Fitness and Wellbeing Articles

Tried and tested cures for Insomnia

4 am and not awake in the fun way


Insomnia is the blight of the modern world. We’ve tried and tested dozens of cures to see what really gets us catching Zs...

We don’t know about you, but sometimes sleeping can be quite literally a nightmare. Periodic bouts of insomnia have affected us since we were teenagers and show no sign of abating, with jet lag providing even more opportunities to stay up all night. So we were intrigued to see this new study, which says what you eat could affect how you sleep, with fibre and saturated fat being associated with poorer quality sleep. Could food really be the answer?

The insomnia remedies we have tried are manifold and various. They include: sleeping upside down (as in head at the foot of the bed, not hanging from the rafters bat-style – doesn’t work and annoys sleeping partners); cold, wet socks (don’t laugh, we read somewhere the wetness takes your mind off the not-getting-to-sleep-ness. Spoiler: it doesn’t); no screens one hour before bed (easier said than done working a job that revolves around constant laptop use and hair-raising deadlines *hangs onto phone for dear life*); boring books (um, nope); envisaging a white empty space (ha. No.); counting sheep (yes! Only joking. Doesn’t work); eating tuna fish and turkey, which contain tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid (not that we’ve noticed, unless you count dozing off on Christmas Day); having a milky drink, which also has tryptophan (sorry, but yuck); having a winey drink or three (good for getting to sleep, not so good when you wake in the middle of the night the wrong side of four glasses of malbec).

Insomniacs – and the NHS reckons about one in three of us have suffered insomnia at some time or another – are in excellent company. Famous sufferers of the past include Van Gogh, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Tallulah Bankhead. Van Gogh apparently covered his mattress with camphor. Which, erm, can’t have helped. (Still, probably not anyone’s go-to for advice after The Incident With The Ear.) When Abraham Lincoln couldn’t get his head down, he famously took long walks in the wee hours. Winston Churchill swapped between the twin beds in his room when he was feeling restless, and took sleeping pills. And Tallulah Bankhead tried what is perhaps our favourite insomnia-relieving method: she hired gay men to hold her hand all night. Today, many people in the public eye complain of insomnia including George Clooney, Chuck Palahniuk and Arianna Huffington, who has written about her sleep deprivation – she actually passed out from exhaustion, and broke her cheekbone in the process.

So what to do? Insomnia remedies we have found effective are wearing an eye mask (sounds obvious, but is helpful if your curtains are as crap as ours. This one give us endless opportunities of scaring people); night time online yoga (Yoga With Adriene’s Bedtime Yoga Sequence is our favourite – though obviously then you’re breaking the ‘no screens’ rule – wah); herbal remedies (we are long-time users of Neal’s Yard Remedies products and Remedies to Roll for Night Time contains calming essential oils you dab on your pulse points. Whether this is psychosomatic or not, we do find it works) and swimming during the day (but not at night as you’ll be even more awake. Something about swimming knocks us out like nothing else.)

But these are all preventative. When you’re already in the midst of a sleeplessness bout, instead of spending hours lying in the dark with watery eyes, fearing the chirping of birds, we find getting up and going to the kitchen to do something like make a piece of toast, and eating it reading a book (don’t look at your phone!) helps take your mind off the insomnia. We’ve also recently dipped a toe into the water of sleep apps. Most of them play relaxing sounds such as ocean waves or rain and guide you through meditation, when required. But the most effective cure for insomnia of them all? Not having anything to lie awake and worry about. We’re still working on that one.

Subscribe to the Emerald street daily email for free here