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My Own Sleep Challenges

No one is perfect, and I'll include myself in that imperfect grouping!

I've been struggling recently with my only serious and chronic health condition: given the least bit of stress (oh there are many options here) or excitement (good or bad, eager or anxious: neither state optimal for falling asleep), I have issues with sleep. From early in life I remember eagerness interfering with my ability to fall asleep. I was intrigued to learn that my mother had something called a "sleeping pill" but didn't dare try it til I was about 16 I think. Later in life, it's been staying asleep that becomes more challenging. The two nights a week that I set an alarm for early morning rowing turnouts can be the worst: "Oh, no, I only have 3 hours til the alarm goes off!"

I dutifully obey sleep hygiene recommendations: my bedroom is cool and dark and I wear eyeshades if there is a lot of moonlight. I get off the computer at least two hours before bed, usually more. TV can go a little later, but not if it's a scary show. (Okay, just was watching Homeland,  maybe that's why I was up at night.) I stop caffeine at noon and alcohol by 7:30, at the latest! I don't eat before bed, I do something relaxing (read fiction!) in a darkened living room for an hour before I get sleepy and get myself into bed, also without seeing any bright lights. I go back and forth:  no reading in bed alternating with five minutes to get distracted again from my own brain. Each strategy has worked and each has failed!

In the morning I try to get early morning sun (not always easy in winter or on work days), work to schedule in some exercise (okay, not every day AT ALL). I eat protein in the morning. I often include some brown rice at dinnertime, as a good source of brain-calming GABA. 

I supplement with melatonin and magnesium, sometimes with L-Theanine or Phenitropic (again to boost GABA). I take bio-identical hormone therapy, including oral progesterone at bedtime. I've tried cannabis and that will never happen again!! and had a bit better luck with CBD, the extract of hemp, not marijuana, that is available and legal everywhere.

And sometimes it just doesn't work.

Reminding me that no one is perfect. So what's next?

I have been known to take half an Ambien, but that is definitely not a good idea for brain health or for actually sleeping better as a routine. 

What's next is I start looking. I have read every post on the five or eight best ways to sleep and, just like most of my insomniac patients, I have tried all of those. Eight is never enough! One of my favorite bloggers is a DIY health geek named Joe Cohen who posts on the website selfhacked.com. His post on the topic is for 53 Effective Ways to Fall and Stay Asleep. I've perused that list and found it helpful, both for myself and for others. I was just thinking about trying #24, a suggestion from a lost-to-the-world-too-soon DIY health researcher named Seth Roberts. He suggested a tablespoon or two of honey at bedtime (otherwise NOT eating after dinner) and found it very useful. Then I came  across his name in an article about sleep written by a friend and colleague, Dr. Emily Deans: on The Science of a Good Night's Sleep.

After honey, Seth Roberts came up with another strategy I've never seen work before! Now I'll preface this story by saying I spent Saturday afternoon working at the Cheese Festival in Central Point, talking to people about Rogue Valley Farm to School and the Siskiyou Challenge. I was on my feet all afternoon and wearing out my voice. I slept like a baby Saturday night. Sunday I read Seth's other sleep tip: Yes, standing all day makes for better sleep (can you see me working at my standing desk today? I am!), but a shortcut for those who cannot stand all day is this tip:  Stand on one leg to exhaustion, meaning you just can't do it anymore, pain or exhaustion, probably 5-10 minutes. Switch to the other leg, do the same. Later in the day, repeat the set, exhaustion on each leg. 

I'm doing my afternoon set, at my standing desk, while I write this! I'll have to let you know tomorrow if it works.

Mainly what I wanted to say, though, is that sometimes finding the lifestyle solution to your problem is way more difficult than seems reasonable. But, hey, stay at it. When you fix a health problem with a lifestyle tweak, I absolutely guarantee you two things: one, it's safer than any pill and two, you're probably also fixing something else, even if you don't know what it is.

Hang in there.