sheep, taken melatonin, listened to calming music and used pleasant scents like lavender oil. But the only thing that seems to work for her is getting out of bed, going down to her kitchen and having a small glass of warm milk with a digestive biscuit, which she learned about as a child growing up in Britain.

Ms. Jones speculated that it works for her because she eats early dinners and tends to get hungry at night. Indeed, studies have shown that certain foods can impact how you sleep, including carbohydrates, which tend to help people fall asleep faster. “A little something bland in the stomach seems to do the trick,” she said. “This is what my father used to do, and now at age 70 so do I.”

In the food and drink department, a number of readers who grappled with insomnia told us that their sleep rapidly improved after they quit drinking alcohol. If you drink most nights of the week, it could be undermining your sleep. A nightcap or two might help you fall asleep faster. But it can also lead to more late-night awakenings. If you tend to drink in the evenings, try cutting back on alcohol for three to five days to see if it has an impact on the quality of your sleep.



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