My sleeping issues started when I developed fibromyalgia. At the worst point, I was only able to sleep every other night for months. It took me about 2 years of healing to be completely free of insomnia, anxiety and depression, and here are the 5 things that helped me the most.
Two years into my fight against fibromyalgia, I made huge improvements with my overall health. I wrote all about my healing journey up to 2014 in my previous blog post Fibromyalgia Cure: How I Beat Severe Chronic Pain Using Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Those years were extremely stressful, as I dealt with a whirlwind of issues in life – some I mentioned briefly in my previous post as well. However, as I was feeling better physically, I went back to my IT career part-time in September 2014, most days working from home, hoping to still keep up with my healing of the remainder symptoms of fibromyalgia. My experience of the 10 months part-time work proved that my health was not ready: my poor sleep due to Fibromyalgia during this time blew up into a full-fledged insomnia that for months I was only able to sleep every other night. Compounding with the stress of not able to perform at my pre-fibromyalgia abilities, I was experiencing frequent anxiety attacks. Eventually, the psychologist and sleep specialist I was seeing diagnosed my insomnia as caused by general anxiety and depression.
During those months, I was a frequent visitor at my sleep specialist’s office as well as my naturopath’s trying everything from hypnotherapy to gratitude journaling, from IV vitamin/glutathione infusion to homeopathy. I tried multiple sleep-inducing medicines and supplements, from Chinese raw herbs, to melatonin, to calming teas. I read books on proper sleep hygiene and mindfulness meditation. I even attended mindfulness workshops. I got myself a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses to wear in the evenings to prevent disruptions of circadian rhythm by screen lights. I took hot bath at night and claimed the darkest room in the house to sleep alone in order to have complete quietness.
In the spring of 2015, my heart told me I needed to stop working to re-focus on my healing and self-care.
As everyone’s health situation is unique, what eventually helped me out of the seemingly unbreakable cycle of insomnia may not be the exact formulas for you, but some of the strategies will very likely provide good pointers. With all the efforts, it took me another 2 years to be free from sleeping issues, anxiety and depression. Any healing does not happen overnight. In the 2 years, my sleepless nights gradually became less frequent, a few nights a week to a few nights a month, to no longer expecting insomnia. I now sleep as well as my pre-fibromyalgia days. In hindsight, many of the things I mentioned above helped to a certain degree, but the following 5 strategies I found myself consistently turning to and they helped the most in terms of breaking me out of the vicious anxiety and insomnia cycles.
Letting go of the things we have no complete control over – it’s easier said than done.
If you read my previous post, you would have a little better understanding of the premise of my situation. However, heart-breaking events are universal in life. There must be something challenging in your life that I haven’t had to deal with.
For me, I found myself constantly agonizing over 2 big issues that I worked so hard for yet were slipping away in my life. One was the 7+ year legal battle built on documents written in tears to sponsor my biological mother to come to Canada, but to no avail; another was my IT career, that as a woman I took a lot of pride in, that I could no longer hold on to due to my health struggles. Because I was so exhausted from battling my illness for so long, and I had been very isolated from the outside world due to fibromyalgia limiting my physical activities outside the house, everything was pretty doom and gloom at that time.
I realized that I had to release myself emotionally from holding on so tightly of the things and ideas that didn’t turn out the way I worked so hard towards. It doesn’t mean we are giving up on our dreams and fights against injustice. But it does come down to whether and how much they affect our mental and physical health. How I “let go” was by considering the alternatives. We all practise this kind of thinking subconsciously on smaller issues every day. When it comes to the most important things and most treasured people in life, whatever and whomever they may be to you, it’s heart-breaking to think about and accept the alternatives. I went through a long grieving period, by conscious choice, before I could face and accept my losses in reality.
Do the Things You Love
Throughout the hypnotherapy sessions and by jotting down daily gratitudes in my journals, I was re-minded how important it was to feel happy and grateful. The problem was, I felt like a fraud pretending to be happy when I wasn’t. I think the above point of “letting go of things we have no complete control over” was really the key piece to free myself from being heavily attached emotionally to my losses. The next step is to do something that fuels positive mental energy.
For me, it’s cooking. For you, it may be knitting, or painting, or working in the garden. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or extravagant, it just needs to be something you truly enjoy.
Many go-getter personalities have trouble sitting down in a quiet spot to practice mindfulness meditation. I am always envious of the people who find success in meditation, but it makes me more anxious because deep down I feel I am not accomplishing anything in the mean time. Pursuing a hobby allows us to be mindful and stay focused on the tasks while getting things done.
Doing the thing I love, cooking, was my most effective method at dealing with anxiety and depression. This blog was born during the years of myself mending my mental health. If you search the internet, there are plenty of people using cooking therapy to relieve depression and anxiety. If cooking is not your thing, then find the next thing you love to do that lets you focus on your present instead of worrying about the future.
Magnesium supports a number of important functions in our body. One of them is that magnesium regulates neurotransmitters that calm the body and the mind and promote sleep. (Source)
Many people who dealt with insomnia are able to sense when a sleepless night is about to occur. Drinking a magnesium supplement just before heading to bed or as soon as you have trouble falling asleep can be very helpful. When I felt difficulties falling asleep, a magnesium supplement is usually the first remedy I reach for.
Natural Calm (use discount code “YANG10” for 10% off) is the most popular magnesium supplement out there for anxiety relief and as a sleeping aid. I personally use and prefer concenTrace, such as this one, for it being a great source of magnesium as well as supplementing other important trace minerals our health dependent on. Both of them are good options, depending on what your needs are.
Herbal Teas for Insomnia
A cup of hot non-caffeinated tea before bed can be very relaxing. On the night I really have trouble falling asleep, I love a cup of herbal tea containing valerian and passion flowers. Other herbal teas such as camomile and rooibos also have calming effects. Here is my favourite and it keeps me asleep all night. I usually have a sleep-inducing herbal tea if I feel the magnesium supplements alone aren’t strong enough, or when I alternate magnesium supplements and herbal teas on different nights. Many herbs provide various nutrients to our body as well, thus it’s a good idea to rotate our herbal teas and supplements.
After I got my sleep study done, it turned out I had a very mild form of sleep apnea. The severity of my sleep apnea typically would not require the treatment from a CPAP machine, but my insomnia was in such a terrible state at that time, even just a tiny disturbance from my sleep apnea could prevent me from falling asleep all night.
You may have heard that those who require CPAP machine will be dependent on it for the rest of their lives. I think people whose insomnia was mainly triggered by another cause are the exceptions to the case. The main cause of my insomnia was anxiety, and when anxiety was bad, even though I had done everything else right, my mild sleep apnea was able to disrupt it all. For months, I couldn’t break my insomnia cycle and I was only able to sleep every other night – the night I was able to sleep was when my body completely crashed, but the next night because I wasn’t as exhausted, my anxiety would cause me to fall sleep only in a very light state, I would get woken up by my sleep apnea as soon as I was about to fall asleep.
I believe the critical piece that helped to break me out of this cycle was the CPAP machine. I needed every help I could get to return to a regular schedule – in particular, after I ensured myself to have a positive mind set, a healthy bedtime routine, and a natural remedy to make myself drowsy and relaxed, I needed the CPAP to prevent my sleep apnea from waking me up.
Little by little, this was how I eventually got back on to a normal sleeping schedule and a positive cycle. As soon as my insomnia was under control (although there were still many challenges at that time), and I was working on self care and mental health, I felt that I had finally gotten to the place in my healing journey where I was ready to start a major detox. The next post and the last piece of my trio to conclude my fibromyalgia healing story is on the most effective detox I ever did. I believe the detox also improved my sleep over time, and cleared up my remaining fibromyalgia symptoms, so make sure to give it a read!
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