Overcoming Insomnia: Lifestyle Changes

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.





Overcoming Insomnia: My Story

Insomnia is the kind of thing that you don’t even think about if you’re not suffering from it. But when you are it consumes your whole entire world. While sound sleep has never been my strong suit, I suffered from chronic insomnia from September 2009 through January 2014.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I’ve always been a bad sleeper. I needed white noise and blackout blinds before I even turned 10. I used to fake sick so I wouldn’t have to have sleepovers, both as a child and later with boyfriends. I’m high needs when it comes to getting a good night sleep. I need space and quiet and darkness and familiarity. That’s how I’ve always been and I’m sure it’s something I’ll be managing until the day I die. This is annoying and often inconvenient, but this is not insomnia.

Insomnia for me started in September 2009. One day, without any lifestyle changes or major trauma or event, I just stopped sleeping. For about three weeks straight I slept maybe 1-3 hours a night. It was terrible. And then it went away. I went back to being a high-maintenance and restless sleeper, but a sleeper. My insomnia came and went over the years, at first for a few weeks every time the seasons changed, until eventually I went without sleep more often than not. I would go months without ever getting more than 4 hours of sleep a night. Middle of the night, hysterical panic attacks became normal for me. My stress level sky rocketed as my passion and participation in the world plummeted.

Insomnia and sleeplessness are two different things, neither of which are fun, and both of which I will address over the coming weeks. Sleeplessness can come from being too hot or too cold, an unfamiliar bed, a racing mind, excitement, lifestyle factors, etc. The day after sleeplessness I’m tired, grumpy and impatient. I’m more likely to order take out and less likely to exercise. Life is less bright but it’s still there, I’m still participating, living in it. Insomnia is something else. Lying awake at night it’s as though your entire body, eyes and even mind are so ready for sleep but something is just not firing, something is preventing you from getting there. It’s almost relaxing until I realise it’s 4AM, and I only have two and a half hours to get any sleep at all. The day after insomnia, nothing matters. Not my relationships or friendships, my career or my health. I cancel plans, forgo runs, eat junk and do the bare minimum at work. Nothing matters. Throughout my struggle I was constantly wondering if I would eventually lose my job and my friends. I wondered if I would ever be able to have a relationship. I certainly didn’t think I’d ever be able to have kids. For over four years insomnia ruled my life.

If you’ve been there, you know this is no way to live. In June 2012 I knew I couldn’t go on. I needed to do something, so I started to make adjustments in my life and began to try everything I could to combat my insomnia. Now, after 2 years of trying everything,  I’m finally there. I sleep. Often through the night. I’m a real person now. I still struggle from time to time, but any normal person does. Life is good for me now, exponentially better, and it’s all because I sleep.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to share everything that I have tried, what has worked and what hasn’t. What has helped with my sleeplessness and with my insomnia. And hopefully someone out there will read it and be able to get the rest they need.



I know people are kind of over it, but I still love that folky-roots rock that gets attention these days. Tonight both Reuben and the Dark (from Calgary) and Boy and Bear (from Australia) are playing Sugar Nightclub in Victoria. I’ll probably be the oldest one there and one of the few people not wearing some sort of hemp. But that’s okay because I’ll be off in the corner sitting at the VIP table, far away from all the patchouli. Oh heck yes.

Check it out and if you’re in the area maybe come.


Personal Finance?

I want to write about personal finance, but I don’t know how. I don’t know what to say or how to make it interesting. When I had debt it was easier. I had a goal, I could update my progress, I would fail or I would succeed and I would talk about why. Things are less interesting now. I mean, I’m in a way better place financially, but it’s less interesting to write about. I’ve reduced my necessary spending to about 35% of my take home. I have 10% go into long term savings automatically. The remaining 55% goes into living my life. Sometimes I have a bit left over and when I do I split it 4 ways for 4 different goals (travel, clothes, long term, and general). Since getting out of debt 11 months ago, I’ve managed to save 19% of my take home salary. Things are good. I could have been more frugal, but I would have had less fun, so there’s that.

But, now what?

I love my life how it is. I’m not willing to make drastic changes, to stop going for drinks with friends or going to concerts or travelling. But there are definitely some subtle things I could be doing to cut back on my spending and save more at the end of each month. I don’t have a number goal in mind at this time, but I do have a plan. As a card-carrying member of Generation Y, I respond well to public bragging and public shame. So I will do that here. I will share my wins so you can all applaud me. And I will share the losses, in the hope that doing so will decrease the number of losses I make.


Win: Booking my Christmas day flight to Vernon, BC with my Amex Gold card. This card allows you to cash points in for any travel. ANY. So I did that here. Savings: $176

Loss: On Wednesday I was grumpy. Work was intense, I had a hard time leaving it at the door. Maybe my hormones were acting up too. So instead of meditating, going for a run or generally getting a grip, I went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of Malbec. Loss: $13

So that’s that. Starting today this blog is going to hold me accountable (again). Ok. Go.

Healthy Food that Tastes Good: Moroccan-Spiced Cauliflower and Carrot Salad


not my photo


Because Oprah is the most powerful person in the world, I’m going to be very careful not to plagiarize her incredible recipe. Instead I will just link you to it here:

Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Cauliflower and Carrot Salad with Chickpeas and Couscous

I will tell you that I was given this recipe by my friend Elexa. The ingredients are very inexpensive. It was very easy to make. It has vegetables and protein and it’s low in calories and fat. And it tastes delicious.

Give it a try tonight!

Happy Sunday

I haven’t done one of these in awhile, so why not do one now? Here are a few things that are making me happy these days:

TV.  I love fall TV. Our friends came over last night for a glass of wine and I think we talked about TV for about 35% of the time. The shows that I’m particularly addicted to: The Mindy Project, Nashville, The Good Wife, Newsroom and Madam Secretary. I don’t watch Scandal but I’d like to start. If you also love TV programs with strong and complicated female leads, you should check out this: The Female Bad Fan.

In a World. The best movie I’ve seen in a long time. 

Hozier. My favourite album of the year so far. 

Bikes. A few weeks ago I participated in the Ride for Refuge. A national cycling fundraiser event that raises money for the vulnerable and displaced. I have to admit, when that 6:30 AM alarm went off on a Saturday morning, I has not the happiest girl around. But once I got out there on my bike, riding 25 km through West Saanich and Brentwood Bay, there wasn’t much that could make me happier. I live in one of the most bike friendly cities in the country, there is no excuse for not doing this more.

Galey Farms Corn Maze and Haunted House. This is pretty Victoria, BC specific. But if you live on the island you’ve got to go here. So terrifying. So good.

Bahamas. On Thursday I joined my friend Megan and the rest of Victoria at the sold out Bahamas concert, his Canadian tour kick off. I’ll be honest, I was expecting good but boring, but that’s not what it was. It was good and beautiful and awesome. If you’re Canadian, odds are he’ll be making his way through your city soon. Go!

Who We Are. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May’s new book. I had the privilege of hearing this inspiring and eloquent woman read from Who We Are on Saturday and wow. Her national book tour is currently under way. Be sure to check it out if you get the opportunity.


Thankful (belated)

I’m thankful that nearly all adventures begin with a one hour and forty-five minute boat ride. Just kidding. I’m only thankful for this some of the time. Most of the time it’s just beautiful nuisance.


I’m thankful for road trips. I’m thankful that I can sing Weakerthans songs at the top of my lungs and he tolerates me. I’m thankful I have tolerance for his versions of Beck. And for his half-decent singing voice.


I’m thankful I’ve always lived in places and travelled to places that require driving through the Fraser Canyon. What a humbling and breathtaking corner of the world. 20141018-101618-36978571.jpg

I’m thankful that even though the home I grew up in now belongs to another family, I still have a home to come to.



I’m thankful for food and for eating. Every day I’m thankful for this. I love eating. Also I’m thankful for digestive enzymes.



Thankful for these two, for raising me to be independent and supporting me through my successes  and mistakes. I’m thankful that they keep my pretentiousness in check, laughing at me because I don’t know how to chop down a tree.



I’m thankful that they live in place where this sunset is a bad one.



I’m thankful for outdoor activities like stand up paddle boarding. I’m thankful that I didn’t fall in.



I’m thankful for red wine and boat rides, even in the fall.



I’m thankful that I’m a naturally great shot, even from far away, even with old shot guns. It will come in handy one day maybe.



More than all of it, I’m thankful for this guy who keeps me smiling and laughing and relaxed and thankful everyday.