Are you one of the 40% of the world’s population who reports suffering from bouts of insomnia? I used to be, too.

But what if I told you that I permanently cured my insomnia 10 years ago, that I did it without drugs, and that I have a few simple secrets you can use to cure insomnia forever? Want to know what the biggest one is?

Forgive your insomnia … and then learn to love it. This might not make much sense, but it's the most effective tactic, barring drastic life changes or risky substances. Here’s why ...

How to sleep better

Person with insomnia

When I say learn to love your insomnia, I don’t just mean sarcastically faking affection for your “disorder”.  I mean that you should literally, deeply love your sleeplessness. Now, this is probably not what you want to hear when you’re furious at your inability to sleep. But you’ll never be able to sleep well if you’re not at peace with your sleeplessness.  

You need to know that it’s totally okay, even if you don’t sleep a single wink.  Plenty of people get by on hardly any sleep (even though it’s bad for them in the long run), and you too can completely crush it at life without much sleep. You’d be surprised at how well you’re able to perform when the stakes are high. So, don’t worry about how tired you’re going to be. That’s only a part of the problem.

Here are some other really excellent tips for getting a little shut-eye when your brain has other ideas ...

Tip 1: Practice gratitude for your insomnia

Hands together with bracelets on wrist as a reminder for gratitude

I’m serious! Instead of being angry at your inability to sleep, realize that the universe has given you this wonderful gift of quiet reflection time. While all the other suckers fell asleep too soon, YOU have this comparative advantage in life. Over time, as this feeling of gratitude becomes more genuine, you’ll realize you’re falling asleep earlier as a by-product.

Note that this will not work if you are just half-ass pretending to be happy that you can’t sleep before that big presentation tomorrow. You have to be 100% at peace with your sleeplessness. Genuinely accept that you will be just as happy whether you sleep for five hours, one hour, or zero-hours tonight because your extra-quiet reflection time will compensate you for any potential physical tiredness you may feel tomorrow.

Remember that even with a great attitude, you will still have the occasional night of sleeplessness, as the normal stresses of life can demand extra time for sorting through at night.

And that's okay! Despite all the research constantly nagging you about how "critical" sleep is, sleepless nights only really hurt your performance by like 10 to 30% max.  That's not catastrophic. You'll be fine.

Tip 2: Process your day

Use your sleepless time in bed to reflect on the day you just had, mentally walking through every moment since you woke up yesterday morning, and making sure you didn’t leave any important task or conversation unfinished.

Giving your brain the chance to finish processing its ‘unfinished business’ about the day behind you, or the day in front of you, could be just as great for your life as getting 8 hours of perfect sleep every night. It’s just a different kind of great. And paradoxically, truly realizing this will actually bring you the mental peace that helps you fall asleep faster in the first place.

[#Protip: Combine this with Tip 4 to offload any new concerns that pop up in the process]

Tip 3: Reinforce learning

Female with glasses and a grey shirt falling asleep on a pile of books

An important part of processing the day’s activities could be running through what you learned that day. The brain learns best through repetition and thinking through some new information right before you fall asleep is proven to improve memory retention.

There's even a specific technique for learning that you can use during your bouts of insomnia called the Feynman Technique to really make knowledge stick. This technique involves explaining (out loud or in your head) what you've learned to someone with no background in that field, for example, a child. It's impossible to explain concepts to a child without fully understanding them yourself.

So if you’re learning a language or skill, try, for example, practicing your Spanish or guitar chords in your head. If you’re at school or college studying a content-heavy subject, run through the various facts you learned that day and try to explain them conceptually to an imaginary student, or your pet, or that poster you still have up in your room. (Seriously, why is that thing still on your wall?)

Still, there might come a point where you aren’t accomplishing anything new with your constant repeating ruminations, so if you get to that point, it might be time to proceed to the next step, which is to ...

Tip 4: Offload your thoughts

Dump truck with the words your brain unloading dirt with the word the crap it's holding onto.

Sometimes, the reason your brain won’t shut up about something is that it literally registers it as a threat to your happiness, even if it’s something as stupid as an unanswered email, a plant you forgot to water, or a bill you haven’t yet paid.

This is yet another example of our “lizard brain” treating trivial stressors the same way it would treat an approaching saber-toothed tiger. It pumps your body with all kinds of fun chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol that raise your heart rate and keep you from sleep.

The solution to this is to neutralize the threat (the threat being your fear of forgetting about “the thing”, whatever it is, only to have it bite you in the butt at a later date). How can you do this at 2 AM when everyone’s asleep?

Write it down. If you’re a chronic insomniac, you might even get into the habit of leaving a notebook and pen next to your bed. This way you can:

  • Capture any brilliant academic, professional, or creative ideas you have while lying awake;
  • Make a to-do list of all the things that are bugging you, whether social, shopping, or work-related;
  • Write down the things you are GRATEFUL for rather than anxious about;
  • Remind yourself to do something important (or naggy) that you have now remembered; and
  • Express the points you want to make in that difficult conversation you need to have with someone.

Whatever it is, giving yourself the security that your thoughts are now permanently “documented” will give your brain the peace and permission it needs to finally shut itself down for the night.

Or at least we can hope. Because sometimes those thoughts running through your mind are SO persistent that the only way to make them go away is to replace them with material that is more boring and less urgent, by advancing to DEFCON 5 …

Tip 5: Read some non-fiction

Hands holding book in candle and lamplight surrounded by other books

I say NON-fiction because it is the perfect balance between being interesting enough to get your mind off whatever was keeping you up, but not as gripping as great fiction books with constant cliffhangers that compel you to keep reading.

I often find that I can barely get through 10 minutes of nonfiction reading on a night when I am already tired but can’t seem to get to sleep.  But even if this doesn’t put me to sleep for an hour or two, I still get the benefit of having learned some interesting topic that will add value to my life. #winning

Just be sure that it's a nonfiction book and not newspaper, magazine, or social media headlines since the frequent random variation of subject matter can actually jolt our brains back to alertness, which is the opposite of our bedtime goal. We’re talking about long-form deep-dives into one topic.

Also be sure you’re NOT reading these books on your phone or iPad before bed since the blue light waves will actually trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime. If you do prefer digital, you know what I’m going to say here: get yourself a Kindle! Seriously, it’s the best thing since sliced bread … with Nutella on it.

Tip 6: Practice breathing exercises

Lung shaped plant on a branch

If all of this STILL isn’t knocking you out, then you might want to sprinkle in the most effective tactic of all …

The ol’ 4-7-8 breathing technique used by warriors, ninjas, and zen masters.

As James Nestor points out in his book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, just as the standard four seconds in, four seconds out-breath can GIVE you energy, a long breath with a long pause in the middle can actually calm your energy enough to allow you to fall asleep.

To do the 4-7-8 breathing technique, just breathe in from the abdomen as deeply as you can for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, then swiftly breathe out at whatever pace will take you about eight seconds.

The best part about this technique is that it can be combined with all the other mental practices I described earlier. You can do these breaths while translating songs into Spanish in your head, writing your packing list for your trip, or even while reading your boring nonfiction book about how salt shaped world history (which actually IS a super interesting book).

Changing your attitude is one of the easiest cures for insomnia

Man laying on pillow looking up at clouds

The bottom line, from my experience, is that the secret to getting good sleep isn’t just about doing everything right during the day — like getting exercise, scheduling sleep perfectly, and cutting out caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs too close to bedtime. Sometimes, it’s impossible to do all of those things.

The thing we DO have the most control over at bedtime is our actual brain. And the exercises I’ve described here can be done inside our head, for free, and without taking any extra time or effort out of our day — not to mention perhaps accomplishing some personal growth or learning in the process.

And if you learn to change your attitude and truly love your sleeplessness, then it is not “insomnia”: it’s an opportunity to learn, reflect, and grow.

Some other natural tips that will help you sleep better, regardless of your attitude:

  • If you’re stressed about studying, get up and make flashcards in Brainscape (to study later), so you’re done with the “hard part”
  • Turn off or fade the lights 30 minutes before bed
  • Don’t drink caffeine within 9 hours of bedtime
  • Get some heavy exercise during the day
  • Do some micro-exercises throughout your day
  • Get up and do some yoga
  • Have sex (bow-chicka-bow-wow!)

Harvard Health and the Mayo Clinic also have some useful natural cures for insomnia without drugs. Happy bedtimes!

[Remember that good sleep is just part of what's essential for performance. Be sure to check out our massive guide on optimizing your body and brain for studying]