Insomnia is one of the primary issues with many chronic illnesses, including fibromyalgia. I’ve lived with insomnia for most of the last decade and at time it’s felt like I’ve tried everything.
Some studies show that sleep issues may be a cause as much as a symptom, when it comes to fibromyalgia.
During the first several years living with fibromyalgia, the only way I was able to get a decent night’s sleep was with the help of prescription sleep aids like Ambien. Unfortunately, prescription sleep aids like Ambien often come with severe side effects. For many people, side effects like sleep walking and waking up feeling groggy are just the beginning. I once had a friend who called me late one night to remind me of a meeting the next day… only to call me again the next morning with no recollection of the previous night’s call. She’d called me after taking Ambien.
I consider myself lucky because I never experienced any of those side effects, However, I still didn’t like taking Ambien, so I tried to avoid doing so unless I really had to wake up in the morning.
Since I first began having issues with insomnia, I’ve searched for natural treatments and over the course of my search I’ve found a few that have helped to varying degrees.
Below are eight natural treatments for insomnia that I’ve tried and how well they’ve worked for me. As always, do your own research and talk to your doctor, before trying any new supplements or medications.
Sleep hygiene is a process that involves making your sleep area as comfortable as possible. Removing external stimuli, like the television and excess noise. Establishing a regular bedtime routine that includes going to bed at the same time each night.
Sleep hygiene also includes avoiding caffeine during the day, regular exercise, limiting daytime naps, and even avoiding foods that might keep you awake.
For me, this meant finding ways to block all light in the bedroom and avoiding any tomato-based or spicy foods late in the day.
It also meant creating a bedtime routine that included a warm bath just before bed, limiting unnatural lighting after dark, and turning off the computer at least an hour before bath time. I could read on my tablet but it needed to be set to night mode.
Sleep hygiene helped…some. Mostly it helped me relax more. But, even with it I would often lay in bed reading just trying to fall asleep. It just wasn’t enough.
There are so many meditation apps available now, some specifically targeted to help you sleep. I’ve tried most of them. Meditation can be particularly helpful if you find your mind racing at night and need to just turn it off. But, meditation takes practice. It’s not likely to help you the first time out, or probably even the first 10 times.
I tried it many times early on with no positive results. It wasn’t until I took a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course in early 2017, that I saw benefits from regular meditation. Throughout the course, in addition to meditating in class each week, we were also instructed to meditate daily at home. One meditation we did (the Body Scan) almost always put me to sleep. I still use it if I’m having trouble relaxing enough to fall asleep.
Melatonin is a natural sleep supplement that helps you regulate your internal clock. When your internal clock is off you tend to be awake when you should be tired and tired when you should be awake. Taken about an hour before bedtime it tells your brain that it’s time to go to sleep and helps it ease into sleep naturally.
My initial experiences with melatonin was that it gave me very vivid dreams that would often leave me unsettled when I woke up. I didn’t like this. I tried lowering the dosage of melatonin but found that it didn’t help as much with sleep. Overall, it just wasn’t the best answer for me, but it’s helpful for many.
I stumbled across Valerian Root when I tried the Fibro Sleep supplement (which I’ll cover below). Valerian root is the most researched sleep aid on the planet. It’s been used back to ancient times to assist in sleep. This herb naturally helps you fall asleep faster and can also help relieve stress and anxiety.
Valerian interacts with GABA, which regulates nerve signals in the brain and nervous system. As nerve issues are a primary issue with fibromyalgia it makes sense that Valerian could help.
I’ve taken Valerian root in teas, as part of other supplements and as a stand-alone supplement. I have found Valerian root helpful for falling asleep. Mostly, I found that it seemed to lower my overall levels of anxiety, making it easier to relax. It seemed to work best when paired with other supplements like Passion Flower.
Passion Flower is a plant with many medicinal benefits. Like Valerian root it interacts with the GABA system, boosting the levels of GABA in the brain and lowering brain activity, which can help reduce stress and anxiety, and help you sleep better.
A friend told me about Passion Flower as she’d found it extremely helpful in treating her husband’s anxiety. When I investigated it, I found that it not only helps with anxiety but also with sleep.
I found that taking it during the day helped stave off anxiety, and larger doses at night helped me fall asleep easier.
I’ve tried a few different “sleepy time” type teas to help me sleep. In general, I’ve not found them useful. Serenitea is the one exception.
Serenitea is a tea blend from FibroCane, the makers of a supplement line specifically for fibromyalgia. This blend includes three types of Tulsi, Cardamon, Chamomile, Peppermint, Rooibos, and Ashwaganda. It tastes great and I found it very relaxing.
I enjoyed this tea while taking a bath, or just when I want a warm cup of tea before bedtime and find that it just creates a feeling of well-being.
FibroSleep is a natural sleep supplement that combines a proprietary blend of Valerian root, Ziziphus, Spinosa, Corydalis, and Passion Flower with GABA, Melatonin, 5-HTP, L-theanine, ZMA, and Magnesium Taurinate.
In addition to the herbs that naturally relieve stress and anxiety, and help you sleep, some of these herbs are natural pain relievers and anti-depressants.
While Valerian root and Passionflower don’t seem to bother me, taking GABA always seems to cause stomach upset (ulcer-like feelings). Mine is not the normal experience, however, and GABA can help with many aspects of fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, my initial experience with FibroSleep was much the same. Taking the full dose of FibroSleep did help me sleep but it also caused major stomach upset.
I cut the dosage in half and the stomach issues went away. It still helped with sleep some, but after a couple of months the effect seemed to diminish.
My friend, Donna, has more to share on FibroSleep, as well as two more natural supplements she uses to help improve sleep.
All in all, all of the above helped some, for some period of time. Unfortunately, those that did help either didn’t help enough, or the effect seemed to wear off over time. What worked initially, would often stop working after a month or two. CBD oil has been the one exception and the one thing that has really helped me get solid, consistent sleep on a regular basis for the last three years.
Cannabinoid Oil (aka CBD oil) is one of the two main ingredients in the marijuana (or hemp) plant. While THC can cause a high feeling, CBD oil does not create a feeling of high. It does, however, directly affect the endocannabinoid system which regulates homeostasis, affecting appetite, mood, memory, and pain.
In early 2017 I began taking CBD oil and noticed improvements in my sleep within a couple of nights. I was no longer laying in bed reading for hours, nor was I waking back up throughout the night, tossing and turning, only to finally wake up in the morning feeling like I’d run a marathon.
I was finally falling asleep easily (usually within 15 minutes of laying down) and sleeping through the night, waking refreshed. I’ve continued to take CBD oil regularly since and the few times I’ve run out I usually see the insomnia return after just a few nights. In 10 years, this is the first that has helped longterm. I haven’t found that I’ve built a tolerance and have continued taking the 600mg tincture nightly.
I’ve tried a few different brands now and I can say they are not all the same. I’ve had about a 50% success rate across the brands I’ve tried. But, I’ve found several brands that work well and I typically choose one of them depending on which one has the best price at the time I need to order.
It’s rare, but there are still nights where insomnia kicks in and either keeps me awake or wakes me up and doesn’t allow me to go back to sleep. I’ve found that those nights typically correlate to times when I’m dealing with more stress. I try to use that time, often getting up and working a bit if I feel I can. Or, better yet, use that time to meditate on what it is that’s bothering me and keeping me awake. Quite often guided meditation will result in my falling back to sleep.
Looking for more tips and ideas for falling asleep naturally?
- Ideas for coping with insomnia nights
- Tips for improved sleep
- Overcoming insomnia by establishing a sleep/wake cycle
- Using aromatherapy for insomnia