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
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Emotional Freedom Technique
Yoga Therapy balls
Rescue Remedy’s sleep formula
Epsom Salts baths
Sauna with cold plunge
Fish oil supplements
Vitamin C mega-doses
Probiotics – several kinds
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
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
foot massage with oil before bed
walking barefoot on the beach
sleeping on my back
sleeping on my right side
sleeping on my left side
windows open/windows closed
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.
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.