Friday, June 28, 2013

Free Advice Friday - How to Cure Chronic Insomnia in 5 easy (kind of) Steps

Sorry if you found this post and were hoping for some scientifically based evidence on how to cure insomnia.

Or the best pharmaceuticals to help you sleep.

I don't have either of those.

What I have to offer are the top 5 things I have done in the past year that have CURED my CHRONIC INSOMNIA. The kind of insomnia that keeps you up until 5:00 in the morning. The kind of insomnia that has you counting back (over and over and over again) how many hours and then, on the really bad nights, minutes, you have left to try to sleep before your alarm is going to go off. The kind of insomnia that makes you fanatical about finding time to nap during the day and dreading your bed at night as it becomes somewhat of a torture chamber. The kind of insomnia that sucks your energy, aggravates chronic pain and injuries and significantly reduces the quality of your life.

If you have been living with this for a while (for me it was 35 years) you might think that this is just something you have to live with, that its just who you are. You were born a bad sleeper.

It is not. Do not accept this. You can sleep. Have HOPE. You can do this.

I was hopeless and now I am sleeping. I wake up rested. I love my bed. I don't nap.

I have made a multitude of changes in my life over the last year but here is what I think has contributed the most to my success with overcoming insomnia:

1. Say Goodbye to Caffeine - I know. I feel mean even saying it but you have to hear it...........

Caffeine is not your friend if you have sleep issues. It doesn't matter if you "just have one cup in the morning".  You need to stop drinking coffee. Period. 

Its scary. But you can do it. I did it. Go cold turkey or cut back slowly (half decaf). Do it now. What are you waiting for. As an alternative try some roasted chicory root (best option), Swiss water process decaf (next best option) or decaf (least favorite but still a great option unless you have Candida).

And keep watch for other stimulants that might be in medications and other foods. Those aren't your friend either.

2. Eat Clean - If your digestive system is not working well you will not sleep well.  You don't have to adopt my version of clean eating but you do need to figure out a version of clean that works with your own body and lifestyle. Doesn't matter what diet you are eating now or want to be eating (Standard American Diet, Vegan, Paleo, Low Carb) or how strong of a digestive system you have (or think you have). We should all be trying to increase our consumption of veggies and eat as much whole, real, unprocessed food as possible.

Plus we each have our own tolerances to food groups and food triggers. But you need to figure out what those are for yourself so you can eliminate them. Listen to your body. Do an elimination diet. Or get an IGG test if you need to.

I used to eat popcorn and pepsi on movie night. Way back in the day before I ate clean and had kids. Guaranteed I would not sleep that night. Did I listen to what my body was telling me? Nope.

Now I listen. It tells me it likes eating clean. It doesn't like when I eat grains. It doesn't like when I overeat. It doesn't like when I eat past 9 o'clock. It tells me that by not letting me sleep (among other things). Listen to your body.

And if you don't know where to start with eating clean go to my Mama'sFoodGuidelines page or try some of my recipes - its working for me.

3. Be in bed by 10. Always. Always. Always. This is not an easy thing to do. But it is critical. And please, please, not stay up past 11 o'clock except for extra super duper special occasions. Like my brothers wedding next weekend. Guaranteed I won't be having a drink but I will be having an "I stayed up way too late" hangover the next day. The quality of sleep you get in those first few hours is critical to feeling rested the next day. And you need to be in bed before that second wind kicks in or you are basically screwed. And that happens at 11 for most people.

4. Stop Napping. If someone would have told me 2 years ago that I would a) have a third child (sweet boy), b) would take less than 10 naps the whole entire first year of his life and c) he would be an even worse sleeper than his two sisters and, yet,  I would generally not be tired during the day I would have LAUGHED MY ASS OFF. GET. OUT. OF. HERE.

I have been the napping queen for as long as I can remember. I used to nap on the school bus (to and from school). I found places to nap before dance rehearsals. I napped in the library during University. I went to great lengths to co-ordinate my first two children's naps, often unsuccessfully, so I could get a nap. I have at times been obsessive about needing a nap. Sadly, it was often the first thought I had when I "got up in the morning". What a poor way to live.

Unfortunately for those with chronic insomnia it becomes a way of life. And a vicious cycle. There will be times in your life when you need a SHORT nap to get through the day (day after brother's wedding, bout of low iron, illness, etc) but don't make it your way of life. Not if you have chronic insomnia. If the title "Stop Napping" doesn't seem like a big deal to you, you probably don't have chronic insomnia. Just mild insomnia or an unpleasant bout of insomnia

5. Reduce Evening Stress. If you could reduce all your stress that would be great. But unfortunately, that's not always in our control. But there are things in our control that we can do to reduce our stress before hitting the sheets. Okay - if my husband is reading this he is so getting the wrong idea.............

Pay attention to what "wakes you up" in the evening. What kinds of activities stimulate you - in a bad way - and results in your mind whirling, thoughts twirling, brain racing - when it should be sleeping.

For me, I had to stop talking on the phone after 8 o'clock. It is a pain. It makes it hard to keep in touch with my out of town family since I also don't have much time for the phone during the day. But I had to do it.

I also had to stop watching anything dramatic, scary, disturbing or gross on tv. I actually just stopped watching t.v. entirely but that's not an option for most people, or not a pleasant one at least.

And exercising in the evening for me isn't a great idea. Probably because I like to work out so hard. Maybe some light exercise but nothing crazy.

Find something that relaxes you before bed - like a nice detoxifying dry brush and hot Epsom bath session. Read. Go on Pinterest. Bake something. "Visit" with your husband. Whatever.

Figure out what works for you and what doesn't. Just relax after 8 o'clock. It doesn't mean you have to do nothing. Most people don't have time for doing nothing after 8.  I find cleaning relaxing. I find cooking relaxing. So I can still get organized for the morning without sacrificing my sleep. Save the chores you actually enjoy for after 8.

If you have underlying health issues or chronic injuries you obviously need to deal with those in conjunction with working on sleep. Its all interconnected. But don't give up on the sleep part. It will come. It is possible. I am proof.

I hope I didn't just jinx myself. I never fully trust that this is really my "new normal" or just some cruel trick being played on me and it will get snatched away..............and that is why I pray each night. A prayer of thanks that God has finally given me the gift of sleep. And is letting me keep it for now!