Sign up

You deserve to feel great, look great & LOVE your body

Enter your email for your FREE starter kit to get healthy & lose weight without dieting:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

How I Cured My Chronic Insomnia

by | Feb 20, 2013
Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

I don’t use the term chronic insomnia lightly. Have you ever heard of a kid who fakes naps during preschool just to placate the teacher? That was me.

Despite my parents letting me stay up to 9-10pm when I was 8-years old—way later than most of my peers (thank you Dad, you rock!)—I inevitably drove them crazy by waking up at the crack of dawn (literally) on weekends ready to kick off the day.

In high school I averaged maybe 5 hours of sleep a night. Even today I rely on the occasional Ambien to make sure I sleep through a flight or get enough rest the night before an important event.

My insomnia is multifaceted. I have trouble falling asleep because I am very sensitive to light (sometimes I joke that I have invisible eyelids). I’m also very sensitive to sounds and have difficulty getting comfortable.

Once I’m asleep, it’s also way too easy to wake me up. And once I wake up, falling back asleep in less than two hours is nearly impossible. I wake up at any hint of light entering the room, or any abnormal noise.

I’ve tried melatonin, tryptophan, St. John’s wort, camomile, kava kava and antihistamines. Most of them just make me extra miserable because I get groggy and drowsy, but still can’t fall asleep. Ambien has been the only prescription sleep aid that works for me without major side effects, but it is not for everyone and I certainly did not want to rely on it for my day-to-day sleep hygiene.

But with a combination of these techniques, I’ve been able to control my insomniac tendencies and boost my sleep to a solid seven hours a night.

9 Tips To Cure Insomnia

1. Get on a consistent sleeping schedule

This one is probably the most important. The circadian rhythms that control your sleep-wake cycle originate in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus (specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus, for you neuroscience geeks).

These neurons are sensitive to light and work to sync your biological clock to regular light-dark hours. The more consistent these are, the stronger your body will respond to natural circadian rhythms and the easier it will be to fall asleep when you’re supposed to.

2. No interactive screen time 1 hour before bed

As mentioned above, bright light can impact your circadian rhythms and staring into a computer screen late into the night can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Working and other mental activity can also keep your mind alert and prevent it from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to unplug when you’re a workaholic, but a good night’s sleep does more for my productivity than I could ever achieve in the 12th or 14th hour of my workday, so I’ve learned to disengage well before bedtime.

Though I haven’t had any problems from watching TV or a movie, it’s best to stay away from any devices that require input from you for the last hour before bed. This means you should turn off the computers, smart phones, video games and tablets, no matter how badly you want to level up. Instead, try to quiet your mind by taking a bath, reading a book, having some herbal tea, cleaning up the house, listening to music or practicing meditation.

3. Don’t eat too late

Eating close to bed time, particularly a high-calorie, heavy meal, is associated with poorer sleep quality. I’ve also noticed this in myself, and when I avoid late night eating I get better, more consistent sleep. If you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water and going to bed on an empty stomach instead. You certainly won’t starve to death.

4. Exercise daily

The best sleep I ever got was when I was marathon training at 5am every weekday before school. I fell asleep like clockwork at 10:30pm every night. It was glorious.

Heavy exercise is certainly a great way to invoke sound sleep, but even moderate activity like walking 10,000 steps each day can make a big difference in sleep quality. If you aren’t sure how much activity you’re getting, a Fitbit pedometer might be a good investment.

5. No caffeine after 1pm

This one was hard for me to believe. I’d been a heavy coffee drinker from a young age, and never thought it affected my sleep one way or another. If I was really tired during finals, coffee never seemed to help much and there were a few times when I fell asleep not too long after having a double espresso.

I’m not sure if I changed or if my sleep cycle was just so messed up that I couldn’t detect relevant differences, but now that I’ve switched to drinking mainly tea I’ve noticed that if I drink any caffeine too late in the day it is harder to fall asleep. I try not to drink coffee after 12pm, but 1pm is sometimes more realistic.

6. Use a white noise machine

My old apartment was just two doors down from a bustling freeway off ramp, and as you can imagine the traffic noise was constant. As someone who is very sensitive to noise, this posed a tremendous problem.

I’ve tried sleeping with ear plugs, but I have small ears and find them very uncomfortable. The solution that works best for me to control noise disturbances is the Sleepmate, a white noise machine that is quiet enough to ignore but drowns out most other ambient noise. This thing is a lifesaver if you’re stuck in a noisy neighborhood.

7. Black out shades or sleep mask

I realized early on that I’m sensitive to even the slightest amount of light in a room, even small ones like a laptop charging light.

If you’ve taken care of all the light sources inside your bedroom but are still bothered by light that sneaks in under the door or through the window, consider getting some black out shades or a sleep mask. The shades work great but can be expensive and kind of ugly. If you go with a mask, I find that the cheaper, less cushy ones are the most comfortable. Mine looks a lot like this one for under $2.

8. Don’t drink too much alcohol

Though a small nightcap can often help me relax and fall asleep faster, too much alcohol is proven to disturb sleep and can cause you to wake up early. If you like to party, keep in mind that it may be impacting your life in more negative ways than you think.

9 . Practice mindfulness

Though light, noise and bad habits all play a role in my sleep problems, I’m convinced that at the root of it all is a wandering mind. These other factors just add levels of distraction to my already overstimulated brain.

In our plugged in world, constant interruptions are making it progressively difficult to keep your attention on a single task long enough to get it done. For me, the nightly task that eludes me is sleep.

Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis (e.g. spending a few seconds a day focusing on my breathing or taking the time to eat a bite of food slowly with my eyes closed) gives me the power to truly relax my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep rather than letting it drift to all the things I need to get done the following day.

Mindfulness isn’t easy, but the only way to get better is through practice. Whenever you’re waiting for an elevator, standing in line, walking up stairs, taking a bite of food, take a few seconds to reflect on where you are and how your body feels. Focus on a few breaths, in and out, and get accustomed to letting go of your worries. The longer you can sustain this practice the easier it will be to let go of your problems and get a good night’s sleep.

What helps you sleep better?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Summer Tomato Holiday Wish List 2011

by | Dec 12, 2011

Photo by WTL photos

It’s time to start holiday shopping for all the wonderful healthy foodies in your life. My goal this year was to be extra creative and come up with an interesting and useful mix of items that I personally adore. I also tried to hit a range of price points.

Hopefully there’s some stuff in here you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. Happy shopping!

The 2011 Summer Tomato Holiday Wish List

1. Fitbit ($99)

Paying more attention to my daily activity has been the most positive behavioral change I’ve made this year. Since the Jawbone Up is no longer an option, my pedometer endorsement this holiday season goes to the awesome Fitbit pedometer.

Though the web interface and social features aren’t the greatest, there is a beautiful simplicity in the Fitbit’s ability to show you your daily steps at the push of a button. The latest version also shows you how many flights you’ve climbed, a nice feature for those of us who pride ourselves on taking the stairs whenever possible. I wear mine everywhere.

2. Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot – 5 Liter ($119.95)

What better way to get more probiotics into your diet than doing your own lactofermentation? We’ve been making our own sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi at home using this 5 liter fermenting crock pot. The biggest worry when doing this stuff on your own is contamination. This device is clever because you fill the seal with water, which allows gas to escape but doesn’t allow any air inside.

We’ve tried several methods of fermentation at home, and this is by far our favorite. It is way easier than it sounds, and the sauerkraut we’ve made is superior to anything we’ve ever found at the store or the farmers market. Bye bye stomach aches.

3. Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, by Sandor Ellix Katz ($14.48)

If you do decide to dabble in home fermentation (or are just curious and want to learn more before trying it out) you should also pick up this book. It was recommended to me personally by Michael Pollan, and is the definitive and most accessible book on the subject.

4. Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, by Nathan Myhrvoid ($450.15)

Arguably the most amazing food book ever created, Modernist Cuisine combines breathtaking photography with cutting edge science and foolproof recipes. Created by the former CTO of Microsoft, this ostentatiously 1% item is the epitome of awesome for the special foodie in your life.

5. Bodum Bistro Automatic Gravity Activated Salt and Pepper Grinder ($39.74)

This is admittedly a little ridiculous, but the way it works is clever and I think it would make a great gift, particularly for guys getting into cooking (my boyfriend thinks it’s the coolest thing in our entire the kitchen). Basically it is both a salt and pepper grinder that creates perfectly calibrated seasoning by just tilting it over your food. It works really well and I’ve liked it way more than I expected.

6. Sleep Mate ($54.95)

Few things are as valuable as a good night’s sleep. If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping, particularly if you’re sensitive to background noise, the Sleep Mate really can help by creating soothing, ambient background noise. It’s like a blanket for your ears.

7. Withings WiFi Body Scale ($159)

When this scale first came out a couple years ago I thought it was a joke. Why would anyone want their scale to tweet out their weight to the world? But while the social feature got the most attention in the press, it is an optional feature (I opted out) and the scale is actually really cool.

The Withings scale talks wirelessly to your computer, creating simple to understand graphical displays of your weight and body fat over time. It can even tell the difference between different people in the house just by stepping on it. I was skeptical of the body fat readings, but I’ve found them to be very similar to measurements I’ve had from hydrostatic testing. And as long as you weigh yourself at the same time every day in the same outfit (aka first thing in the morning in your birthday suit) then the readings are consistent and can be a great way to track progress over time.

8. Bodum Pavina Double-Wall Thermo Tea/Coffee Cup (set of 2, $14)

Not only do these insulated cups look amazing, they keep your tea or coffee remarkably warm without heating the glass enough to burn your hands. We swear by them.

9. Sous Vide Supreme ($399)

By far one of the coolest cooking methods around, sous vide gives you the ultimate control when cooking meats and vegetables. It’s pricey (though it has dropped about $100 in the past year), but if you can afford it and are obsessed with food it is a fabulous addition to the kitchen.

Related: You may also want to pick up the vacuum sealer ($129.99) and some vacuum bags ($19.99) to get started.

10. Nesco 700 Watt Food Dehydrator ($59.49)

Baked kale chips are good, but dehydrated ones are even better and last longer. With a food dehydrator you can make your own dried fruit, vegetables and even beef jerky to your own preferences (cranberries without sugar!). Definitely go with this higher-powered device over the cheaper ones, you’ll get more consistent results in way less time.

Need more ideas? Check out last year’s list.

What do you want for Christmas?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,