Friday, June 29, 2012


I've been meaning to post something new for awhile. I even have a couple of nearly completed posts that have been waiting for weeks to be finished. What is my lame excuse for not getting them done, you ask? Insomnia, I answer. Insomnia has been kicking my butt intermittently for about six weeks, and hardcore for the last two weeks. In fact, I've only had maybe two full night's sleep in the last two weeks and I don't function well like this.

Insomnia and I have an on-again, off-again history. Years ago, I went through a rough spell of waking every few hours or being awake for several hours in the middle of the night. Acupuncture/Chinese herbs took care of that. That combo has also made a difference in my tendency toward excessive REM cycling/lack of delta wave deep sleep (a lesser known sleep disorder), which can make you feel like you hardly slept due to the abundance of vivid, technicolor dreams that result. There are so many kinds of insomnia and some are easier to fix than others.

About a six weeks ago, a mixture of a couple of nights where I had a hard time falling asleep plus me being naughty and staying up late (being the lifelong night owl that I am) resulted in having a hard time falling asleep before 2 am. However, I had no problem sleeping in and getting enough sleep, so, other than being annoyed about waking up late at 10:30 every morning, it wasn't a big deal- more an issue of sleep hygiene than anything. I was able to get back to a more normal sleep schedule without much trouble.

But, then, a few weeks ago, something bad happened: Even though I was finally falling asleep fine, I woke up at 5:30 and couldn't fall back asleep. It happened the next day and the next. For some reason, I could only stay asleep for 5-7 hours (not good when I need 8.5-9 hours). I wasn't able to take a nap, either. The sleep just wasn't happening.

After a week, I was beginning to feel physically exhausted, with a constant headache, (all the while trying to avoid living on coffee) and by week two, my nervous system was beginning to get very out of whack and I began having a lot of anxiety about waking up early, which doesn't exactly help me to fall back to sleep... anyway, it's been hard to be productive, let alone have the brain power I need to finish those posts to my liking (they're a bit more involved than this one).

So, what happens when we don't get enough sleep? We start to build up a considerable sleep debt. Our brain keeps track of how many hours of sleep below our sleep need we're getting, according to Dr. William Dement PhD, the world's foremost sleep researcher and author of the fascinating book "The Promise of Sleep", which is my current bedtime reading. In order to have zero daytime drowsiness, we have to pay back all that sleep debt and sleeping in an extra hour here and there isn't going to cut it if you've built up a sleep debt of, say, 28 hours over the course of a few weeks (like I have).

So, at the moment, a lot of my energy has been taken up with trying to fix my sleep problem. I've decided to work on my sleep hygiene, since it's always been on the bad side, so I purchased The Effortless Sleep Method at the recommendation of a friend. It's a combo of book and brainwave enhancing MP3's, one of which is used during the day to enhance SMR brain waves, which insomniacs tend to not make enough of.

I also went to see my holistic doc and he suspects that my cortisol cycle is out of sync and that I'm releasing my morning cortisol several hours too early, so he had me start taking phosphorylated serine at bedtime, which inhibits cortisol release and normalizes the cortisol rhythm. It can take awhile to work- up to months for people with a long standing issue to normalize cortisol rhythm feedback, but hopefully I'll respond quickly since I've only had this issue for a couple of weeks.

As to why this suddenly started happening, I'm not really sure. The only other time this has happened was late last summer, after a period of intense adrenal stress, leading to adrenal fatigue. I haven't been in that situation recently.

One thing I suspect might be happening is progesterone deficiency, which is notorious for messing up sleep. I've always been deficient to some degree, but levels often start to drop off steeply around age 35 and I'll be 35 this year, so I may be at the tipping point, progesterone-wise.
I've added a small dose of sublingual bioidentical progesterone as a trial. I don't really recommend taking progesterone without saliva tests (which I plan on doing) but I know for a fact that I've never had anything less than somewhat low-to-low progesterone levels. The advantage of sublingual is that it doesn't build up in the body like the cream does, so if you take too much, it won't take months to clear it our of your body.

I've started to make some progress. The first day on progesterone, I was able to take a short nap in the late afternoon for the first time in weeks. It seemed to calm down my nervous system. I've also been taking l-theanine (my favorite chill pill) to help deal with my nervous system hyperarousal during the day. It's awful to be so tired and yet so wired and anxious and the theanine keeps me sane and even-keel.

The other night, between the progesterone and a dose of Nyquil (not something I like to take, but I was desperate!), I managed to stay asleep for 10.5 hours. What a difference that made! The following night of the same cocktail got me 8 hours, but I woke several times (I'm blaming the Nyquil for that). Last night I managed 7 hours without the Nyquil, so I'm rather tired, but at least I'm kind of getting somewhere.

I'll keep you posted about my progress. I know I'm not the only one out there not sleeping well. Wish me luck!



  1. So sorry to hear you suffering with insomnia:(
    I was just reading something about how cooling your head helps sleep on Dr. Kruse's forum:


    Perhaps it's worth a try? Wishing you lots of luck and sleep.

  2. As a child, I never realized that having a hard time falling asleep was anything to be concerned about. When I changed my diet 1 year ago by eliminating grains, all of a sudden my insomia and sleep paralysis (symptom of narcolepsy) were gone and I could fall asleep in minutes. I also got less anxious during the day and felt calmer overall. You might look into if you had a dietary change of any sort, increasing/decreasing a food or adding something new, around the time that it started.


    1. Hi Adella! Thanks for your input.

      I hadn't had any dietary changes recently, which made the insomnia even more mysterious. I went to my old acupuncturist and she was able to pinpoint the problem and it's rooted in hormonal deficiency, which I suspect suddenly increased due to me being the age when hormones tend to suddenly begin to decline.


  3. Hi Erin,

    I, like you, suffer from Hashimoto's, was vegetarian for a long time, and had to go gluten-free and start eating meat again (though I'm still just managing fish and chicken :). I'm also about your age with hormonal issues, but in my case is a high testosterone, low estrogen problem. When I tried the progesterone cream prescribed by an incompetent doctor, it made a complete mess out of me, though yes, it made me sleep more.

    I've always had very vivid dreams, and I miss them when I don't dream them. I know it may be a sign of something out of whack, but I've also noticed that whenever my thyroid medication treatment was working better, my dreams became more vivid, so I'm sure that there's more to it than we currently understand.

    Anyway, the way I cope with waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep is by sleeping in a very cold and completely dark room (I wear a sleeping mask), under blankets. I also drink a scoop of whey protein in a very small amount of water on an empty stomach before going to bed, and sip a cup of Good Earth rooibos tea while reading right before turning off the lights.(http://www.iherb.com/Good-Earth-Teas-Original-Sweet-Spicy-Herbal-Tea-Blend-Caffeine-Free-25-Tea-Bags-1-9-oz-53-g/28484).
    This has worked better than anything else I've tried over the years, though of course I understand that when something is out of balance in the body that needs to be addressed first.

    Good luck to you and thank you for this wonderful blog. I've enjoyed reading it and learned quite a bit from it!