Diary Of An Insomniac Part 2: How I Finally Broke The Cycle
Three years ago, chronic insomniac Katherine Miller, 41, told GTG about her crippling insomnia. A naturopathic nutritionist, her life is no longer dominated by the condition. She explains what has made a difference, including the hormone treatment that may just have saved her and her sanity.
A few years ago I wrote about my struggle with insomnia on Get The Gloss. Over the last eight or so years I have battled extreme sleeplessness, sometimes not getting any sleep at all. While there are many types of insomnia (and many reasons for it), I have the kind where I just cannot fall asleep. This can last for days. In my toughest times, I would fall asleep at around 5am and, if I was lucky, sleep for an hour or two and once, it went on like this for nine weeks in a row. If I could I would spend the mornings sleeping, but then every night it would happen again.
For the first 32 years of my life I slept perfectly for at least eight to ten hours (often more) a night. When I was 18, I remember travelling in Central America and sleeping like a baby in a tin shack in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, sharing a single bed with a friend, and a huge tarantula on the ceiling above my head – proof that I used to have no trouble sleeping. However, a stressful period in my early thirties, when I was bullied at work led to sleep disturbance. Initially I started waking for hours at night but then I began to struggle to fall asleep. Things got worse until it got to the stage where some nights (or mornings) I would drop off at 5am, two hours before I had to wake to go to work. When I had children a year later it became worse, because they would usually wake at 5 or 6am. I recall many occasions when I had just fallen asleep after nights of not sleeping at all, only to be woken by a baby crying. It was like torture.
I have been to the GP many times over the years and every time, I have been prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping pills. But I have never wanted to take them. I understand that they are a life saver for some people, but as a naturopathic nutritionist and kinesiologist, I believe in natural medicine. Something in me feels that taking sleeping pills is not the answer and would be a slippery slope to becoming addicted (not that I have ever struggled with any form of addiction) and more unbalanced.
When my children were young I was determined to continue breastfeeding my babies (they are now eight and five) and I was worried about taking drugs as my babies would get it through my breast milk. I was often alone with them at night, and I also worried that sleeping pills might mean I didn’t wake up. Did the sleepless nights of early motherhood make it worse? They certainly didn’t help, however I also found great comfort in loving and caring for my children, and having something other than myself to focus on.
People often say, “Have you tried chamomile tea or lavender oil?”. I was way beyond that. Only on four desperate occasions over nine years I did take a valium or sleeping pill but I still didn’t sleep.
If you go to the doctor and don’t want to take sleeping pills, there is little they can offer (apart from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). When you are suffering with the level of sleep deprivation that I experienced, it is difficult even to feed yourself and carry out normal day-to-day tasks, never mind being able to focus on CBT. Nothing makes you feel more hopeless when the doctors say, “I’m sorry, there’s little else I can do to help.” As a result, I have been on my own mission, looking for a more natural solution; I have tried everything from acupressure treatment to sleep clinics and supplements.
While my sleep is better now than it used to be I can now usually fall asleep within 20 minutes and if I do I can often sleep for eight to 10 hours (although I still go through bad patches), I’d like to share these natural methods that have helped me. My hope is that they can help others in the same situation.
I went to a workshop with hormonal specialist Dr Marion Gluck, who treats people with hormonal problems using bio-identical hormone therapy. It is a natural treatment, which has helped thousands of people to come off (synthetic) drugs that often have awful side effects. I asked her if she thought there could be a link between insomnia and hormones. She maintained that if insomnia is hormone-related, it can be sorted out easily and immediately. If there was any chance that this was the case, I thought I better explore it further.
I had a consultation with Dr Laila Kaikavoosi at the Marion Gluck clinic in London, which involved a series of questions about my health history. I had a number of blood tests to find out if there were any obvious hormonal imbalances. The results showed that I had an adrenal deficiency and, relative to how much oestrogen I was producing, a low amount of progesterone. I was prescribed natural progesterone – a cream to rub on my wrists every night before I go to bed (during the luteal phase of my menstruation cycle) and ADHEA an adrenal support formula. I was advised it would take 2-3 menstrual cycles before I notice a difference.
Within a month there was a marked change. As someone who has always suffered badly with PMS (often for two weeks before my period starts) I noticed that it had totally disappeared - no mood swings, no irritability, no stomach pain. Over the space of a few months, I began to feel much more balanced, better and brighter.
So how is my sleep now? I am currently sleeping well and I feel it’s a knock-on effect of feeling better in myself. The hormone treatment has helped me more than anything I’ve tried. I can’t say how I’ll be in the future but for now my sleep is currently stable.
Dr Guy Meadows Sleep School
Dr Meadows is a sleep specialist and the co-founder of The Sleep School in London. According to their website, Dr Meadows has successfully helped 86 per cent of his clients recover from insomnia. I found his strategy for sleep extremely useful.
The more we struggle with our sleep, the more it alludes us, with many insomniacs lying awake, thoughts racing, feeling more and more anxious. Dr Meadows’ method is to stop the tug of war in our heads and to accept the situation, to let sleep come to us rather than chasing it. He taught me not to distract myself by getting up and doing the ironing as some people suggest, but to sit with my thoughts and sit with the fear that builds when you can’t sleep. He also taught me to make up a song about not being able to sleep which would somehow belittle it and reduce the fear.
I still go back to his methods when I am having a bad patch and they allow me to let go.
I am a real believer in meditation. I find that listening to a guided listening meditation before bed takes my mind off everything. I think it’s important to find a guided meditation that speaks to you personally, so you may need to try a few. Sometimes I will listen to music, this helps distract me from the worry of not sleeping.
Going to sleep early
I’m not sure whether this works for everyone but it works for me. I am often in bed by 9pm. When my insomnia was really bad I would go to bed at 7.30pm with my children. Going to bed earlier takes the time pressure off falling asleep. I still find that if I go to bed after 10pm, I will focus on going to sleep and panic about the time I have left to get to sleep in order to get enough. I know it seems obsessive, but believe me when you have had insomnia as badly as I have you will do anything in the world to get some sleep.
Natural supplements and foods
While I have never had a whole bedtime routine such as a warm bath, chamomile tea, reading a book etc, there are certain supplements and foods I have taken daily that have really helped.
- Kiwi fruit
Kiwi fruit is high in magnesium, which has a de-stressing effect, as well as vitamin C, which has been proven to boost serotonin, the feel-good hormone. I often have two before bed.
- Montgomery Cherry Juice
I also drink Montgomery Cherry Juice which contains great health boosting properties. It is said to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Some studies have said that it has a similar effect to valerian, a herb that also helps with sleep.
I have also taken Melatonin in the past which helps to regulate circadian rhythms, however it’s not normally available in the UK so I would ask my friends to bring it over when they go to America but you never quite know the quality you are getting. I have been prescribed it at the Marion Gluck clinic now.