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Insomnia SOS, An 8 Step Action Plan

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

This week’s focus was originally fast and frugal fall foods, but with the sweltering week-long Northern California heat wave I just couldn’t bring myself to post it. At the same time, a bout of insomnia that can only be explained by a combination of heat and hormones had me all a-fluster. After 5 torturous nights I began to see sleep-deprivation for the sanity-testing problem it can become.

When people asked me for sleep suggestions, my advice was simple; regular schedule, no caffeine after noon, unplug at least an hour before bed, you’ll be fine. I had recently even adjusted my regular sleep schedule so I was getting up earlier and getting more done, which was nice. Looking back, I suppose I was feeling pretty smug.

So did I get my words served up on a silver platter when I found myself reduces to tears at 3 am after a week of sleep deprivation.

It was the same every night; falling asleep, no problem. Staying asleep? Bloody hell. I tried all my usual tricks and practiced the deep breathing techniques that typically work. Nothing.

I take my slumber very seriously, and given the studies associating lack of sleep with all kinds of unpleasantness, from weight gain to depression, so I was determined to resolve this, fast.

I found an article written by Dr. Shelby Freedman Harris, Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at a highly accredited medical center in New York. Since reliability on these matters can vary and there are dozens of suggestions for cures, I thought Dr. Harris’ advice was both succinct enough to manage and safe enough to trust.  Steps 1-5 of the Action Plan below are based on her suggestions, and I added a few more culled from various sources to incorporate the additional measures that in combination delivered results.

Insomnia SOS, An 8 Step Action Plan:

1. Dim your lights an hour before bed time to start winding down, but not so dim you can’t read (I added that last part). A good magazine is an easy-reading treat if you don’t have a good novel.

2. Avoid looking at anything with a screen. This includes phone and TV. This is the most challenging suggestion for me, since I like to watch videos to relax before bed, which clearly was not the right strategy.

3. Practice a body-scan meditation right before bed to help you to relax. Here is a link to a good one:

4. Focus on your breath as you try to relax and keep ruminations at bay. This can be hard when you’re in an emotional place. Another expert suggests it can help to actually get up and write down your challenge to revisit tomorrow, which sounds like a good one to try.

5. If it’s not working, try getting out of bed and repeat the body-can meditation again. As counterintuitive as it sounds, Dr. Harris recommends staying in your seated meditation until you’re sleepy.

These exercises did help somewhat. But again I found myself up for close to 2 hours over the course of the night.

I knew needed to step it up so I did some more research.

6. This simple yoga pose (see top of post) was featured on Health.com to help with relaxation but will it cure the meno-insomnia blues? Considering I could do it in my pajamas it would be 5 minutes well spent, so I added it to my nighttime routine. I can’t say I noticed a measurable difference in sleep quality, so although I like the notion but the jury is still out.

The following day I recognized another possibility right there in front of me; supplements. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews about the efficacy of sleep supplements, so I thought I’d better review the options. It was hard to find valid research concluding that herbal sleep remedies really work. In fact according to an expert on Harvard Health Publications, the studies are actually inconclusive:

7. Valerian root “Some studies suggest that valerian is mildly sedating and can help people fall asleep and improve their sleep quality. But the evidence is mixed. An analysis of multiple studies of valerian’s effect on sleep published in 2010 concluded that people fell asleep only about a minute sooner than with a sugar pill.”

8. Melatonin has shown some evidence of reducing insomnia in people over 60, yet studies supporting its effect on the rest of the population are inconclusive.

L-Theanine and the other commonly recommended natural remedies fared no better in terms of scientific evidence.

Regardless, I had to give it a fair shake and I purchased a bottle of valerian tablets right away. As I’m posting this, I’ve had 2 successful nights of sound sleep for which I credit my combination of relaxation techniques, including the yoga headstand, and a valerian root supplement. Sometimes it takes a village.

I’m cautiously optimistic, but just to be on the safe side I’ve also gone 100% decaf. I can thank this little experience for teaching me to work a good night’s sleep into my daily routine, because now I know first-hand, few things are as important to happiness and well-being.

Let me know in comments if you have any helpful suggestions for getting good night’s sleep!

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