My husband, Tim, falls asleep most nights in approximately 11.3 seconds. No joke! Not me. I am among the millions who find getting a good night’s sleep a challenge. It’s been a journey like no other. Plagued by multiple medical conditions and a truckload of stress-inducing burdens, I have learned a lot along the way. In the last 18 months, I have experienced the sweetest, most restorative sleep since I was a small child.
As a young adult and early into motherhood, my driven, Type A personality despised my need for sleep. “Lord, do you know how much more I could get done for you if I didn’t have to sleep?!” After a childhood of little sleep (read more below), I was quite adept at long days and short nights. I was proud of how well I functioned on only 4-5 hours of sleep. I pitied the people who needed more.
But then I grew tired – very tired and very sick. Very, very sick. I wanted to sleep and couldn’t. Getting GOOD sleep was my nemesis for years. I hated Psalm 127:2 “…he grants sleep to those he loves.” Restorative sleep escaped me for decades.
I am going to share very personally in this post. Sleep was the last biblical rhythm I embraced. My stubborn refusal has probably taken years off my life, despite my current, steadfast commitment. I am sharing my sleep story in hopes that it might contain a treasure or two for you today – or better yet, tonight, as your head hits the pillow. Peruse the sleep topics below. Some might be relevant to your life. Or zip down to the end of the post and enjoy the short TED ED video. It’s outstanding and very entertaining!
At 5, I lost someone I loved and cried myself to sleep for months and months. At 7, I lost my innocence, through a vile encounter with a distant relative who visited my bed in the wee hours of the night. It would take two decades and rounds of intense counseling in my twenties before falling asleep became safe once again. Click here for more information regarding trauma and sleep.
In my twenties, the push to drink 8 cups of water a day grabbed my attention. I was committed and hooked. I had the clearest pee you’ve ever seen! (Have since learned this is a danger sign.) Over the next 25 years, my commitment to drinking a lot of water continued and grew. I LOVED my water. Little did I know, I was drinking to my demise. Consuming 2-3 gallons of water each day, I was throwing off the electrolyte balance of my body. For years, Tim had noticed that my respiration rate while sleeping was 3-4 times the rate of his own breathing. Like a dog, I was “panting” in an attempt to rid my body of the excess water. Rapid respirations are not conducive to falling asleep! Dramatically reducing my water consumption has dramatically reduced the rate of my night-time respirations…and made it much easier to fall asleep. Want more information on over hydration? Click here.
Babies and Children
If you are serious about sleep, don’t have children. Just kidding! But really, these critters are criminal when it comes to setting us up for sleep deprivation. Besides tag-teaming (when able, Tim and I would take turns with night-time duty and/or early morning risers), I have three suggestions.
- Go to bed as early as you can. Give yourself a bedtime. (Based on our circadian rhythms, our most restorative sleep happens between 10 PM and 5 AM, no matter what time we go to bed (best sleep happens before midnight).
- Explore the power of napping – 20 minute power naps or 90 minute restorative naps. Here’s a GREAT site! Check out what Napoleon, Edison and Churchill had in common when it comes to napping!
- Trust God and pray, “Lord, multiply my sleep. I’m hanging on by a wing and a prayer.”
Tired, but Wired
Living in overload, with no margin and little breathing room, our engines are revving non-stop throughout most days. This “go, go, go” sets us up for an overabundance of cortisol coursing through our veins. Too much cortisol makes it hard to go to sleep at night, setting us up for a short night of shut-eye. When we do not get 7-8 hours of sleep at night, our bodies pump out extra cortisol the next day in an attempt to counter-act the drag we feel having gotten too little sleep. The cycle is destruction over the long-haul, and not an easy fix. Three things have been helpful for me
- L-Theannine. Give it a try! It’s an amino acid derived from tea leaves. It is calming, but not sedating. Try taking 50-100mg during the day when you feel your body’s reaction to stress rising. Try 100-200 mg an hour before bed.
- Deep Breathing is known to reduce the level of cortisol in our bodies. Getting into the habit of one-minute deep breathing breaks throughout the day, can put a healthy dent into cortisol overload. It’s a great way to start and end your day, as well. Explore this topic.
- Get Outside. Sit outside for 5 minutes a day. It can do wonders. A 10-minute walk each day, too, can be calming and restorative. Being pro-active takes intent. Forming a new habit is hard, but the rewards can add hours to our sleep and years to our life. Interested in more? Click here.
2 – 4 AM Wake Ups
I’ve gone through two different bouts where I began waking up – wide awake – every night between the hours of 2 and 4 AM. Drove me crazy. Thank the Lord, I stumbled across an article that suggested eating some protein before going to bed – some nuts, whole-wheat crackers and cheese, peanut butter and apple slices. For me this was an instant cure. As it turns out, if our blood sugar level gets too low, a backup system triggers our adrenal glands to release some hormones that help out, but, also release adrenaline which causes you to wake up. A little extra protein before bed can do the trick. (This issue comes and goes for me. If I see a pattern, I enjoy a little snack before going to bed for a few nights and try to make sure I’m getting enough protein at dinner. It never lasts long for me.)
Blue-Light Blocking Glasses
Some people’s brains are more reactive to the blue wave light coming at us via indoor lighting. Blue wave light, in some people, reduces their body’s ability to produce the melatonin they need to prepare their body to move into a restorative sleep at the end of the day. My brain wins the prize on this one and now, most nights, you can find me sporting a pair of nifty orange tinted glasses. They work! (Note: Look into apps, too, that reduce the light coming at you, at night, from your electronic devices. If you have kids, keep this in mind for their well-being, as well.)
Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
Not much of my body could be labeled “small,” except for my wrists. “Really! I would trade my tiny wrists for smaller hips or thinner calves any day.” Anyway . . . My mom was plagued by carpel tunnel and it looked like I was following suite. Carpel Tunnel pain strikes at night. At one point of my life, I could only sleep 45 minutes at a time before the burning, searing pain would wake me, demanding that I stand (stand!) for up to 10 minutes at a time, dangling my arms at my sides before the pain would subside. After doctor visits, bracing, injections and frustration beyond belief, surgery was scheduled. While waiting for the date to arrive, two things happened.
- I learned that my system is reactive to eggs. (Made me SO mad. Never wanted to deal with any food sensitivity issues.)
- My endocrinologist suggested I begin taking Alpha Lipoic Acid to reduce the inflammation in my thyroid, as I felt like I was being choked day and night. WOW! After only days of “no eggs” and taking Alpha Lipoic Acid, my nighttime carpel tunnel pain was so significantly reduced, I canceled my surgery. As a mom of five kids under 10 at that time, I had no desire to lose the use of my hand for 6 weeks. I still need to wear braces on both wrists at night, but since reducing the inflammation level of my body, I only wake up with only mild numbness and no pain each morning. Click here for additional carpel tunnel information.
Aches and Pains
Inflammation plays a role in the aches and pains of joints and muscles. If nighttime achiness hinders your sleep, you might want to explore the possibility of inflammation. To my Alpha Lipoic Acid, I have added Turmeric (curcumin) Sadly, food that we eat can set us up for pain. I’ve come to recognize that dairy, too, increases the inflammation level of my body, causing my knees (and other joints) to ache considerably. If interested, you could try eliminating a certain food product from your diet for a few weeks: gluten, diary, sugar, eggs, corn are heavy hitters. Do one at a time. As you add it back in, it’s easy to tell if aches and pains increase. It requires some forethought and work, but it has made a difference in my life. (I still enjoy some cheese and ice-cream, but I feel it if I consume too much. Explore this topic here.
Thyroid Issues – Part 1
About 15 years, ago I had an extended episode of thyroiditis that sent me into the realm of hyperthyroidism. This sent my heart into overdrive and I ended up with a resting heartrate of 150. Not fun – on many accounts. With no end in sight, I began taking the beta blocker Toprol. I began on 50 mg and ended up on 150 mg, a very hefty dose. I was able to wean back down to 50, but could not get off of it for years. As a medication that is designed to calm down your heart, I assumed it was good to take at bedtime. As it turns out, beta blockers can cause insomnia They did in me. Learning – Be aware of how your medications could be impacting your sleep.
You name it, I probably have it. Iron-Deficient Anemia (IDA) is often missed in women, because few doctors test ferritin levels. (Surprisingly, with this condition, your hemoglobin level is typically normal, according to Junji Takano, a Japanese health researcher. Takano writes that hemoglobin is essential, as its primary function is to transport oxygen to the body tissues. Without iron, hemoglobin molecules will still be there but they wouldn’t be able to bind and transport oxygen, making them useless. Therefore, a normal hemoglobin level does not always mean that your blood is not low in iron. A low hemoglobin level reflects a more advanced stage of iron deficiency.) IDA sets people up for all kinds of sleep problems. (And for me, ice-cold and an alarming rate of hair loss.) To correct IDA, I take Iron – ferrous fumarate 50 mg. It’s more expensive, but it is time released and much more absorbable. With it, I down 2,000 mg of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed to help the body absorb iron. When my daughter’s hands began to grow icy-cold, we took her in to test her ferritin. Guess what? The apple does not fall far from the tree. Her body, too, has responded well to the ferrous fumarate that we both now take every single day.
Thyroid Issues – Part 2
I have been both Hyperthyroid and Hypothyroid. It’s a no brainer that sleep is hard to come by when your thyroid is kicking out too much hormone. But, I also wrestled for years with sleep when my body did not produce enough thyroid hormone. This baffled me. I was supposed to be tired and sleepy. I was tired, but I could not sleep. I finally found out why. To compensate for my low thyroid (and low energy), my adrenal glands rose to the challenge to compensate for my lag in energy – kicking out an overabundance of sleep-defying hormones. Arghhh! After fighting my doctors on many thyroid issues for years, in September 2015, I had half my thyroid removed and began taking both T3 and T4 thyroid medication. I am a NEW woman, sleeping better than I ever have. Click here for more information.
I’ve known for years that depression and insomnia are kissing cousins. By God’s grace, I have not wrestled with depression. Because of this, I’ve assumed that my serotonin levels must be OK. (Stress does a number on serotonin.) As it turns out, an individual can have low serotonin levels that effect sleep, but it may not present with depression. If our body is low in serotonin, it cannot produce enough melatonin at night to foster an easy transition into sleep. Doctors are now prescribing a low dose of a serotonin modulator, Trazadone, taken at bed time, to foster good sleep. My doctor started me on a low dose. As it turns out, I only need a fraction of even that amount.
Potpourri – Supplements and Medications
Here a few additional things I’ve learned along the way.
- Magnesium. Many people are deficient and are finding that supplementing with this mineral helps them make great gains in the arena of sleep. Take note. Most of what is sold out there is Magnesium Oxide. Don’t waste your money. Your body can’t absorb this form. Go after Magnesium Glycinate or Magnesium Citrate.
- Benadryl induces sleep, and can be a helpful sleep aid, but it should not be used on a regular basis. It creates brainwave patterns that do not foster a restorative night’s sleep. Be aware! Explore this Read Click here to read more about this topic.
- Melatonin can be helpful at times, for some people. Continue to explore this topic here.
- Tart Cherry Juice I am hearing good things about this stuff, enough so, that I think it is worth checking out if you have trouble falling asleep. Explore this topic/Read more/Click here for more information.
- Ambien (and other prescription sleep medications.) Do what you need to do, to get sleep. At one point in my life, I was getting so little sleep (in my 30’s) that every morning when I woke up, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. As the morning progressed, my aching muscles would begin to recover. It was frightening. I was too young to be feeling that lousy every day. My doctor put me on Ambien. That first night’s sleep was miraculous. I had not been getting into the deeper stages of sleep where my body could do its repair work. Ambien allowed that to happen. Sleep is critical. Be honest with your doctor. Explore this short term solution for times of sleep crisis. Don’t be afraid. Prescription medication may not be right for you, but it might be the right thing, at the right time, to break a cycle of insomnia that is unraveling your life. It is worth pursuing.
Potpourri – Surprises
- Socks. Wear socks to bed if you are cold!
- Bedroom Boundaries. Keep children, pets and cell phone out of your bedroom.
- Caffeine I’ve learned to not drink anything with caffeine after 2:00. When do you need to stop for the day?
- Sleep Apnea I love a few people whose lives have been ravaged by undiagnosed sleep apnea. If there is any amount of breathing noises or excessive day time sleepiness and fatigue, don’t mess. Check it out.
I’ve lost count over the number of days and nights I’ve spent in the hospital with our children – 3 to 4 hundred. It did not take me long to recognize that hospitals are notorious for inducing sleep-deprivation. Packed in my travel bag at all times are an “eye mask” and ear plugs. I also pack some yarn so that I can tie one side to my child’s bed rail, and the other side to my wrist. This way, I could be awakened when Josh or Joe needed me, but could sleep through all the vital checks and IV medications. More on eye masks here. (I don’t necessarily recommend this site, but it has some good information.)
Well, ladies, I am coming to understand that THIS is a whole new ball game. I’m new to this arena, so I am not yet much help here. Maybe in the next couple years! If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share them by simply hitting reply and leaving a comment.
Bathroom visits. Ahhh! These, too, are creeping into my life … a little. Some people are up multiple times throughout the night. Again, I have not yet faced this full force. Anyone have any suggestions for others who face this challenge?
Whewww. This is the longest post I’ve ever written. If you made it this far, treat yourself to a GREAT, short TED ED video clip. It’s worth the 4 ½ minutes! Sleep hits a deep nerve for me. God ordained it and we need it, yet many obstacles stand in the way. Restorative sleep positions us to meet and exceed every priority we hold dear. Praying my story might make a difference in your life. May God’s miraculous plans for you and your sleep restore and refresh you in every way. Amen. Amen!