How to fall asleep without Ambien: An insomniac’s best tips

    Diane Macedo’s insomnia went from annoying to a full-fledged emergency when her usually trusty Ambien did nothing to help her get to sleep.

    “One day, the magic stopped,” the ABC News anchor and correspondent writes in her new book, “The Sleep Fix” (HarperCollins). “I took my usual half an Ambien, got in bed, and… nothing. I couldn’t fall asleep.”

    And so the mother of two young children started researching alternatives.

    “I knew [the drug] was not a viable long-term solution for me, and I was determined to find a better one,” she writes.

    Journalist Diane Macedo’s new book “The Sleep Fix” explores solutions for sleep issues with wisdom from experts, research, intimate sleep stories from public figures, and actionable advice.

    The self-described “life-hack obsessed” Macedo tried everything to improve her slumber, including an app called SnoreLab that analyzes the sounds of your snores, blackout shades and a pricey temperature-regulating mattress pad. In the process, she also became a resource for others struggling with sleep issues.

    “Just last week a friend reached out to say he has a serious problem with screaming in the middle of the night,” Macedo told The Post. “His neurologist put him on a benzo [Benzodiazepines, a class of drug often used to calm or sedate] and said, ‘there’s nothing I can do for you.’ ” But Macedo felt there was more that could be done, so she reached out to some experts for their opinions and found a sleep study to enroll her friend in. The man is still waiting on the results, but Macedo is optimistic that he has options for better slumber beyond potentially addictive medication — as do most of us.

    Here, she shares some surprising suggestions for treating insomnia and falling asleep fast — without medication.

    Be a constructive worrier

    When anxiety makes it hard to sleep, Diane Macedo suggests getting out of bed and writing all your worries down in a journal.
    When anxiety makes it hard to sleep, Diane Macedo suggests getting out of bed and writing all your worries down in a journal.
    Stephen Yang

    The trick to falling asleep when you have anxiety might be as simple as journaling. When you find yourself tossing and turning, grab a notebook, get out of your bedroom and write down everything that’s on your mind. “I was skeptical about how on earth is this stupid activity going to help me sleep when Ambien doesn’t, but it does work. It reprograms the way you think,” Macedo said of the practice, which is known as a “brain dump” and is used in cognitive behavioral therapy. She did it for two weeks straight and now keeps a notebook on her nightstand for occasional use. “If I feel stressed at bedtime or up in the middle of the night or feel my mind is racing… I’ll get up and go to the living room and sit on the couch and write,” she said. “It’s amazing how it turns the volume down on those thoughts that can permeate through my head.”

    Remove the color from your phone

    Setting your iPhone to grayscale is an easy way to lessen screentime and improve sleep health.
    Setting your iPhone to grayscale is an easy way to lessen screentime and improve sleep health.
    Stephen Yang

    Lessening your screen time is a surefire way to boost your sleep health. Macedo recommends setting your phone’s color filter to grayscale to make it less appealing. “All of these apps, video games, whatever, are engineered to be addictive and the color aspect must be part of the equation,” said Macedo, who found herself losing hours of time to Instagram at the start of the pandemic, when she was hungry for human interaction. “When I turned my screen black and white, I soon found out that my screen use dropped 42 percent.”

    To do this on a recent iPhone, go to “Settings” and then “Accessibility” and then “Display & Text Size.” From there, select “Color Filters” and choose “Grayscale.” Macedo also recommends creating a shortcut on your phone to easily toggle between color and black and white. To do this, from the “Accessibility” page, click on “Accessiblity Shortcut” and “Color Filters.” This will enable you to turn the filter on and off by simply clicking the button on the side three times.

    Embrace wiggle room for weekend wake-up times

    It’s time to shake up that hard and fast rule that you should wake up at the same time every day, Macedo said. “One of my experts said there’s actually a 45-minute wake-up window on the weekend: You don’t want to sleep in for an extended period of time, but the idea of having to wake up at the same time every day is the same as telling people they have to go to bed at the same time every night. That’s terrible advice for anyone with insomnia!”

    Set a “gotcha alarm

    Get ready for this eureka moment: The reason you’re waking up at 3 a.m. every morning might not have anything to do with you being a lousy sleeper. Perhaps there’s a streetlight or car alarm that goes off at that time. “To find out, set your alarm for 2:55 a.m. and see what you notice,” Macedo said. “When I did this, I noticed I was being woken up by my cable box rebooting, so I put electrical tape over the cable box lights and that problem was eliminated.”

    Tap into your inner bartender

    Act like a bartender and set a "last call" for your day.
    Act like a bartender and set a “last call” for your day.
    Stephen Yang

    Like a bar announcing last call, try to use 9 p.m. as your time to wrap up the day. “When you’re done scrolling and binge-watching and try to settle in for the night, that’s usually when the list of all the things you haven’t done yet will go off in your head,” Macedo said. “I set a reminder on my phone that goes off at 9 p.m. that reminds me to get stuff done from my to-do list so I don’t have that conversation with myself at 11 p.m. I will tick items off that list or make a separate list for the next day.”

    Don’t go to sleep on an empty stomach

    While diet gurus have long told us not to eat before tucking in, going to bed with a grumbling stomach can actually exacerbate existing sleep issues. “I’ve had GERD [Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease] for years and because I wasn’t eating before bed, I was going to bed hungrier and hungrier,” Macedo said. “The fact that I was hungry was making it difficult to sleep and not sleeping was giving me acid reflux. Now I eat oatmeal or a piece of whole-grain toast with butter a half-hour before bed. Breaking the rule of not eating before bed made all the difference.” 

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