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

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

Karen Sandness in Minneapolis said that every time she wakes up in the middle of the night she picks up a nonfiction book, “preferably a difficult and detailed one.” With the right book, she said, “there are no ‘can’t wait to see what happens next’ problems. The book will fall out of my hands after a few pages and fall in my face. “

Some of the methods we’ve heard of might raise some eyebrows in sleep experts. Susan L. Paul, a retired nurse in Asheville, NC, told us that when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she puts her laptop to bed and watches the Great British Baking Show on Netflix.

Sleep health professionals usually urge people not to use computer screens in bed as they emit sleep-disrupting blue light. But Ms. Paul likes to bake and finds that watching her favorite baking show has a calming effect that she quickly falls asleep again. “It helps if you’ve seen it all a few times and remember the bakers as old friends,” she says. “It’s very relaxing and I usually fall asleep again before the dough can rise a second time.”

Food is something that many people have told us they rely on. Juliet Jones in Memphis said she had tried various strategies over the years to combat her occasional insomnia. She counted sheep, took melatonin, listened to soothing music, and used pleasant scents like lavender oil. But the only thing that seems to work for her is getting out of bed, going into her kitchen and drinking a small glass of warm milk with a digestive biscuit that she learned from as a kid in the UK.

Ms. Jones speculated that it works for her because she has an early dinner and tends to get hungry at night. In fact, studies have shown that certain foods can affect your sleep, including carbohydrates, which help people fall asleep faster. “A little mildness seems to do the trick,” she said. “My father used to do that, and now, at 70, I do that too.”

In the food and beverage section, a number of readers struggling with insomnia told us that their sleep improved quickly after they stopped drinking. Drinking most nights of the week can undermine your sleep. Having a nightcap or two can help you fall asleep faster. But it can also lead to more late awakenings. If you have a tendency to drink in the evening, try avoiding alcohol for three to five days to see if it affects your quality of sleep.

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