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Insomnia

Insomnia is usually a red flag that there's another problem under the surface.  It's a symptom of something worse, but it's also a serious problem in and of itself.  Here's 24 years worth of trial and error, research and experiment, therapy and tears, condensed into one essay.  (A few of the ideas here come from, "The feeling good handbook," by David Burns, MD.  It's a great resource.)

1.  Don’t put your face in front of bright screens from 11pm-5am.  Whether it's a phone, desktop computer, lightbox, whatever.  It’s like artificial sunshine, and you don’t want that confusing your body's circadian rhythms.

2. Biofeedback:  “my hands are warm and heavy,” stuff really works.  (BYU used to have a great lab in the downstairs of the Wilkinsin center.  It might still be there, I don't know.)  Your mind has a ton of power over your body.  I can raise my body temperature in certain areas, just by telling myself to do it.  You can look up scripts for hypnotherapy, specifically to help you fall sleep.  (Side note here:  my first semester at Ricks, my psych teacher did an experiment where he took a super thick needle through his bicep, and because he taught his body to control the pain, he didn’t grimace, and only one drop of blood came out on each side of the needle.  I remember watching it and feeling sick.  Then I told myself that if he could make himself not hurt from that needle, I could make myself not throw up from watching it.  My point is this:  your mind has way more control over your body than you realize.)

3.  Take a hot bath around bedtime.  A decrease in body temperature is one of the body's natural triggers for sleep.  When you artificially spike the body temp in a hot bath,  it simulates that.  So it helps you fall asleep.

4.  Drink milk.  Something about calcium at nighttime helps.  That same psych teacher has a theory that milk goes to the subconscious memory, from when a baby was at his mother’s breast and warm milk made him feel full and comforted, etc.  I can’t drink warm milk, but ice cream or a small bowl of cereal sometimes helps.  A little carb boost is okay, but not a meal.  As a general rule, don’t eat between 12-5am.  If you wake up hungry in the night, drink water.  Tell your  body it's not time for breakfast yet.

5.  Chocolate is evil for my mental health.  If I eat chocolate in the evening (one hershey’s kiss is okay, 15 are not) I’ll usually be moody the next day.  Chocolate in the afternoon is okay, chocolate in the morning is bad.  Can you tell I have a problem with chocolate?  Chocolate right before bed usually triggers weird dreams. 

Speaking of nutrition, one of the things the brain really needs is fat.  A low fat diet is super bad me.  I talked more about that over here in the post about depression.  The main idea is this:  more avocados, less oreos.  Another good encyclopedia kind of book that's helpful:  Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis Balch.

6.  Memorize a long script (pick a mantra, favorite poem, scripture, etc) and repeat it to yourself as you fall asleep.  

7.  Consistent exercise.  For me it’s best to go outside in the morning for sunshine and fresh air.  Long walks where you focus on the horizon are supposedly good for depression.  But, an intense workout at night sometimes makes people restless.

8. Watch TV reruns.  If you wake up at 3am and don't want to start the day yet, get a blanket and pillow, turn out the lights, make yourself cozy.  (side note here:  if you're awake in the night, don't stay in bed trying to sleep.  It's counterproductive.  I like to go downstairs to the couch.)  My favorite thing to watch in the middle of the night is Gilmore Girls reruns.  I've seen them all, so I can turn it on and not worry about missing any details.  If my body is super tired I'll fall asleep on the couch with GG in the background.  The main idea here is to forget whatever was making me anxious or worried.  If my brain turns on and starts problem solving and I don't want to be awake yet, this is a decent tool. 

9.  Benadryl.  It's great stuff.  The same chemical (antihistamine) is in the OTC sleep aids.  Even if I wake up at 3am, I can still take one dose and not have a total hangover the next day.

10.  Chamomile tea is pretty decent.  Add honey.

11.  Lavender is pretty great stuff.  Also Idaho Blue Spruce is a good grounding oil.  Avoid the citrus oils at night, they are invigorating.  (see Emotional Healing with Essential Oils, by Daniel Macdonald)

12.  For moms, if you wake up at 3-4am and have to pee, you might need to work on the muscles of the pelvic floor.  Childbirth does a number on them, and if you do kegels, sqauats and lunges it will strengthen the muscles and buy you more hours at night.  I don't love working out, but I make myself do it once a week.

13.  If you have a nursing baby, best of luck.

14.  If you have a snoring husband, look into sleep apnea.

15.  Progesterone.  If your hormones are all out of whack, that's part of the puzzle.  Dr Jones is a chiropractor in Draper that helped me when my kids were younger.  For a few years, I used a cream from a compounding pharmacy to bring the progesterone levels up.

16.  Serotonin.  This neurotransmitter is a biggie for sleep.  A lot of antidepressants fall in the SSRI category (targeting the brain's ability to absorb serotonin) and I tried a handful of them when my two boys were really small.  They usually helped me sleep, so the insomnia was better.  But it was like trading one bag of problems for another.  They weren't a good fit for my brain or body, and it was hell coming off of them.

15.  This next list is from the Sleep Disorders Center.  Sleep hygiene rules: 
Sleep only as much as you need to feel refreshed. 
Get up at the same time each morning. 
Going to bed before a big day will probably result in tossing and turning. 
If you miss an entire night of sleep you will only need about 9.5 hours the next night to catch up. 
If you haven't fallen asleep after 20-30 minutes, get up and do something else. 
Don't force yourself to sleep 8 hours. 
etc
If this list is helpful and you'd like more of the ideas from the sleep disorders center, please reach out to me and I'll make a copy of it.

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