Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Insomnia Sucks

Let me start this post by saying, I have never been a great sleeper.  I remember my mom reading to me at night, and she was the one falling asleep mid-sentence.  She would then turn on a cassette tape of Suzuki violin music; which I could listen all the way through some nights before falling asleep.  Even as a kid I would get into weird sleeping patterns; be it not falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night.  I don't remember too many issues in high school.  I was probably too tired from running cross country and trying to fuel myself on skim milk, nutri-grain bars, and hummus sandwiches.

But then college came.  During my freshman year I had severe tendonitis in my right knee.  It got to the point that my leg ached from mid-thigh to mid-calf.  Before bed I would slather on icy-hot trying to dull the throb.  In the middle of the night I would wake up with a racing mind worried about my injury and how annoyed my coach and athletic trainer were at me for not healing faster.  (I wasn't even one of the better runners...)  Ultimately I ended up red shirting, that helped ease some of the stress, and stopped the 2AM crazy brain.  Again, it didn't help that I was still living on processed carbs, fat free milk, and trail mix leaving me depleted in the necessary sleep neurotransmitters seratonin and melatonin.

I've known for years that I like a pitch black room for sleeping.  Even an excessively bright alarm clock will disrupt my sleep.  This spring the birds started chirping and the sun started shining through our blackout curtains at about 4:30, and guess who was awake with them?  Me.  For the rest of the summer it seemed like I was still waking up between 4:15 and 4:45 and simply couldn't fall back asleep.  The strange thing was, that while we camped on the North Shore, I slept great.  While visiting my family in Iowa for two days, I slept great.  Occasionally I'd have mornings here at home, where I slept in a bit more 5:30 to 6.  I felt like I tried everything.  Increasing my magnesium, taking magnesium when I wake up, using amino acids to help calm my mind, practicing a mantra or deep breathing, nothing seemed to help.

Three weeks ago one of my co-workers (Kara) mentioned that my weightlifting routine might have something to do with it.  She said that when she lifts weights frequently it throws off her sleep.  I did a little "research," and it does appear that many people complain of poor sleep when their exercise routine becomes too intense.  Apparently it has something to do with an extended endorphin release after the workout.  So I took two weeks off.  No weight lifting, only walking in the morning sun-shune.  At first I thought maybe it was working, but didn't noticed a consistent improvement.

During another phone conferences with my co-workers (we're all in different offices),  Dar suggested taking more calcium at night.  I had really cut back on it, and then stopped all together; for no real good reason.  Calcium + Magnesium works really well for women in menopause with insomnia.  I've been using NeuroCalm for a while now too, but am now more consistent with it before bed.  Another co-worker (Jennifer) said to added tyrosine in the morning to support thyroid function and help reset my circadian rhythm.  On my own I added 1 tsp of Maca powder in the morning.  Maca is an adaptogenic herb which helps the body balance progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol.  I've felt for a while now that my progesterone is a little low, and my obscure sleep patterns and lengthy menstrual cycle seem to confirm this.  Kara also recommended Bach's Rescue Remedy for sleep.  If I wake up in the middle of the night I spritz 2-4 pumps onto my tongue.  It helps prevent my mind from racing, and is easier than trying to take more neuro calm, GABA, or any other mind calming supplement.

I also started using a sleep tracker on my phone.  It's the free one in the app store.  While I don't like having it by my head at night, it's helping me be more confident in the amount of sleep I'm actually getting at night.

So after 4 nights of different supplements, tracking my sleep, and 1 acupuncture appointment...yup I started acupuncture too.  I'm sleeping better.  Using my sleep tracker I can see that maybe I did wake up at 4:15, but hey! I fell back asleep! for another 2 hours!!!!  Or like this morning, even though my sleep was much lighter from 4:15-4:45, I didn't actually wake up till 5:30, and then fell back asleep till 6:20.  Something is changing, and 8 hours of sleep feels soooooo good.  I don't know if it was one thing, or all the different things, and I don't care.  I'm sleeping, and waking up feeling refreshed instead of frustrated.
Here's to many more nights of good shut-eye.

So here are some tips to help you sleep:
1. Get blackout curtains
2. If you need an alarm clock, choose one with red lighting, or put a cloth over it to block out the light.
3. Take 400-800+mg of Magnesium glycinate or mixed magnesium before bed.
4. Take 500+mg of Calcium citrate before bed.  It works best taken with magnesium.
5. Try amino acid supplementation.  Theanin, GABA, 5HTP or Trytophan work well for most people.
6. If you travel frequently or do shift work, try 1-5mg of Melatonin.
7. Move/Clean/Exercise...expend some energy, or cut back if you participate in high intensity exercise most days of the week.
8. Drink sleepy time tea with Valerian root if you have trouble falling asleep.  I'm partial to Yogi brand.  This stuff will seriously knock you out.
9. Get outside in the sunshine, or use a light therapy box to re-set your circadian rhythm.
10. Maintain adequate vitamin D levels.  50-80 is optimal
11. No electronics 1-2hr. before bed.  Kindles for reading are ok since they do not use blue light.
12. Eat animal protein throughout the day to support your body's own ability to make seratonin, dopamine, and melatonin.
13. Eat a bedtime snack of fat and possibly some carbohydrate. (berries + Cream, Cream Cheese + Apple, Honey in warm Coconut milk, or 1/2 an avocado with sea salt)
14. Try a sleep app on your smart phone.  You might be surprised by how much sleep you're actually getting.
15. Create a calming mantra to think of when you wake up.  It can be anything, even counting star-fish.

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