5 Things Insomnia Taught Me

I have always had trouble sleeping, on and off, my whole life. After making some lifestyle changes, I sleep SO much better now. But in early 2020, before COVID took over our lives and before Nadir and Fiver (my two beloved bunnies) died, I had so much trouble sleeping.

There was an almost electric charge I felt when I tried to go to sleep at night. I felt like the earth was alive and speaking to me. No matter how tired I was, I would lie awake, frustration seeping out of my pores, listening to my husband sleeping beside me, and just want to die.

I had several nights where I did not sleep at all. I had nights where I fell into a fitful sleep at 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 a.m. I tried a lot of stuff to help me get better and finally broke down and emailed my herbalist (note to past self: SHOULDA DONE THAT SOONER!). With a combination of herbs, the introduction of an herbal tincture, and some herbal capsules, and some meditation, I was finally able to start getting some real sleep.

Insomnia is insanely challenging. Lack of sleep can affect our mood, immune system, and mental health. Looking back now, I think I sensed the monumental changes life was bringing my way, not just with COVID, but with the death of my bunnies, which I knew was imminent, and my self-growth.

I got through it, and today, I sleep very well for the most part, unless it’s a full moon or I have sugar and caffeine too close to bedtime. Here are five things insomnia taught me.

1. Be Grateful for Any Amount of Sleep You Get

I need a good nine hours of sleep every night. Sometimes I get 10 or 12. For one or two days, I can get by with seven or eight, or even four, but anything less than that and I start losing my shit.

Early on in my insomnia, when I took it lightly and just read novels or took baths when I couldn’t sleep, I would get immensely frustrated that I wasn’t getting my full nine hours. This would generate more anxiety about sleeping, which was a vicious cycle that essentially kept me awake all night.

I learned to be grateful for ANY amount of sleep I got. Truly. Now, if I have a bad night and only get five hours of sleep, I am grateful that I slept at all. If I had nights where I fell asleep for only 20 minutes, I’d be happy that I even fell asleep, because falling asleep felt impossible. When you don’t sleep at all, that’s rough. I helped break the cycle of anxiety by changing my thinking from this:

“Every minute that goes by is a minute I’m losing sleep.”

“I have such a big day tomorrow. I’m going to be so tired!”

“I need to go to sleep RIGHT NOW to get my nine hours in.”

To this:

“I am relaxed here in my comfy bed, everything is ok, I will fall asleep eventually.”

“I have a big day tomorrow, but as long as I get a few hours of sleep, I’ll get through it.”

“It doesn’t matter when I fall asleep. I am ok just lying here.”

This was immensely helpful in keeping insomnia away and preventing it from changing from a one-night thing to an emergency where you’re not sleeping for nights on end.

2. Sometimes Sleep Meditation Is the Answer

So herbs helped me out a lot. I took Gaia Herbs Sound Sleep capsules and increased my amount of ashwagandha and also made a sleep tincture with lemon balm, skullcap, passionflower, and wood betony, as directed by my herbalist (I actually still take the tincture, it just helps me fall asleep better and lessens my anxiety about sleeping in general).

But I believe the thing that really broke my insomnia was sleep meditation. My best friend recommended it to me and I downloaded the 10% Happier app to try.

Every night before bed I would do a guided sleep meditation, even if it felt like the stupidest thing in the world (let’s be honest though, everything feels stupid when you don’t sleep). I think my body and mind just needed to truly REST and not be critical of the fact that I wasn’t getting enough sleep.

I didn’t do the sleep meditation for long, just a few times at the end of my insomnia, but it was enough to break the cycle and give the herbs the chance to work so I could fall asleep at night. During my transition out of insomnia, if I couldn’t go to sleep, I’d do another sleep meditation.

3. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

For me, this was one of the hardest parts of having insomnia. I was extremely critical of myself, and the lack of sleep made it harder to be kinder to myself. I was irritable, angry, devastated, and, at one point, felt like I wanted to hurt myself because I was so frustrated and crazy from not sleeping.

Bring some kindness into this space. It’s not your fault that you’re not sleeping. But you do have to figure out how to break the cycle. It’s going to be ok. You won’t feel like this forever. I know it’s hard.

It was also hard to take care of myself during this time, even though I really didn’t have any desire to since I wasn’t sleeping. I didn’t want to eat well, exercise, or go outside—but my husband encouraged me to keep up with all my normal things so that I could feel marginally better and get through the day.

4. Be Willing to Try Anything

I did some crazy shit to try and help myself sleep better while I had insomnia.

  • I stopped drinking all caffeine.
  • I put salt bowls all over our bedroom to collect negative energy.
  • I put pillows over the windows to block out 100% of the light.
  • I took those Gaia capsules, which I had to pop with a pin and squeeze onto my tongue because I couldn’t drink that much water that late at night to get the capsules down (I have a bit of trouble swallowing, a result of my misdiagnosed autoimmune disorder years ago.)
  • I sat out in the sun as soon as I woke up, even though it was freezing cold, to try and reset my circadian rhythm (at the direction of my herbalist, ha).
  • I lay on the ground outside in the freezing cold (this is called grounding, ha).
  • I tried to make myself more tired by exercising even though I was freaking exhausted and felt insane.
  • My husband and I created a game we called the “Sleepy Animal Game”, where, as we were lying in bed trying to fall asleep, we would each take turns saying different types of sleepy animals. For example, I would say, “Sleepy bears” and he would say, “Sleepy lions”. This would go on until one of us fell asleep or we got too tired to continue. The idea was that, by thinking about all types of creatures being sleepy, I would be less focused on sleeping and begin to imagine myself feeling pretty sleepy too. Some nights, it worked!

I eventually gave up and just started watching Hulu at 6 a.m. on the nights I couldn’t sleep. The point is to be willing to try anything. Did I want to stop drinking all caffeine? Did I want to lie outside in the freezing cold? Of course not, but I sure as shit wanted to sleep!

5. Don’t Give Up

Insomnia can make you feel like a shell of a human. It makes you feel like you want to die. It makes you feel like there’s nothing worth living for. These feelings are normal when you don’t sleep. But don’t give up. You’ll get through this. There is hope. You’re going to be ok.

Am I terrified that I’ll go through a period of insomnia again? A little. But I know I’ll get through it, and now I have some tools to help me cope better. Do you have anything that you do or take that really helps your insomnia? I wanna know!

These 7 Habits Have Dramatically Improved My Sleep Life

As someone who has had lifelong problems sleeping, I know firsthand the frustration that comes with not getting your beauty sleep.

But there’s a silver lining.

All those years of not being able to sleep well and trying different things have helped me slowly improve my sleep life over time.

Now that I’m nearing my 30s and live with my husband, my sleep life has dramatically improved thanks to these five habits I’ve cultivated over the years.

1. No Tech in the Bedroom

My husband and I just keep our bedroom for sleeping (and sex, of course). This means we don’t hang out in there during the day, don’t work in there, and don’t watch TV in there. It’s important to us to not have a TV in our bedroom.

We also don’t bring our laptops into the bedroom either. We do, however, bring our phones, but they are solely for alarm purposes, we never look on our phones in the bed or use them while in the bedroom. My phone is off in the bedroom since I don’t need to wake up at a specific time most days and my husband’s is on airplane mode (scary cell phone radiation, anyone?)

This just our personal philosophy but we don’t want to accumulate a bunch of energy in the bedroom, especially before bed. We find that minimizing our activity in the bedroom and keeping tech out of the bedroom helps the space feel calm and ready for sleep.

2. No Sugar or Caffeine Before Bed

I’ve noticed that I sleep a lot better when doing intermittent fasting, which is how I lost the few pounds I wanted to before my wedding.

I chose to do intermittent fasting by not eating for a period of about 16 hours every day. So essentially, I would eat my regular meals throughout the day, but cut out late night snacks. So I would not eat from about 8 p.m. at night to noon the next day.

This also helped me eliminate sugar and caffeine a few hours before bed. This is a practice I started doing years ago when I found that eating these things at night—think desserts, chocolate, coffee, or even caffeinated tea such as green tea—would make it impossible for me to fall asleep.

3. Using Organic Bedding

I did not realize how much a toxic mattress was killing my sleep life.

A few years ago I realized conventional mattresses are made with dangerous chemicals and can give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for years after purchase, which can harm your health and the air quality of your home.

Fortunately, the mattress I had at that time was about a decade old and needed to be replaced, so about a year before our wedding, my husband and I invested in an all-organic mattress. We also chose to invest in organic cotton sheet sets, pillows, and a comforter.

(You can read more about my transition to all organic clothing here and here).

Not only is my organic mattress and bedding so much more comfortable and luxurious than my old bedding (and hella more expensive!), I swear it helps me sleep better knowing I’m not being exposed to toxic chemicals.

4. The Military Sleep Trick

So I know this one is weird but I swear it works! It was developed to help soldiers fall asleep anywhere in less than two minutes.

It’s easy and can be done in three simple steps as you are trying to fall asleep:

  1. Relax your entire body including your facial muscles as you sink into the mattress. Let tension go from places you didn’t realize were tense.
  2. Take ten deep, conscious breaths while keeping your mind clear. For me, if my mind begins to run with a thought, I start over.
  3. Do one of the following three things that most resonates with you:
  • Picture yourself lying in a canoe on a calm lake with only blue sky above you
  • Imagine snuggling in a velvet black hammock in a pitch-black room
  • Repeating “don’t think, don’t think” until you fall asleep

I do the canoe one; if I have trouble sleeping, most nights this helps me fall asleep.

5. No Clock in the Bedroom

We actually don’t have a clock in our bedroom. I haven’t had a clock in my bedroom for the last 12 years.

Looking at the time when I’m trying to fall asleep gives me anxiety so I just don’t see the need to have a clock in our bedroom. Fortunately, I’m a freelancer who works from home so I get to sleep in every single day and don’t need to worry about what time I get up.

Even when you do need to wake up in the morning I recommend setting your alarm and turning your phone on airplane mode and not looking at your phone until the alarm goes off. My husband and I have found this practice super helpful (especially since he needs to wake up in the morning and I don’t).

6. Exercise

I’ve found that exercise plays a huge role in whether or not I sleep well. Usually, regular exercise helps me sleep so much better!

I run but I also lift weights and do yoga on occasion. I also walk a four-mile loop with my neighbor several times a week. Staying active not only relieves stress but helps me fall asleep easier and stay asleep.

7. Addressing My Health Issues

So, of course, many of you know my crazy misdiagnosis story which led me to a wild and wonderful journey of hard lessons in learning how to take care of myself.

I’ve been tested for food intolerances and have eliminated gluten, dairy, genetically modified food, and commercial meat from my diet. I’ve found that, in general, my body doesn’t respond well to grains and so I lead a mostly grain-free diet.

I’m also super sensitive to caffeine and sugar and so keep these very minimal in my diet as well. I’ve worked with numerous herbalists who have helped me to address my minor health issues and supplement my diet so I feel better and live a much more harmonious life these days.

Sleep Is Not Separate

I can usually get to sleep quickly now provided I follow all these guidelines that I’ve naturally incorporated into my routine over the last few years.

Sleep is not separate from the rest of our lives. I’ve found that by considering the effect of my diet and lifestyle on my sleep, I can better care for myself to get that essential good night’s rest!

Do you have any sleep tips that you’ve found have been super helpful?

10 Reasons to Exercise (Or, Why I Got an $80 Ticket for Canoeing)

Like you needed more reasons to exercise.

But no really, you do. How many of you exercise on the reg? I can’t even raise my hand for that one! Exercise is so important to our health but so few of us do it.

Get your motivation on! Here are ten reasons to exercise.

1. It Makes You Feel Great

Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Go out there and burn off some steam! Long distance running is my passion because I can go as fast or as slow as I like, any time of year, and can meditate or listen to music while I do it. Enjoying some great scenery can be another of the great reasons to exercise.

2. It Makes You Look Great

It tones so many parts of your body, and I love waking up to sore calves from a five-mile run or sore arms from a weight workout. It reminds me that I am alive, healthy, and strong.

3. It Can Boost Reproductive and Sexual Health

Regular exercise can do wonders for your monthly cramps in addition to your libido. Check your diet and vitamin intake to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients that your body needs also. If you need any more reasons for exercising—men, it keeps things exciting down there!

4. It Keeps You Healthy

Regular exercise can add years on to your life, keep your blood pressure normal, your metabolism up, and keep your joints and bones healthy. Also, sweating out those toxins is great for your skin. It keeps your heart strong (because your heart is a muscle, but you smart cookies already knew that).

5. It Helps You De-Stress

No doubt about it—one of the best reasons to exercise can be the ultimate stress reliever. Whatever I’m worried about before the run fades after the first mile and is definitely gone by the fourth. I feel so much better afterward.

6. It Gives You Time to Connect With Yourself

Being in the moment and experiencing your body, the way it moves, the way you breathe, the sensations you feel like the wind on your face or the crispness of the air, all of these things ground you: one of the best reasons to exercise. You’re here. You’re a person. Be here.

7. It Gives You An Opportunity To Connect With Other People

So, if you’d prefer to be a recluse, that’s cool. But I will say, after living in a cabin in the woods for two years, that you need people interaction.

No matter how much you dislike people, being stuck on an island like Cast Away is just not appealing after a certain amount of time. And as we’ve all seen, Wilson will float away.

So get out there and wave to people and say hello. These simple interactions mean a lot. For you and them.

8. It Makes You Want to Eat Better

You go for a run, and then, to Arby’s. Wait, WHAT? No no no no no no NO! I had an ex who did this. He claimed that it didn’t matter what calories you ate, you just needed calories. This is a huge lie!

One of the great reasons for exercising is that it motivates and inspires me to feel even better by eating great food. Quinoa, local eggs, organic blueberries and almonds, organic spinach, these are all great foods for runners.

Pamper your body; it’s doing so much for you!

9. It Helps Relationships

You can get that time to yourself if you need it, or, go with your significant other if you guys need more time together.

It also helps with relationship conflicts. It helps to clear your mind and soul, and when you can clearly see, you can clearly make decisions. Keeps you stress-free and feeling great, so less time and energy for fighting!

10. It Sets Great Future Habits

 Hey, I could very well be dead tomorrow. Which would be fine, but, in the event that I live to be like 80 or something, it’s nice to know and be reassured that I am doing good things for my body now, therefore good things will come later.

Also, my schedule allows time for exercising now. It may not at certain points in the future. It’s good to have the exercising habit already established so that you don’t have to “start” again. You merely have to continue.

Cautions About Exercising

Exercising is not without its risks!

Beware of What’s Going on Around You

It’s fine if you want to listen to music, headbang, daydream, punch the air, or whatever else you want to do while you are exercising, but please be aware of your surroundings.

Don’t let a tree branch take you out during kayaking. Don’t let a creepy perv come up on you in a white van and pick you up while you are running (it HAPPENS, people!). Don’t let some old woman accidentally slip a fart out with her butt in your face during yoga.

Pay attention to what is going on.

Be Safe

This is a big one to incorporate when you’re considering reasons to exercise.

I personally never leave the house unarmed when I go running, no matter what time it is. I always have a knife or a taser on me. (Sometimes I take pepper spray, it depends on how I’m feeling that day. Usually I feel like cutting some bitches.)

But it’s not always about being armed, it’s about paying attention to things and being prepared for the worst.

Adhere to Regulations

Ok, so I know very well that I can swim in four feet of water.

I also know very well that I can stand in four feet of water.

But this did not stop me from getting an $80 ticket from a river cop for canoeing without a life vest in a four-foot section of a river in Pennsylvania (those PA cops, man. They do their job).

Make sure that whatever you’re doing, it’s cool with the local authorities when considering reasons to exercise.

This is me in that same canoe on that same river on a different day hoping I don’t get pulled over again, ha. Does that orange thing count as a life vest?

Minimize Exercising on Busy Roads

This isn’t just a safety thing, it’s a lung health thing too.

Think about it—you’re running or biking, you’re breathing hard, and you’re passing hundreds of vehicles that are pumping out free radicals in your face.

You do not want to be breathing the exhaust of all those cars.

It’s basically chemicals going into your lungs. Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic, people. Don’t demean the good thing you are trying to do for your body with a bad thing like breathing free radicals.

Minimize or eliminate this practice.

Try Not to Go In the Dark

Exercising in the dark is dangerous. There is more of a chance that cars will hit you, deer will hit you (happened to a friend of mine), and huge bugs will fly into your eyes (this happened to me on a run at the end of summer; my eye was jacked up for the next two days).

I’m sure you amazing people already have really healthy exercising habits, right? Not to mention tons of reasons to exercise. Remember not to push yourself too hard. Be gentle with yourself and your body. Know yourself and your limits. But get outside and do something fun (and safe)!