(This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on what worked for me to cure my chronic insomnia. Stay tuned for some sleep hacks that haven’t made it into the mainstream literature, but have definitely worked to have me sleeping like a puppy for the last six months. OMG, it feels good!)
Did you celebrate the summer solstice this year? The longest day of the year is my second favorite day of the year. And this year it was special because the moon was a full and luscious solstice moon last week. First time in 68 years. They call it a Strawberry Moon.
I stayed up late enough to see the moon rise and the fireflies twinkle to the tops of the trees, ringing our backyard with an ephemeral, glittering halo.
And then I crashed, not sorry at all to be opting out of the moonlight hikes scheduled for that night.
Because lately I’ve been sleeping like a well-fed puppy. Unapologetically.
Even the vociferous mockingbird who decided to sing every song on his playlist throughout that bright night couldn’t keep me awake. (Is that weird? That a mockingbird would sing through the entire night? Right outside our window. I thought so, too.)
But, I digress.
Sleep to me is a luxurious nightly interlude that, when it’s good, feels slightly naughty and decadent.
Even astrological treats like Strawberry Moon are no match for that kind of righteous hedonism.
15+ years of chronic insomnia.
The issue of insomnia is near and dear to my heart because of my fifteen year relationship with it which often left me cranky, crying and dim.
So, big deal for me, this sleep deprivation.
And big deal for, apparently, 60 million of our closest friends, at least here in the States.
A lot has been written lately about our chronic sleep deprived state.
It’s taking its toll.
So I won’t rehash (too much) the links to sleep deprivation and ill health—the link to weight gain, depression, brain fog, even stroke, diabetes, heart disease and other nasties.
And I wont rehash (too much) the usual recommendations to improve your sleep—dark room, no iPad after dark, break up with the TV in your bedroom. Break up with your afternoon latte.
You know this stuff.
So did I.
Knowing it didn’t help me sleep at night. And there came a point last year where, finally, I was ready to do something about it.
Getting my nights back.
And now I’ve taken control of the situation. It’s been a step-by-step process. But I can finally sleep through the night on a full moon even with an inappropriate mockingbird belting out arias at top volume right outside my open window like a love-lorn Romeo patient for a glimpse of Juliet.
I slept right through that racket.
Here’s the first thing that worked for me:
Eat Three Meals a Day, No Snacks.
I learned this from Dr. John Douillard of LifeSpa. Dr. Douillard is a specialist in Ayurvedic medicine
He also taught me that there are two kinds of insomnia—Pitta and Vata.
Pitta is where you can’t fall asleep—you lie there watching the clock. You toss. You turn. You probably solve world problems when you’d rather be sawing logs. Or you get a second wind around 10pm and before you know it it’s 2am, you’ve cleaned the whole house and you’re making a 3-story sandwich.
Vata is where you can’t stay asleep—you wake up at 2, 3, 4, 5. It’s like someone pokes you with a stick every hour just for mean-spirited fun. You may or may not get back to sleep. You pray for dawn to arrive. For the night to end.
I had both.
So, three meals a day, no snacks addresses the Vata insomnia, the one where you’re constantly waking up.
We are a snacking breed, we Americans.
I know I LOVED the recommendation to eat small frequent meals throughout the day to “boost metabolism” and to “stave off hunger” and to “control blood sugar.”
That recommendation is misguided, wrong and dangerous on so many levels.
And it contributes to insomnia.
It contributes to insomnia.
“Some new information has come to light, man.”
If you’re constantly snacking, your body comes to expect constant snacks for fuel even when you’re sleeping!
Even when you’re sleeping your body has to rely on quick-burning glucose, not slow-burning fat, to feed your cells. If you’re a snacker.
Through our constant snacking, we’ve trained it to do this.
So when you wake up at 2, 3, 4, 5, it’s because your body is telling you, ‘I’m freakin’ hungry. I need some fuel. My blood sugar is dropping. I’m cranky. Feed me, Seymour!”
Switching to three meals a day, no snacks, is a first and baby step to starting to train the body to burn fat again.
So it can make it through the night without having a tantrum.
Three meals a day, no snacks.
Snacking wasn’t the easiest habit to break. But it was totally doable. And after a couple of weeks, either I started burning fat more efficiently, or my body just resigned itself to its new reality.
Didn’t matter, because it was the first thing I had tried where I noticed a difference in my sleep.
I was having fewer middle-of-the-night rendezvous with the glowing digits of my alarm clock.
And it made a difference in how I felt the next day.
- I woke up a little more refreshed.
- I quit craving mid-afternoon naps.
- I didn’t think about coffee the moment my eyes opened.
- And if I did wake up, it took less time to fall asleep.
Try this at home.
Try it for a week and see for yourself.
Three meals a day, no snacks.
Then, leave a comment and let me know what difference that makes in your sleep. Do you stay asleep longer? Wake up less? What strategies do you use to make it through the days with no snacking? What satisfies your hunger until the next meal?
Next week, I’ll share how I started getting control of the Pitta insomnia, the thing that made me dread going to bed every night because falling asleep was such a frustration night after night.
This Dr. Douillard is on to something.
If you want to know more about Pitta v. Vata insomnia from the expert, listen to his podcast episode that lifted me right out of sleep poverty and put me on the road to decadence and naughtiness.
Until next week….sweet dreams, Sweet Pea!