Hi! I’m back! I’ve missed this. It’s been a couple months since I started my new job, and I’m finally adjusting. My goal now is to produce something once a month and push it out into the world. I’m also just going to make it free. If you’ve been a paid subscriber, thank you. I appreciate your support. I’ll shut down the payment thing so you stop getting charged. OK, on with the show.
I want to talk about middle insomnia. That’s when you wake up around 2 or 3am and can’t fall back asleep. The witching hour! Do you know it? I pop fully awake and can’t shut down my brain. I’m furious that this is happening, which stimulates my brain more, so it’s even harder to fall back asleep, and so it goes for the next hour or two (or maybe more). It fucks with my plans for the next day and I feel angry and resentful. And very sorry for myself. Middle insomnia, you jerk!
I’m not going to tell you about sleep hygiene because we’ve all heard it before. I hate that phrase, “sleep hygiene.” It’s judgy, like you’re deserving of insomnia if you’re too slovenly and undisciplined enough to do All of the Sleep Hygiene Things. We all know how messy life is. I mean, great if you can dedicate a full hour to wind down, reading a real book with a mug of chamomile tea in perfect silence in a perfectly tidy, 65-degree room all by yourself. It’s not always achievable for everyone.
And anyway, for a lot of us, the problem isn’t falling asleep. The problem is staying asleep. Here are a few things I’ve found that help.
It’s not just you. Everyone who is alive has stress. If you’ve made it this far in life, your life is complicated and you have many, many worries. This is normal. And that stress can keep you awake. Know that you are not alone in this struggle.
Cardio. This is the solution no one wants but unfortunately it’s very effective. The good news is, you don’t have to do an hour-long spin class every day. I’ve been trying to do a short run once a week and/or fit in 10-minute bursts of cardio a few times a week. It also helps with my mood and I’m hoping it’ll reverse my cholesterol numbers.
Morning sunlight. Unfortunate if you’re a vampire and/or work from home, but getting sunlight (especially in the morning) in your eyes without wearing sunglasses helps reset your circadian rhythm.
Reducing substances. I have a bit of coffee in the morning and then no more caffeine for the rest of the day. I’ve also noticed that I sleep better when I don’t have alcohol, or when I have it earlier in the evening rather than late.
Melatonin. Supposedly, taking melatonin supplements interferes with your body’s ability to produce it on its own. On the other hand, some nights I feel like my body has given up even trying to produce melatonin so I might as well accept this and supplement for the rest of my life. These Olly sleep gummies (made with L-theanine) are very effective for me, but only if I take 2. I also like these time-released tablets with Vitamin B6.
Minerals. Magnesium, potassium, and calcium all work differently to help you sleep better. I haven’t had a lot of luck with supplements so I try to get mine from food (dark leafy veg, whole grains, bla bla bla).
Cannabinoids. From the research I’ve read so far, CBD alone won’t improve your sleep, but it can be effective combined with THC. The consensus seems to be a CBD/THC ratio of 5:1 to 1:1 depending on your experience. We’re still in the early stages of understanding how cannabinoids work, so this is not rock-solid science, yet.
Kava. It tastes terrible, which is why it hasn’t really taken off. It works, though. Look for micronized formulas with calming effects, like Kalm With Kava’s Vanuatu Borongoru or Vula Waka. Mix with juice and gulp it down quickly like a magic potion some witch gave you. No, the tea sachets are not strong enough to do anything for you.
Hormone therapy. If you’re doing hormone therapy, and you still have your uterus intact, you’re taking estrogen and progesterone together. The estrogen reduces the night sweats that so rudely wake you in the middle of the night, and progesterone helps you feel sleepy. This makes a big difference for me. I sleep much, much better on estrogen/progesterone. Thank you, modern science.
Medication. Sleep medication is something people turn to when they’ve tried everything else, and I respect that. I don’t have any experience with sleep medications myself. I have noticed that the ADHD meds I take during the day (Vyvanse) can cause insomnia, so I don’t take it every day, and when I do, I skip the coffee.
Radical acceptance. This is one I learned from my therapist. “What if you treated that waking as found time?” she asked. It’s a reframing. Instead of feeling frustrated and lamenting that it’s happening, I shrug and say OK, I’m awake, and I’m probably going to be awake for a while. I accept that. Now what could I do to enjoy this waking time?
I’ll get up and do whatever I want. Do something I’ve been wanting to get to, but haven’t had time for during the day. Clean out my closet. Read. Catch up on podcasts. Watch a movie. Yes, the experts say you should stay away from electronics when you can’t sleep. So what? If watching a movie when I can’t sleep makes me less angry about being awake at 2am, great.
And when I wake up too early, as in 4-5am, I’ll just surrender to it. If the conditions are good, sometimes I’ll do a run so I’ll sleep better the following night.
What about you? What helps you through the witching hour?