Have you ever had one of those periods where you can’t sleep? It might go on for a week or more. You are slowly morphing into a zombie. Your speech might slur from the lack of sleep. You get clumsy. And there is NO reason that you can imagine for the insomnia! Maybe you are a little bit stressed, but it’s not like when the baby was waking you up every couple of hours… I have some ideas that might help. They have helped me immensely over the years. Remember, I am not a medical professional, I am just sharing what has worked for me over the years.
When I was a teenager, I couldn’t sleep. Mom took me to some kind of “all natural doctor.” She’s no longer around for me to ask, but I’m thinking it was a Naturopath. He questioned me forever. I don’t remember blood being drawn, but they might have (it was a really long time ago). He recommended I take L-Tryptophan at least an hour before I wanted to sleep. Turns out, L-Tryptophan is an amino acid (it’s the stuff in turkey that makes you fall asleep on Thanksgiving). It improves your serotonin levels, which helps with melatonin levels, affecting your sleep. If you are deficient in it, you can experience problems falling asleep and even insomnia.
After my daughter passed away, I didn’t have problems falling asleep, but I couldn’t sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. I woke up and simply couldn’t get back to sleep. I went to the health food store, intending to get L-Tryptophan. I spoke with someone there and she suggested I try L-Theanine instead. She commented that since I wasn’t having problems falling asleep, it was likely anxiety from having just gone through something traumatic. I got it on her recommendation and it worked! L-Theanine is another amino acid. This one is found in green tea, among other things. It is calming, can counteract the effects of caffeine (so great at bedtime!), and is documented to relieve anxiety and stress by improving alpha brain waves (Juneja et al. Trends in Food Science & Tech 1999;10;199-204).
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone made by your body for the express purpose of controlling your sleep and wake cycles. Light affects this production. Your body produces melatonin in late afternoon/evening and keeps the levels up all night, falling off by morning. When the days get shorter in winter, it confuses some people’s bodies. They produce the melatonin earlier or way later, often leading to Seasonal Affective Disorder. There are a couple of ways to get more melatonin. One is by simply increasing your exposure to sunlight during the day. A ten minute walk at lunch would be ideal. The other is to supplement.
Make it Dark
Conversely, make sure your room is extremely dark. Nail up blankets over the windows if you have to. Make sure you get outside in the middle of the day and get sunshine, as that will help reset your circadian rhythm. I went through a period where I couldn’t sleep much for about a month, before I discovered anything about supplements. Just going outside for a 10 minute walk at lunchtime reset my body’s understanding of day and night. Within a week I was sleeping normally. Seems that the sunshine on my non-sunblocked skin stimulated the production of melatonin and helped me sleep better! So, to keep your body from getting confused about day and night, block those windows.
Most of us in western culture are also severely deficient in Magnesium. Supplement. Magnesium is a muscle relaxer. Actually, it is vital in over 300 body functions. In super high doses, it is given to women in premature labor to stop contractions. Supplement with pills and dense Epsom salt baths. Think 1-2 lbs for a big soaking tub. Even Milk of Magnesia (a laxative) uses magnesium to relax muscles!
Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed. They are mentally stimulating. You need to relax. Computers, cell phones, televisions all conspire to keep you wired. Turn them off. Better yet, keep them out of the bedroom. Keep the electromagnetic field out of your resting area.
Establish a bedtime routine that signals your body that it’s time to sleep. Maybe it’s reading a book. Maybe it’s having a cup of non-caffeinated tea. Maybe it’s a long hot bubble bath. Maybe it’s all three together. Whatever it takes to relax you and signal your body that it’s time to sleep. It will be something you do every night. That, however, is not an immediate fix. It’s more along the lines of building a habit and training your body. It’s the same thing we all do with our kids at night.
Tense and Relax
Climb in bed. Breathe deeply for a few seconds. Hold it for about five seconds and release it in a controlled manner over several seconds. Also, my mom used to tell me to squeeze my toes tightly, then release them. Then tighten my calves and release them. Thighs, buns, tummy… working my way up systematically tightening and releasing your muscles to promote relaxation. I don’t think I ever made it to my neck. I was usually asleep by then. It’s called Progressive Relaxation and is actually a well-known technique.
You might also try prayer. Praying before going to bed and laying your cares and concerns at the feet of someone else who can easily carry that load for you could help. Ask Him to give you a restful night.
L-Tryptophan, L-Theanine, Melatonin, and Magnesium are all available wherever vitamins are sold. Also, there are charts and lists easily discoverable on-line that can tell you which foods are high in each of these.
So, those are just a few examples of things you might be able to do, based on things that I have done, that might help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Try them if you need to. Let me know how they work for you. I’d love to hear!