Some friends and I saw Rayland Baxter open up for Shakey Graves in Vancouver last week. There were 13 of us. Each and every one of us just stood there with our jaws dropped. I can’t remember the last time I was that captivated at a concert.
The other day I went to a party even though I was very tired and only wanted to sleep. I was speaking with a girl there who I had just met. She asked me what my hobbies were outside of work. I told her that mostly I just liked to watch TV. Sometimes I’m not good at parties.
That said, TV is making me pretty happy these days. But it’s not the only thing.
In a World. This movie is so underrated. It’s on Netflix. Watch it tonight.
Demetri Marin. Aside from being one of the fantastic supporting actors in In a World, he’s also a hilarious stand up comic. Last weekend Kurt treated me to a night out at the Just for Laughs show, where he was absolutely the highlight.
Shakey Graves. Love this guy. I saw him play a sold out show in Vancouver last week with some of my favourite people. We were all completely stopped in our tracks. So glad we went instead of selling out $16 tickets for the $100 people were offering to pay on craigslist.
When things go smoothly. I love simple. I go out of my way to make things simple. I went to Vancouver to see Shakey Graves with 8 other people–and met 4 more there. In my experience, trying to do anything with 13 people is a recipe for disaster. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a bit of anxiety around this, but oh my goodness it went perfectly. No one missed the ferry! We found 9 seats together! Union took our reservation and everyone showed up on time! And the food was unreal! And the Keefer Bar had room for us! And the show was just amazing! Best 24 hour vacation!
Running. I love Fall/Winter running. I love running in the dark. I’m up to 10km now. Still a lot of distance to cover to get me back to where I was, but I’m completely okay with that.
Often it goes like this: You start having trouble with sleep. Maybe you are just restless or maybe you have full blown insomnia. Maybe you’re down to 5 hours a night or maybe you’re down to 1. Either way it sucks. So you make the recommended lifestyle changes. You talk to you doctor and try some natural sleep aids on her recommendation. But your sleep struggles persist and when they go on long enough you are willing to try anything. ANYTHING….including:
Acupuncture. Fortunately I was lucky to have a practitioner friend who was committed to curing my insomnia with regular acupuncture. Depending on your income and your benefits, this isn’t an option for everyone. Unfortunately my regular acupuncture treatments did not help me sleep. They relaxed me incredibly, perhaps the most unstressed and relaxed I’ve ever been, but it did not effect my insomnia.
Transformational Breathwork. This was interesting. I took a 4 hour workshop that involved lying in a dark room with 10 strangers and just breathing under the guidance of practitioners. For 4 hours. It seemed as though everyone else in the room had life changing experiences, but not me. And no, it did not help me sleep.
Hypnosis. I wanted this to work so badly, I really did. But it did not. I went to three sessions. I believed. I participated. I followed all the instructions. I think I’m just too high strung to be hypnotized. Didn’t work.
Swimming. Apparently this resets your circadian rhythm. It didn’t help me.
Meditation. Again, I’m too high strung for this to work, though I’m totally open to trying meditating again…one day.
Podcasts and Crime Dramas. I have no idea why this works for me, but it does. It’s a trick I use when I wake up in the middle of the night or too early on a weekend and just feel awake and ready to go at a time that I should still be sleeping. I put on a podcast or a crime drama–something that I’m not invested in or excited about, but am interested enough in to take my mind away. I’m able to check out, my mind drifts and I fall back to sleep.
Therapy. Every six months or so the Globe and Mail has an article on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – Insomnia (CBT-I) and how it can cure insomnia better than anything. Unfortunately, there are very few CBT-I trained therapists in Canada and none that I have found Vancouver Island, or elsewhere who would be willing to speak over the phone. So while, this sounds very promising, it is not accessible to everyone at this time. I did, however, speak with a therapist with some sleep experience, but it was clear my issues were out of her scope.
Oh the things you try when you’re desperate. While I know some of the practices above really do help people sleep, I just wasn’t one of the lucky ones.
You’ll recall from the sagas, I hope, Grettir’s last stand at Drangey,
how his grip on the sword made his enemies cut off his hand?
If he’d fled here instead and had tasted this terrible coffee,
or read these letters you sent, he’d surrender and lay the blade down.
This song just breaks me.
In my post about insomnia and lifestyle I said that the first two things people ask about when you tell them you’re not sleeping are your coffee intake and exercise details. That was a lie. The first thing they always ask is, Have you tried melatonin? And when this happens to me, I want to punch that person in the face. People, this is not a helpful thing to say to someone who is genuinely struggling with sleep. Of course they have tried melatonin. Everyone has. And for some people it works great, but for others it doesn’t work at all. Fortunately, these days health food stores are lined with different natural methods to encourage sleep. Here is what I have tried, yes, including melatonin.
Melatonin. I’ve used this off and on over the years. It helped for mild sleep trouble, but not at all for real insomnia. Despite this I used to take it hopefully every night, but heard through the grapevine that it wasn’t wise to take long term or regularly so I stopped and my sleep patterns didn’t change.
Valerian. This did not help me sleep at all, just made me feel uncomfortably high as I lay awake throughout the night. A friend of mine also tried valerian for a bout of sleeplessness. It definitely made her feel wonky, but it also helped her to sleep.
Selenium. This did nothing with my insomnia, other than make me feel the same way valerian did.
Marijuana. Ok, this is not available at most health food stores, but if you’re desperate for sleep it might be worth a try. For me, this had a 50% success rate, which is actually pretty good considering most things I tried had a 0% success rate. Unfortunately, for pot to help me get to sleep at 10 or 11PM I had to smoke it around 7 or 8PM. This meant I’d have to commit my night to this, something I just couldn’t do regularly. I also felt super awkward and sneaky and weird about smoking pot in my neighbourhood, which is an especially un-fun feeling when you’re stoned. After a couple of months it became more trouble than it was worth, though it definitely helped me with both sleeplessness and insomnia, I’m just not a cool enough stoner to keep it up.
Magnesium. When I first read about the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, I thought I had solved the problem. I was so sure that taking magnesium before bed would be my silver bullet. It wasn’t. However, there is a difference in my sleep quality when I take it and when I don’t. If you have sleep trouble or aren’t getting deep sleep, you might want to talk with your doctor about potentially having a magnesium deficiency. Taking magnesium before bed didn’t help me sleep, but it has improved the quality of my sleep.
Chinese Medicine Concoction. Didn’t work.
GABA. GABA was recommended to me by a friend when I was struggling pretty frequently with anxiety. I ended up taking it before bed when my mind was racing and was surprised by how effective it was. GABA helps to turn my mind off and bring me to sleep. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any reputable reports on the safety of long term or regular use, so I try to limit it for those nights (or middle of the nights) when my mind just won’t be quiet.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list of the natural options available to improve sleep, it’s just what I tried and how it worked for me. Before trying any of the above, or anything at all for that matter, please talk to your doctor. Side effects are real and crazy things.
1. The Decemberists recently announced that they would be gracing us with a new album in January 2015 and I am over the moon. I love this band.
2. Kurt and I are taking off to Los Angeles today for some sunshine, roller coasters and hockey. See you in a week!
It sounds absurd to even say, but I struggled with insomnia and sleeplessness for nearly three years before I was ready to make lifestyle changes that would improve my sleep. Bad habits are hard to break and change is a scary thing, even if you so desperately want the outcome that it will bring. It’s not enough to just say you want to make changes because you long for the end result. You have to be ready deep down in your heart to make the commitment. You have to know that with every step forward you will take the occasional step back and even when you feel so far ahead, the results don’t show up all at once. Changing your life for the better is an ongoing process and it can be challenging. That said, some of the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle have been the best things that I’ve done for myself when it comes to sleep. And some didn’t make a difference at all.
Here is what worked and what didn’t for me:
Alcohol. I’ll admit, this one was hard for me, but reducing the amount I drink is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Pre-June 2012 I drank a lot more than I do now. I’d go for drinks 2-4 times a week, having 3-8 beers each night out. I was single and social and hated staying in alone. Eventually I noticed every time I went for drinks my sleep was especially bad. No exceptions. Any time I got even a bit tipsy I would have no troubles falling asleep, but would find myself wide awake only a few hours later. I did a bit of googling and turns out there’s a science behind it. I knew reducing my alcohol intake would help me sleep better. It took some time, some commitment and some serious FOMO, but I’m there. I now stick to 1-2 glasses of wine a night (if at all) and if I drink more than that, I’m ready for the consequences.
Exercise. When I told people I was having trouble sleeping, the second question they always asked me was about exercise. Was I getting enough? Was I exercising too late at night? Had I tried yoga? Well, let me tell you. During my sleep struggles I’ve tried running 60km a week, being totally inactive, committing to yoga and everything in between. I’ve tried exercising first thing in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. Never once did I find a direct correlation between my exercise habits and my sleep. That said, I do feel best when I exercise regularly either first thing in the morning or right after work and that has to count for something.
Schedule. When I look back at my life when my insomnia was at it’s worst, my schedule looked this: Wake at 6AM. Work 8 hours, Run 15km, Go out for dinner/music/drinks/volunteer commitments, Home at 11PM for bed. Repeat five days a week. The other two days I was working 16 hours between my two jobs. It’s no wonder I didn’t sleep. Making changes here was tough, I felt that by making more time for myself I would be letting others down. It took me a long time to realise that an exhausted, run down, absent version of me wasn’t what people wanted, but at that rate it was all I was capable of giving. I started by taking Saturday days to myself. I wouldn’t plan anything before 4PM. That was my time. It only grew from there. These days my schedule is lot less full, I spend a lot of time at home both during the week and on weekends and this has no doubt made me more calm and improved my quality of sleep.
Night Time Routine. In all of my sleep research, one of the things I read about the most was the importance of having a night time routine. So I created one, and considering I had already reduced my alcohol intake and social commitments, this wasn’t too hard. I would make sure that I was home by 9PM (at the latest) so I could just spend 1-2 hours to myself, no work or serious conversations, just relaxing, reading or watching TV. **Many experts suggest turning off the TV a few hours before bedtime, but I never could abide by this rule** While I don’t think it helped with my insomnia, it did help with my quality of sleep. It didn’t ensure I would sleep through the night, but it made being asleep by 11PM a pretty sure thing.
Coffee. The first piece of advice that uneducated people give to insomniacs? Quit coffee. Um, no thanks. That just isn’t an option for me, and thankfully my doctor said it didn’t have to be. She did say, however, that I needed to make an adjustment in the amount and timing of my favourite vice. I cut back from 8 cups a day to 3 and no longer drink it after 1PM. Despite the changes in my coffee intake, both my insomnia and sleeplessness persisted. Though I will admit, I never quit coffee completely and perhaps that could have helped. Someone stronger than me will have to try this and get back to me.
Sugar. I love refined sugar. Candy, chocolate, donuts, cronuts. Give it all to me. At least that’s what I used to say. I never reduced my sugar intake to help with my sleep. I should have, but I just love sweets too much. I did, however, reduce my sugar intake when I hit my 30’s and learned the hard way about how metabolism actually does slow down. Vanity wins out again. Though through this I learned that my sleep quality is much worse on the days I eat a lot of sugar.
Meat. I was a vegetarian for thirteen years and a vegan for four. I never thought that meat would become part of my life again, but in January 2014 it did. I started eating meat again, not on the recommendation of my doctor, but on the recommendation of three other women who suffered from anxiety and insomnia. All three of them had been advised by their doctors to start eating red meat again and all three said it helped. Currently I don’t believe I eat enough red meat (maybe twice a month) to feel any benefits.
Now, this is obviously not an exhaustive list of lifestyle adjustment you can make to sleep better and overall live a more healthy life. I’m leaving out some of the most common suggestions–no electronics in the bedroom, no late night eating, using your bed only for sleep and sex. This is just a list of some of the major adjustments that I have made. For further suggestions on lifestyle changes you can make to get a better sleep, I would suggest googling just that.