Monday, March 27, 2006

Insomnia Responses

Reader response to my insomnia posts was, as always, incredibly informative. Although I'm much too lazy to go to the lengths many of you suggested in order to get to sleep, I've made some changes, and I'll report back as to how it's gone. In the meanwhile, here's a sampling of some of the responses I've received. I've gotten a few too many to comb through and do this in a professional manner, given my time constraints, so I'll post things from various categories:

Prescription Drugs:

Go to your doctor and get a presciption to try Ambien.
I know there's a lot of stuff about it in the news lately, but I've been using it 5 nights a week for 7 or 8 months and it really saved my life.
No side effects at all here.
good luck.


Non-Prescription Drugs and Supplements:

I know you don't use drugs but I don't really consider pot a drug. my suggestion is to smoke a joint prior to going to bed. you'll definitely be able to sleep.


In the past, I used Tylenol PM as a last resort without any side effects in the morning.


Decreased seratonin levels mess with your sleep patterns. You don't
sound like the type to do extasy - but you can get a simmilar problem
from not enough sun (Sun is one of the precursors to the production
chain that triggers your neurochemistry to produce seratonin). I don't
know what its been like in NYC lately, but at the end of winter it
gets more common to see people with decreased seratonin production and
the side effects. 5-HTP might help if you're in that boat - you get it here in health shops -
breathe through your mouth while you're looking for it and the
patchouli oil isn't unbearable.

Valerian root helps. It smells really bad (even in tablet form). But it helps.


I've been a longtime fan of your blog. At any rate, I ran into a
similar lack-of-sleep pattern a while back. Try Unisom. It's got the
same sleep agent as Tylenol PM, without the Tylenol (only twice the
dose). It's non-addicting and completely safe for you. I normally
drop 2 pills 30 minutes before I want to rack out. You'll feel a
little groggy in the morning but a cup of coffee usually does the

If you want something more natural, you can try 5-HTP. It's a
precursor to serotonin production and one of the side-effects is


While I have no clue why you are having trouble sleeping, are you aware

that the usual dose of melatonin that you can buy is too high? I've
seen some references to stories about it; plugging 'melatonin dosage'
into google may help.


Benadryl caplets. They work like a charm.


My dad has problems sleeping and has found the following to actually work for him.
Natural stuff:5-hydroxy-tryptophan and Sriphos... and if you wake and can't go back to
sleep and your thoughts and worries go round and round in your head use
Bach remedy(Bach Remedy homeopathic solution): White Chestnut.


Try Sonata -- it works wonders.


Meditation/Ambient Noise:

A few years ago, I had some trouble sleeping (was working full time, finishing up my final term at university, had just bought a house, and was pretty much uberstressed).

I found that listening to hypnosis tapes knocked me right out.... You can find some good stuff on just about any torrent tracker or P2P (I can suggest some for you if ya like). Bandlers neurosonics, Major Marks "Trance in the first place" and "all the way down", just about anything by Glauberman. It's supposed to have all kinds of affects, but for me, it's a sleep draught.

The other thing for quality of sleep that I've had INCREDIBLE success with in the past few months is a memory foam mattress topper & pillow (got them both for $150 CDN dollars). Very comfortable, very supportive, great nights sleep.


I find white noise to be very helpful when trying to sleep. You could spend some money for a gadget that does just that, but I find a fan or humidifier works just as well and can have other benefits.


General Advice

Well, here I am to add my two cents to your 'sleep tips' jar. In a word, masturbate. Nothing takes the edge off like a lil' (or big) climax. Seriously.

Also, I am not surprised that you slept well in the hotel. There is just enough distraction in new surroundings to neutralize the top layer of stress that may be keeping you awake. That layer is otherwise known as jitters.


Insomnia can be a serious disorder, one that is not necessarily solvable with a warm glass of milk or a folk remedy. You should seriously consider seeing a physician - I would wager that you would find much better advice than you will from an open call on your blog. I understand that you might hesitate, but you are right in that you need more than 3 or 4 hours of sleep. This could cause health problems as serious as those caused by other diseases.


1. Make sure your bedroom is only for sleep. Don't watch tv in there, and don't read in that room. Seriously- your mind should associate the room with sleep.

2. Some noise helps me. I enjoy having the hum of my A/C, or a fan (though I don't need it).

3. After 40-60 minutes of trying to sleep, get back up and do something- tv or read. It helps to reset my body.

4. If you are really struggling to fall asleep, switch rooms. When I absolutely cannot fall asleep, I go to my couch, and it works.


I wanted to offer some safe suggestions that might, through trial and error, help you sleep longer, and sleep deeper.

1. Try a fat-protein snack just before bed. A slice or two of cheese works well. The fat and protein, even in small portions, shunts blood from your limbs and brain, to your stomach, liver, and intestines. The shunting of blood away from your brain, helps to induce sleep.

2. Try a small glass of Port or Brandy just before bed. I read that you do not drink alcohol, but even a tablespoonful of alcohol at bedtime causes vasodilatation and lowers blood pressure. The vasodilatation lowers the blood flow to the brain just slightly, and helps to induce sleep.

3. I too am a coffee addict, and would never suggest giving up morning java. However, if you drink any caffeine after about mid-afternoon, (caffeinated sodas, tea, Red Bull style energy drinks), the residual caffeine will still affect you by bedtime. Switch to decaf by noon.

4. Nicotine is a powerful stimulant. If you smoke, try to avoid cigarettes after mid-afternoon. While most smokers find nicotine relaxing, it does interfere with sleep patterns.

5. Consider trying the amino acid supplement L-tryptophan. It must be taken on an empty stomach with water. Contrary to popular belief, the tryptophan in turkey is ineffective as a sleep aid - the fat and protein content of the heavy Thanksgiving meal is what induces drowsiness - not the tryptophan content of the Turkey. In the late 1980's there was an L-tryptophan scare resulting from contaminated product being produced by a Japanese lab - an autoimmune disease (EMS) was linked to a bacterial residue in the product produced by this lab. The FDA now restricts importation of L-tryptophan. Make sure the product you buy is made in the US from a reputable supplement brand.

6. Consider trying St John's Wart (an herb with a good record of helping with depression and sleep disorders). Like Prozac, St John's Wart may modulate serotonin levels in the brain that are important to restful sleep.

If this fails, consider getting a Sleep Study done by an Ear Nose & Throat (ENT) doctor. These studies are covered by major medical insurance, but they are expensive for the uninsured (+/- $1,000). These studies can detect sleep apnea, but they can also pick out which sleep phase is being disrupted. A sleep study is the only rational way to decide if prescription sleep aids are needed.


For starters:

Make sure you're not working out too late in the afternoon, or at night; this can be disruptive to sleep. Try to work out before noon. Unless, of course, you go to sleep at 1:00 p.m. Just adjust this to your own personal clock, OK?

Make sure you're avoiding tea, iced or hot, and sodas with caffeine before you go to sleep. It's not just the coffee. Keep your coffee and be well.

When you wake up, try:

A tryptophan of some sort: it's a component of dietary protein, and it promotes sleepiness. It's particularly plentiful in chocolate, oats, bananas, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, meat, fish, turkey, chicken, sesame and peanuts. You might consider having, for dinner, a variation on the above, and when you wake up:

A cup of hot cocoa, the kind you make with real milk (1% or 2%); or
A banana; or
A turkey sandwich.
Most health-food stores sell a cheap metabolite of tryptophan called 5-HTP.
I don't read myself to sleep, because I'll be reading until dawn's early light, if it interests me. You may not want to read once you wake, at least not during the current situation; instead, if you have the facilities in your place (that is, a tub, not just a shower), run a very hot bath and soak in it, with Epsom salts, if you have any. I'd say soak with the light off. If you have a candle, light the candle and focus on slow breathing techniques while you watch the candle.

There's another sleep-inducing activity which can take place in the tub, even in the absence of your lady friend: you might want to take matters into your own hands, so to speak, specifically to induce relaxation. It's better than being told to take castor oil, after all.


I will assume no caffeine other than that one coffee? I used to have the
worst insomnia when I didn't realize I was drinking a large Coke at lunch
and another with dinner, plus all the sugar in it. I will also assume that
you are sugar-free or close to it as you obviously are so health conscious.

I also assume that your exercise is done earlier in the day.

Two things are useful to encourage sleepiness: relaxation and food. Food, by
taking blood for use in digestion, removes it from the rest of the body (esp
brain). And it doesn't take much.

Try combining both to knock you out. First eat something light (NOT fruit,
of course). For instance 1/2 slice of wheat bread and a few swallows of milk
or spoons of cottage cheese. Eat slowly and chew well. If you don't want to
eat carbs maybe a few bites of chicken or of tuna salad. It is surprising
how little you need to make a difference; veggies work fine too.

Next do some very very mild exercise, definitely not enough to break a
sweat. For me that might mean some leg exercises while lying in bed, for you
it might mean lightly running in place beside your bed for a few minutes
and/or some ab exercises while lying in bed. Your goal is to just get warm
enough to cause a little relaxation.

Then immediately get in bed and do some mental relaxation, or anything of a
meditation nature to short circuit your usual mental worrying at problems or
planning. Mental relaxation and meditation combine nicely in this pattern:
start with deep slow breathing, work from feet to head tensing muscles
regionally (feet & calves, thighs, belly, upper arms, chest, face) for a
long held breath and then relaxing the muscles as you release a breath. Deep
breathing exercises can be very effective for relaxation.

If this isn't enough to get you to sleep in less than an hour there is
probably a deeper problem. You might want to up the ante by doing some more
serious aerobics in the evening before bed, following them with a quick warm
shower and then some small snack.

Another possible tool is to list your tasks for the next day on a piece of
paper as a way of planning the next day. You see suggestions of this sort in
seminars for salespeople and self-help books. The idea is that if you list
what your tasks/goals are for the next day your mind will be less inclined
to worry about things that you know need to be done. Often you end up
thinking of these things without even realizing it.

Last but not always least play some slow relaxing music at a very low
volume, especially if you have an ambient noise problem. Some people swear
by white-noise generators and new agey recordings of rain or surf. I never
found that to be much help myself but it might be worth a try. If you play
the exact same music every night (and if you are successful in getting to
sleep) then the music alone may come to act as a Pavlovian signal to your
subconscious that it is time for sleep.


Please don't be offended if your suggestion hasn't made it into a post just yet. This is just a random offering of the emails that've come in since my insomnia post. I hope some of this stuff can be off assistance to anyone with the same problem. Really.