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My Insomnia Journey: A review of every cure I’ve tried

What kind of twelve year old gets insomnia?

My only stresses in life were geometry, my modern warfare K/D ratio, and coloring in maps of the world. Yet I still tossed and turned all night in my Spongebob quilt.

I told my doctor about it. He didn’t take me seriously.

“Stop playing video games so late” he’d say in this insufferable patronizing voice.

“I don’t look at screens after 9 p.m., I’m in bed by 10 p.m., but I can’t fall asleep until 4 a.m. I have to wake up for school at 6:30, I’m tired literally all the time.”

Then he’d turn to my mom and say “ah you know how it is with kids this age…” and wave us both out of the office.

So I had to take matters into my own small hands. Every few months for the next six years, I’d bike to CVS after class, buy a bottle of extra-strength melatonin with handfuls of quarters from under seat cushions, crush them up with the butt of my big ass Nalgene bottle, and eyeball them into 300mcg dosages.

I went from taking six hours to fall asleep to three hours. I was grateful, but things could be better. Three hours a night wasted trying to fall asleep AS A MIDDLE SCHOOLER, still sucks.

I endured it until I left for college. In college, it isn’t feasible to waste three hours a night trying to fall asleep. On top of that, there was at least one day each week where I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. And I wasn’t one of those mutants who can thrive off four hours of sleep a night. I’d sleep ten hours and still crave more.

I skipped almost all of my classes freshman year of college, not because I out partying or hanging out or because I thought I was too smart, but simply because I needed to sleep.

I tell you all this so you know I have skin in the game. I’ve poured thousands of hours into figuring out how to sleep better.

That sounds like I’m about to sell you a course. “SLEEP SOUNDLY IN 3 EZ STEPS!!!” I don’t have anything to sell, I just want to transmute past suffering into something helpful. Hopefully save you some time.

Here are all the things I tried.

Note that this is in addition to normal sleep hygiene (waking up at the same time, cutting out all caffeine, blue light-blocking glasses, spending as little time in my room as possible, basically this list: )

Rigorous Exercise

First advice anyone gives you. Exercise more.

Exercise is obviously good for sleep, but too much exercise will make things worst. I learned this the hard way.

I’d push myself through workouts, going on sprints and lifting weights, but they’d only leave me drained and unable to sleep.

They weren’t especially rigorous or anything. Actually most people would find them easy. But when you grew up as weak as I was, and you haven’t slept properly in years, your maximum capacity is pathetically low.

Luckily, Ayurveda has a good guideline for exercise intensity: exercise until beads of sweat form on your forehead. Anything beyond this will shorten the lifespan, strain the nerves, and create a vata imbalance, which, among other issues, leads to poor sleep.


I smoked every night my freshman year of college to fall asleep. Weed works. The only issue is, it leaves you tired and spacey the next day. Weed drains the life force, dries the body, and creates heat. If nothing else works, I recommend it as a temporary measure. It’s also a lot of fun and puts trivialities that may be bothering you into perspective, which is helpful. But weed comes with it’s on set of health consequences. I don’t care what is telling you.

NyQuil / Benadryl / Tylenol PM

I wanted to cut back on weed because it made me spacey the next day, and I didn’t want to get dependent on !!! illegal drugs !!! to fall asleep. So I instead got dependent on legal drugs.

My sophomore year of college I had an OTC medicine rotation going on. To avoid building a tolerance to any one drug, I’d take a double dose of NyQuil one night, two or three benadryls the next, and some tylenol PM the night after.

Honestly, I think weed is better for you than these drugs. I wasn’t sensitive enough to catch the effects these drugs had on my body at the time, but they’re terrible for your digestion and liver. They also ruin sleep quality.

I actually thought NyQuil improved my sleep for the longest time. A lot of people say this. Then I realized I was just congested all the time, and when I took NyQuil, I could breathe better throughout the night, which gave me great sleep. If you’re one of these people, I highly recommend investigating your mucus levels, rather than continuing to pop NyQuil.


While all this pill popping was going on, I was meditating twenty minutes to two hours a day, desperately trying to achieve monk-dom so I could fall asleep.

Two years of practice had a negligible effect on my insomnia. But that’s my own fault. While I still highly recommend meditation, if the rest of your life is ridiculously out of balance, trying to fix it all with daily meditation is like trying to cure obesity by jogging to McDonalds instead of walking.


I loved xanax.

Yeah it left me spacey the next day, but I always felt shitty anyway. It just changed from a sleep deprived brain fog misery to a pleasantly spaced out, disassociated, luna-lovegood type existence.

I knew how addicting it was so I had to limit myself to once a week, and took regular one to two month breaks.

I’m not recommending it, obviously, because I don’t want benzo addictions on my hands, but for the sake of transparency, I’m telling you it added value to my life, and it’s possible to use it semi-responsibly in dire situations. It’s prescribed, after all.

Of course, I didn’t want this to be a permanent solution. Like weed, it was just something to get me through rough patches while I figured out the lasting solutions (link to insomnia cure post).

Also I’ve tried ambien too, but I find it makes my heart race and destroys sleep quality.

OTC and Herbal Supplements

Zinc, ZMA, ashwgandha, bacopa monnieri, skullcap, magnesium, valerian, glycine– I tried them all. I popped more pills each night than a schizo in a psych ward and none of them did shit besides make people think I was weird.

When I take ashwagandha, skullcap, or bacopa now, I can definitely feel the effects, and it does help with sleep. But it’s like with meditation. If your mind, body, and intellect are totally out of wack, a few herbs will not save you.

And all kinds of weird shit…

I tried binaural beats, phenibut, trying to lay perfectly still until I induced sleep paralysis and tried to enter sleep from there, I jerked off strategically to make myself tired– I was fucking desperate.

So how’d you fix it?

I’m happy to report that for the last year and a half, I’ve been able to consistently fall asleep within thirty minutes with only a few herbal supplements. I have a consistent and healthy sleep cycle of 10 or 11 p.m. to 5 to 7 a.m. and I ACTUALLY WAKE UP FEELING GOOD.

I never thought I’d say that. Really. I thought I was genetically a night owl. I’ve always despised mornings. And “early morning”, for me, meant 11 a.m.

Now that you know I’ve tried it all, I hope my advice carries more weight.

Here it is.


Published by Karthik Bala

trying hard to figure shit out

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