To Find Insomnia Cures, I Went to a Sleep Boot Camp

My beauty routine may change every time a shiny palette catches my eye, but my morning routine is consistent: I roll out of bed after little to no sleep, trip over my slippers, then blearily scroll through a new batch of unread emails. It’s been like this for eight years. On a recent Monday morning, however, still bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, my morning routine involved a medical assistant attaching electrodes to my chest while thick snow coated the Bavarian Alps outside. This was highly unusual.

The jolt in my routine came courtesy of a stay at Tegernsee’s Lanserhof resort, a wellness retreat known for its high-end detox programs. I checked in to investigate their newly-launched Lans Better Sleep Program 2.0, which promised to diagnose the causes behind my insomnia over the course of a single week. (You can opt for a longer stay, should you so desire.) The clinic attacks sleep woes through just about every possible angle, employing experts specializing in naturopathy, stress reduction, cardiology, psychology, urology, and gastroenterology, to offer sustainable sleep solutions.

Before you pelt me with helpful suggestions of like using night mode on my phone or trying deep breathing exercises, allow me to add this: I’ve had nearly a decade of dealing with insomnia to pit my sleeping problems against various cures. Still, I struggle to get enough Zs. I’ve consulted sleep specialists and relied on supplements and medication to muscle through. I’ve alternated between melatonin, magnesium, lavender pills, L-Theanine, adaptogens, Unisom, NyQuil, Xanax, Lorazepam, CBD, Kratom, therapy, a few acupuncture sessions, some admittedly halfhearted meditation, and even downing a full bottle of wine before bed. (Okay, that last one was not my best effort.) My devices switch to amber-tinted screens at night and I keep them on silent far away from my bed. I also regularly mist my pillow with an assortment of calming sprays, slip on an eye mask, and wear earplugs.

Nothing sticks. Inevitably, everything I try stops working after a month or two, tops. I end up rotating through different supplements and medications, switching back and forth when one ceases to be effective or another starts giving me side effects. (Melatonin taken too many weeks in a row gives me extraordinarily vivid nightmares featuring my own decapitation, while some of the prescription options I’ve tried make me feel foggy and disoriented the rest of the day.) I don’t mind reaching for medication when it’s needed, but I’m tired of taking increasingly high dosages and still feeling my mind stubbornly fight to stay awake. I needed a more sustainable cure.

“There are many different kinds of sleep problems, but you can build two main groups,” says Jan Stritzke, M.D., deputy medical director at Lanserhof Tegernsee. The first is sleep apnea, a nocturnal breathing issue often related to obesity, he explains. For those who have sleep apnea, frequent drops in oxygen during the night disrupt the deep sleep cycle, leading you to feel tired when you wake up the next day. “The other is a stress-related problem, when you can’t switch off and are thinking the whole night,” Dr. Stritzke says. Yep, that’s me.

After being pegged as a stress sleeper by doctors who specialize in this stuff, I was ready for a science-backed solution. Here’s every insomnia cure I tried—and whether or not it actually works.

I loathe meditation. It’s been suggested to me multiple times, but I’m even worse at meditating than I am at falling asleep. At Lanserhof, meditation was an unavoidable part of the deal. My teacher was much better than my last one—who memorably yelled at me for not trying hard enough—which made me feel at least a little hopeful. To start, she encouraged me to identify a feeling of confident calm (for me, this usually happens during one of my favorite workouts: intense contact combat sessions) and call it up when I’m feeling restless. But perhaps more importantly, she adds that I shouldn’t expect to switch my mind off or empty it during these moments—instead, I should to simply allow myself to notice thoughts and noises and let them go.

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