Monday, January 17, 2011

The Sabbath and rest....but what if you have trouble sleeping?

Week 15 of the Sabbath Experiment has come and gone. I am on the other side of the Sabbath feeling drained and tired, which is certainly not my goal for this experiment. Not that yesterday was strenuous in any way. I suppose I am just feeling the strain of this past week.

For those of you who are not following status reports on Facebook, my youngest daughter, Jessica, lost her baby last week. This is especially hard because she lost one last January as well. So we, as a family, have been feeling pretty sad for the last several days. Yesterday during prayer time at church, I sat holding Jess's two-year-old in my arms. Laura was hugging me tightly and when the minister started to pray for comfort for our family, I started crying so hard that my body shook. Like I said, it is a sad time for us. I suppose that is why I am dragging a bit today. And I am guessing that is understandable and okay.

We did our traditional lunch after church with some of the kids and our two grandchildren, but I was not myself at all. Last evening, we entertained friends for dinner, trains and a night of Pinochle. Carisa brought the lasagna, which meant my workload on the Sabbath was reduced to making a salad and garlic bread. Not bad. Bill got to run his trains for friends who have never ventured down into the bomb shelter haven of Lionel. Plus, having them over gave us an excuse to light our outdoor Christmas lights for one last time this season and, because we planned on their visit, to keep the decorations up inside for one more week. This week, we face the daunting task of taking it down and putting it all away. Oh goodie, another trip into the attic, otherwise known as Stinkbug Heaven. This is a depressing time for my husband, as he would keep it all up year round if he had his way.

That was my day and as I headed to bed, I thought of some of my friends who have been struggling with insomnia lately. I must admit, I have a bout of it from time to time. But I am 53 and it is a rather common occurence at my age due to fluctuations in hormone levels. The women I am referring to are young moms, who desperately need their sleep. So I thought today would be a good day to offer a few solutions...although chances are you fine ladies have already tried these. But just in case, this post is for you. You know who you are. Most likely you are reading this at 3 a.m.

For me, melatonin works wonders. But it also gives me profuse diarrhea. I am such a lightweight, though. Zyrtec or any of the PM painkillers knock me out as well. I just wanted a natural solution.

You can start off with a diet change. Foods containing tryptophan (don't get scared -- it is just an amino acid with a fancy name) will naturally help you sleep better. That's why warm milk works, for those that can stomach it. I hate milk period, so that is not a viable solution for me. The interesting thing about tryptophan is that complex carbs will increase its effect. So add throw some fruit into a bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese and see if helps. You see, the brain converts tryptophan into melatonin naturally. And melatonin helps you to sleep.

Again, the key is to combine foods containing tryptophan with complex carbohydrates to help you sleep. Sources of B vitamins and magnesium will help as well. These would include:
  • whole grains
  • raw nuts
  • seed
  • legumes
Foods containing tryptophan include:
  • eggs (breakfast for dinner, anyone?)
  • cashews and peanuts
  • sunflower and sesame seeds
  • turkey (see, there is a reason the guys pass out in front of the football game on Thanksgiving)
  • cottage cheese
  • bananas, pineapples and plums
Something you may want to consider when changing your diet for a better night's sleep -- organic foods are best for this because many times it is the additives in foods that can cause insomnia.

Now if it is anxiety that is keeping you up at night, consider how much water you are drinking during the day. Dehydration, even if it is slight, can dramatically increase feelings of anxiety. Alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate you, so if you choose to have either of these, make sure you drink plently of water to counteract that effect. Anxiety leads to stress and stress will definitely affect your sleep cycle, especially when you start worrying about not getting enough sleep!

Believe it or not, clutter can come into playhere. You will naturally feel more restful in a room that is soothing -- i.e. not with stuff piled up and thrown around everywhere! Keeping the room cool and quiet is important as well.

If your to-do list is haunting your would-be dreams, keep a pad of paper and a pen next to your bed (they sell light up pens, so you don't have to turn on any lights). Instead of worrying that you will forget something in the morning, simply jot it down and check that off the mental playlist you keep referring to. I have even heard it suggested that you then toss the paper into a drawer and close it. Try it -- it just might work to calm your mind enough to get some needed rest.

"Easy for you to say," some of you are thinking. "You don't have to sleep beside the snore monster!"

Here are my suggestions for that:
  • Earplugs (they work wonders, but can be an issue if you have to listen for little ones' cries in the night)
  • A room humidifier -- snoring is often caused by irritated nasal passages. Moistening the air will moisten them as well. Or buy some Breathe Right strips. Or get him to a doctor to check to make sure there isn't a health issue here.
  • Consider a "white noise" machine

According to an article I found from a 2005 edition of Good Housekeeping, insomnia is a learned behavior, which means it can be unlearned. Some of it has to do with self-talk. Change your inner dialogue and see what happens.

If you are online in the midst of your sleepless nights (which I know some of you are because I see what time you post things on FB!), why not make it a productive venture. Check out this online program for insomnia that was developed by Gregg Jacobs, Ph.D. and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School. The website starts out with claims that "You can conquer insomnia" and "You don't have to rely on sleeping pills." It is a worth a look the next time you are staring at the ceiling with an occasional glance at the digital clock beside you. Get up and log on.

Of course, you know to avoid caffeine late in the afternoon or evening, right? That includes chocolate, ladies! Some researchers have found that exposure to bright sunlight, for about a half hour early in the day, can help you fall asleep faster at night, and another 20 - 30 minutes of it late in the afternoon or early evening can help you stay asleep. Of course, in Western PA where I live, this is not always an option!

Back in August, I posted a natural cure for insomnia that involves vinegar (of course!). So if you missed it then, here is again:

Mix 3 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar (I recommend organic raw unfiltered ACV) with a cup of honey. Take a teaspoon in the evening.

If all else fails, observe your dog or cat. Have you ever known them to battle insomnia? Of course not. Why is that? Perhaps it has something to do with being about to truly relax. They trust that you will take care of them. We humans are not so apt to let go and trust, are we?

For those of you struggling with sleepless nights, I pray that something here helps you. If it does, drop me a note and let me know.

Caring for you deeply,



  1. Great advice! Loved it! But don't forget protein, even combined with tryptophan will keep you awake if you have insomnia problems. Protein makes your energy rise and stay that way, and makes your brain wide awake and focused. ie: hemp seeds are one of the best breakfast foods, but one of the worst night time foods. Even if you don't have a sleeping problem the protein would probably keep you up.

  2. Thank you for posting this! I was unaware of the protein/sleep problem connection!

  3. You are in my head! :) You are absolutely right-on about the whole dehydration and anxiety thing...AND the clutter piece. For me, those things are huge.

    I'm going to start experimenting with food more...and staying away from protein close to bedtime for sure. So far all I can get to work for me is my Sleep Machine app on the old iPhone and a couple of Benadryls.

    Oh, and BreatheRight strips for the hubs (because I'm one of those ones with little ones who can't use earplugs--goodness knows HE won't wake up if she's crying). ;-)

  4. In your head?! What a scary place to be :)

  5. You can also buy tryptophan as a supplement (I believe the company is called Source Naturals?). Worked for me for a while, before I wound up needing heavy-duty sleep meds.

  6. Thanks for the tip, Jenn. Sorry it stopped working for you. Wishing you a good night's sleep tonight.


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