End Your Insomnia And Snoring With These Expert Tips

End Your Insomnia And Snoring With These Expert Tips

If you have trouble sleeping, you’re definitely not alone. More than half of US adults experience some symptom of insomnia at least a few nights a week. To help us get more of that elusive thing called sleep — and address issues beyond insomnia, like snoring, “monkey brain”, and difficulty waking — we enlisted the help of a sleep specialist. Here’s what we learned.Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

We should spend about a third of our day asleep, resting peacefully and recharging for the next day. Instead, studies from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) show that more than a third of the US population wakes up feeling unrefreshed, and almost just as many people wake up often during the night. Furthermore, 21 per cent of us wake up too early (and then experience difficulty getting back to sleep) and/or have a hard time falling asleep in the first place.

Lack of sleep being a major epidemic (CNN reported a while ago that it may have been the country’s top health problem), it’s time to address a few specific sleep-related complaints.

Dr Nitun Verma, who is fellowship trained in sleep medicine from Stanford University and the Medical Director of the Washington Township centre for Sleep Disorders in Freemont, was kind enough to offer some great insight and advice on dealing with these sleep problems. (You can find his personal sleep blog and contact him at http://www.slumberhealth.com.)

Sleep Problem #1: Insomnia

Insomnia means “no sleep” in Latin and it’s the most common sleep complaint in America, according to NSF. Dr Verma says he regularly sees people come into his centre who need help falling asleep but don’t want to become dependent on sleep meds or medical devices. IT people and creative types seem to be more prone to experiencing insomnia or being night owls, perhaps, he suggests, due to differences in how the brain is physically wired for some people. But there is hope.

What we need to do is replicate the “farm environment,” Dr Verma says — give our brains the needed signals to wake up when it’s bright and start winding down when it’s darker. He advises us to start dimming the lights several (at least three) hours before bed time. If you can’t quit working on the computer until immediately before bedtime, still dim what you can as early as possible, Dr Verma advises. (Interesting fact: This has been shown to work even for people who are blind, as light exposure affects a different pathway of nerves in our eyeballs.)

While sending these signals by adjusting light exposure over many hours is the biggest thing you can do to train yourself, we should also remember other factors that can sabotage our ability to get to sleep. For example, caffeine’s very long half-life — around six hours — means that if you have a cup of coffee at noon, by dinner time half of it is still affecting your brain, so that’s why it’s recommended to limit your caffeine to the mornings. Another thing that may help you get to sleep more easily is shifting the most stressful tasks earlier in the work day if you can.

What about sleep medication and other treatments? “Historically, the best treatment for insomnia in the long term is not medications. Instead it is some form of cognitive behavioural therapy,” Dr Verma says, while noting that there is a lot of research on the horizon.

It can take weeks for you to train your brain and develop better sleep hygiene, so stick with the light adjusting routine. If insomnia continues, seek help from a trained professional PhD or MD.

Sleep Problem #2: Monkey Brain

Taking a long time to fall asleep is one of the symptoms of insomnia, but it’s also a special problem that makes napping incredibly hard (if not impossible). It’s been called “monkey brain” before, where you lie awake thinking about sleep but taking seemingly forever to get there.

Unfortunately, the more you try to sleep, the more it usually backfires, because it’s a passive activity. The best recourse for monkey brain is to try doing something that will relax you pre-sleep or pre-nap. But what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, as Dr Verma notes: “A really smart person, for example, may not see good results by doing something very boring, like reading a phone book, because they’ll only use a small part of their attention. They would still have racing thoughts.”

I’ve found that writing in a journal before going to sleep helps quiet the mind; it’s also useful to have a pen and paper by your bed for sudden thoughts in the middle of the night.

For relaxation, you could also try one of those hypnosis/deep sleep mobile apps or audio recordings. Before you think “hooey” to that, keep in mind that being bored to sleep is better than not sleeping at all, so it’s worth a try.

Sleep Problem #3: Snoring

Snoring is mostly annoying for the person listening to it, though sometimes snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, a serious health condition. Dr. Verma cautions that a lot of times only snoring is treated, instead of the sleep apnea; if you have any doubt, see a physician who can evaluate your risk using a STOP questionnaire.

Otherwise, if snoring is confirmed as the main problem, there are many possible solutions like breathe right strips or snoring mouth guards, and treatments like a pillar implant procedure.

If your partner is a snorer, try going to bed before him/her so you’re in a deeper state of sleep by the time your partner starts snoring. Otherwise, the cheapest solution: earplugs!

Sleep Problem #4: Difficulty Waking and Feeling Refreshed

If you’re a night owl, mornings, or having to get up at an unnatural time for you, can be a problem. “Delayed sleep-phase syndrome,” Dr Verma assured me, “can be outgrown.” Delayed sleep-phase syndrome (DSPS) is the medical term for a chronic disorder of the timing of sleep; when you have DSPS you have a hard time sleeping until after midnight and then have difficulty getting up in the morning. If only your job and the world would let you sleep from 3am to 11am you’d be fine.

DSPS usually kicks in during adolescence but most people outgrow it. If you haven’t yet, Dr Verma has some advice that you don’t want to hear: the only way to adjust is to do the unpleasant thing and wake up by opening the curtains, brightening the lights, and blaring the alarms. In short, the exact opposite of what you would like. After a few weeks of this painful practice, you should adjust and be more alert in the a.m. Lowering comfort level in bed is a similar hack to help you wake up more easily.

Here’s to Better Sleep

We know that sleep is important fuel for your brain and sleep deprivation one of the worst things you can do to your body.

For more help getting the rest you need and deserve, see our previous guide to rebooting your sleep habits and roundup of 10 favourite ways to sleep smarter and better. And, definitely, if you have sleep tips or problems, feel free to discuss them in the comments!


  • … and if none of these things help you, you might just have a more serious condition. These methods can give some help to those of us with CFIDS, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, or chronic pain, but little success is likely without treating the underlying disorder.

    Just a quick reminder that sleep is a complex thing, and one size definitely does not fit all.

  • Great article. I’d emphasise the following for insomnia:

    Practice proper sleep hygeine (e.g., bed is for sleep and sex only; get out of bed after 15 minutes of not falling asleep; no caffeine for 12 hours before sleep; no napping during the day; avoid white or blue light before bed)+ stay awake for 15 or more hours before going back to bed + expose yourself to light in the morning. The efficacy of these interventions is far superior to drug interventions.

    For bedtime rumination, try mindfulness meditation (defusion exercises).

    Try this for four weeks – it may take time to change your routine and for your circadian rhythms to adjust. If you’re still having problems, have an assessment for sleep apnea.

    Things get more difficult if you have irregular sleep patterns (e.g., shift workers), and while the general principals are relevant, I’d suggest going to a sleep specialist for tailored interventions.

    If you’re feeling depressed, see a G.P. for a referral to a clinical psychologist. Melancholic depression, which is assocaited with sleep disturbance and psychomotor retardation (as opposed to less severe forms of depression) may require psychopharacological interventions (e.g., SNRIs), which your G.P. can prescribe. Keep in mind that insomnia will cause several symptoms of depression, so treating the insomnia may be all that is required.

  • Try writing a journal. I had similar problems when I was a ballet dancer during my teens and early 20’s. I ate healthy, and exericsed some 30+ hours a week. But falling asleep was a nightmare. I found writing my thoughts and to do lists down before bed helped tremendously, and I would have a peaceful mind and sleep more soundly.
    You can always try some teas which are safe and harmless to your body. In fact they usually have more benefits then just a good sleep. Sleepy time teas work wonders. Try Chamomile, Valerian Root, Lavender, or Hops. You can also put some lavender on your pillow.
    You can find a list of foods and activities to avoid and ones that actually encourage sleep in the FREE e-book called Get To Sleep Now! It’s got 39 tips to following asleep. http://www.instantlyfallasleep.com Certain things stimulate your brain like TV, reading, and bright lights. But there are loads of suggestions on what to do with your time leading up to bed.

  • I never heard it called “Monkey Brain”…my guess is that monkeys are smart enough to realize that sleep can take care of itself if you let it…so many of us have racing brains and our mind wants to go a thousand miles an hour when our head hits the pillow. There are nutritional supplements that can help. And, it’s important that we let sleep happen. It can’t be willed or forced. The more you want it, the more likely it is to elude you!

  • Sleep Problem #3: Snoring

    Well my problem is not me snoring… but my wife snoring…

    She goes to bed about 2 hours before I do and by the time I go to bed (around mid night) she is fast asleep snoring away! She wasn’t a snorer before we got married! She only started snoring when she got pregnant and we both thought that it would go away after childbirth. But as I’m finding out, the snoring did not go away after our son was born. I’m almost to the point that I want to sleep in a separate room, but holding tight because it can be the beginning of many bad things. May be talking to her doctor would be an easy option!?

    One of those unexpected side effects of pregnancy…I mean sex, I guess!


  • I’ve been on a personal mission to get better sleep. One thing I learned is that you really don’t need any drastic changes in your life. Got it down to exercise, meal times, supplementation and environmental change. I think they all work hand-in-hand. I found this “Sleep Centre” guide useful by these Aussie memory foam mattress guys http://www.ergoflex.com.au/sleepcentre/how-can-I-get-better-sleep, they seem to be on the money with sleep tips etc.

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