99 things that didn’t help me sleep…and one thing that did

I was a great sleeper for the first 30+ years of my life. Back in the day, I used to have to set the alarm clock on full blast and leave it across the room in order to be disturbed by it. In fact, normally other people in the house were disturbed first and proceeded to wake me up after shutting the alarm off.

As life evolved in my 30’s, I experienced a few sleep disturbances, mostly addressed with some sleepy time tea, magnesium and a yoga pose. Maybe some Acupuncture for the really tough times when I found I was waking up once or twice to go to the loo <insert eye roll here – how little I knew about real sleep issues>.

All that changed when I had a child.

To cut a long story short – my son was not a good sleeper in his infancy. Waking up with him every 45 minutes for 21 months took its toll on my innate sleep goddess capacities. When he finally slept again but I found that I could not, my desperation to find a solution reached a fever pitch in very short order.

My partner quips that I turned our house into a laboratory on my quest to join the ranks of the well-rested, sane population. But he’s really not kidding. Like the good science student I am, I conducted extensive research, consulting the literature – both the double-blind, placebo kind and the pop-science kind. I read books, I listened to podcasts, I talked to experts, I scoured the internet. I paid A LOT of money to a LOT of people. I gathered data and I ran experiments. A LOT of experiments.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of the things that I tried in an effort to improve my sleep:

Yoga breathing – Ujjayi

Yoga breathing – Nadi Shodana

Yoga breathing – Chandra Bhedana

Yoga breathing – Brahmari

Yoga breathing – Sama Vritti

Yoga poses – hip openers

Yoga poses – inversions

Yoga poses – forward bends

Yoga Nidra

Mantra Meditation

Kundalini Meditation

Insight Meditation

Guided Meditation

Silent Meditation

Tart Cherry

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Acupuncture

Cranio-sacral Therapy

Chiropractic

Osteopathic adjustments

Postural Patterning

Qigong

Reiki

Crystal Therapy

Sound Therapy

Massage

Emotional Freedom Technique

Yoga Therapy balls

Rescue Remedy’s sleep formula

Sleep drops

Sam-E

Magnesium capsules

Magnesium Oil

Epsom Salts baths

Flotation tank

Sauna with cold plunge

5-HTP

Passionflower

Skullcap

Valerian

Lavender oil

Progesterone

Multi-vitamins

Fish oil supplements

Vitamin D

Vitamin C mega-doses

Probiotics – several kinds

Ashwaganda

Reishi Mushrooms

light blocking blinds

turning off the Wi-Fi at night

exercising during the day

getting sufficient sun exposure

f.lux/Night Shift apps to reduce blue light

soft lamps with warm bulbs

watching funny TV before bed

not watching anything on TV before bed

reading before bed

101 kinds of sleepy-time tea

a shot or three of whisky in the above tea

avoiding alcohol within three hours of bedtime

cutting out alcohol altogether

only having caffeine before noon

eliminating caffeine altogether

eating chocolate in the morning

eating only whole foods

getting plenty of greens

cutting down on greens

eating carbs before bed

eating protein and fat before bed

not eating within three hours of bedtime

avoiding sesame seeds at dinner

having a heavy dinner

having a light dinner

having five meals a day

having three meals a day

snacking

not snacking

eliminating gluten, dairy and sugar

eating all of the above

tinkering with the spices in my food

getting lots of mental stimulation during the day

minimising mental stimulation during the day

keeping the room cool

keeping the room warm

lots of covers

wearing socks

sleeping naked

foot massage with oil before bed

sleeping alone

sex

relaxation music

earplugs

walking barefoot on the beach

sleeping on my back

sleeping on my right side

sleeping on my left side

windows open/windows closed

journalling

And do you know what? None of them worked.

Not in isolation anyway. There is no one single thing that worked to get me sleeping again. And no combination that seemed reliable. Just when I thought something was effective, it stopped working. Everything seemed murky and slippery and confusing.

Why?

Because all the self-help techniques, supplements and studies in the world cannot offer a universal solution for sleeplessness.

What finally got me sleeping again for a reliable 6.5-7.5 hours per night?

Super simple really – I had to start from the beginning. I had to throw out all of the ideas about what to do and re-align myself with nature’s rhythms first and foremost.

As free as we are to do what we like 24/7, there are certain biological facts that cannot go unheeded forever. In youth, maybe. I think that’s debatable as well – we’re learning now that some of the diseases of degeneration start as early as the womb or the highchair. For me, it all fell apart on the cusp of my 40th birthday.

So I went back to the beginning, to see what the rhythms of nature suggest in terms the timing of various daily actions. Despite deep resistance to some of the ideals, I was so desperate that I aligned my day as best as I could.

Within weeks, I started sleeping more than I had in years. Only then could I tinker with the variables above in a clear way so as to identify what needed to make up my personal sleep kit.

There is no one size fits all. But there is a biological rhythm that got it’s start 37 billion years ago that can form a solid baseline from which to refine. From there, I’ve been able to identify a handful of non-negotiables and a couple of nice-to-haves but I have been able to throw out the rest.

I can help you to do the same. If you want to know more about how, check out my Sleep Wise Habits and schedule a free conversation.

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Where have I been?

I’ve been a little quiet on the blog and teaching front since becoming a mother and selling my studio.  I’ve been facing huge challenges over the past couple of years. There’s nothing like a massive life shift to show you where the weaknesses in your arsenal are! Let me just say that of all the “dark nights of the soul” and health instability in my life, this last period has taken the cake.
But I’m back now. And so very different than ever before. While asana, pranayama and meditation are still interesting to me, I know first-hand that they are best leveraged with a consideration of small, subtle yet crucial lifestyle factors as well. I’m playing a different game, this new side of 40.
In order to make my way back to health and wellbeing, I did so much to stay consciously balanced and well. I could only wonder why I continued to feel so terrible and why I kept spiralling downward. It was like nothing I was doing was getting in, no matter how hard I tried. It was like all of the tools I had so carefully cultivated over a lifetime were behind an impenetrable glass wall through which I could not reach.
I wasn’t “sick” by any recognisable diagnostic criteria per se YET (except that one time when my appendix burst or the recurring bouts of unexplained vomiting that I had for over two years) but I can tell you for sure that I was not well, physically or mentally. I consulted experts, dutifully consumed my supplements and had my adjustments but nothing gave me the kind of grounding I was looking for. I was panicking. I reckon it was a matter of time before I got sick enough to be diagnosed with one of the diseases of our time – autoimmune, adrenal, thyroid or something.
So I did a LOT of research to find out what I was missing. There is so much info out there, it’s overwhelming. I’ve listened to a University degree’s worth of podcasts alone – never mind the reading, course work and articles. That said, a few themes kept recurring in all places – from ancient healing modalities to modern health science.
They’re encapsulated quite elegantly in a programme I’ve been inspired by and empowered to teach and adapt. Handily enough, it stems largely from yoga’s sister science Ayurveda. It’s not a cure-all but its the foundation that I was missing.
In the end, I made just a few subtle tweaks from what I had been doing to create a profound shift in my ability to help myself – and to get back to the business of helping others. It’s my feeling that in offering this to others, it will make whatever else they’re doing to maintain or improve their health that much more potent.
Want to know more? Check out Body Thrive!
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