12 Sleep Solutions Which Don't Have Me Sleeping

by Jenna McCarthy
Originally Published: 

I really hate admitting it, but pretty much every human encounter I have starts like this:

Other Person: Hey, Jenna! How are you?

Me: Oh my God, I’m exhausted. How are you?

I’m exhausted, of course, for a million reasons. I have children. We have cats and dogs. My brain never shuts off. I’m a compulsive neat freak so when other people [1] are relaxing or enjoying a nice TV show or book on a quiet evening, I’m wiping out the crisper drawers in the refrigerator or organizing all of the Monopoly cards so that they face the same way in the box. My husband snores. Our neighbors fight, loudly and often. There’s a nest of the most obnoxiously vocal birds God ever created about four feet from my bedroom window and those chirpy motherfuckers insist on belting out the song of their congregation from sundown to sunup with absolutely no regard for decency or day parts.

Health magazines and websites suggest my problem also could be my thyroid, midlife hormones, not enough exercise/water/vegetables, too much stress/caffeine/alcohol or too few massages. Okay, fine, they never say the part about the massages but come on! I can’t be the only one who tosses and turns at all hours of the night but is fully passed out fifteen minutes into any hour that I’m paying someone 75 bucks to touch me. Surely I am onto something here.

There has to be a solution, I plead with my friend Google. Try me, Google says.

So I search online—for the eleventy-billionth time—for “guaranteed sleep solution”, because there has to be one. Most of what I find is about as helpful as “try to get more sleep,” a recommendation that sort of makes me want to punch the advice-giver in the esophagus. Here’s a sampling of some of the best expert sleep solutions I found…

1. Don’t drink alcohol right before bed. I’m not sure how drinking earlier in the day is going to help me sleep better, but I’m willing to try it.

2. Reduce stress. Oh my God, why didn’t I think of this? I’ll just quit my job, stop worrying about saving for retirement, and put my kids up for adoption. I’m feeling sleepy just thinking about it.

3. Buy room darkening blinds. Seeing as I get up long before the sun does every day, I am not convinced this will help me. But any excuse to redecorate—especially in the name of health and beauty—is always welcome, so I vow to start trolling regularly for sassy new window treatments.

4. Limit exercise for at least three hours before bedtime. Well, if they insist.

5. Have a nice snack before turning in. Supposedly, a mini-meal that contains both carbohydrates and protein an hour or two before bed triggers your brain to produce the calming neurotransmitter serotonin. And since that sounds highly scientific and also I do love a good grilled cheese sandwich in bed, I am definitely going to try this one.

6. Don’t overdo the snacking. On the other hand, going to bed with too much food in your stomach is a recipe for restlessness, the pros say. Clearly these assholes have never experienced the joy of shoveling four heaping platefuls of Thanksgiving dinner and a generous sampling of dessert into their pie-holes and then falling into a deeply satisfying coma. Don’t buy this one, you guys. I say, eat up for better sleep!

7. Limit daytime napping. Hahahahahaha. Seriously, am I four? The last time I took a nap was about five years ago, after pulling an all-nighter on the bathroom floor during a nasty stomach flu episode. But thanks for the hot tip, sleep experts. Did you learn this in medical school?

8. Unplug your clock. Well, this one is just flat-out ridiculous. If I unplugged my clock, how on earth would I know how late it was and then calculate the bare-minimum amount of critical Rapid Eye Movement I would get if I fell asleep this very minute, which of course I won’t? I guess I could always check my cell phone, since I sleep with that thing under my pillow. With the ringer off, of course.

9. Do not sleep with your cell phone under your pillow. WTF?

10. Avoid bright lights before bed. So you’re saying that I shouldn’t turn all of the lamps in the house on full power at night as part of my relaxing, pre-sleep ritual? Next you’re going to tell me I shouldn’t drink an after-dinner espresso!

11. Limit caffeine. See “avoid bright lights before bed.”

12. Practice good “sleep hygiene” (which sounds like don’t go to bed dirty, but apparently it means you should stick to the same bedtime schedule on weekends and vacations as you do during the regular workweek). I’m happy to report that my insomnia does not own a calendar, so I already do this! Yay!


Let it go. This is not actual, professional advice, but honestly it’s pretty much all we can do. We’ll sleep when we’re dead. In the meantime, the next time you’re staring at your alarm clock and seeing if you can predict precisely when the number is going to flip, why not roll on top of your partner and give him or her a little midnight special-surprise? Fifty bucks says if you do, the trash will get taken out the next day without you even having to ask. It’s worth a shot.

[1] And by “other people” I mean “my husband.”

Excerpt reprinted by arrangement with Berkley, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2014 by Jenna McCarthy.

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