By Sarah Fancy Fürstenberger
I have never been a great sleeper. When I was little, I didn't have real trouble falling asleep, but I have always been an early riser. It's not that I need little sleep; it's more that my body prefers to get moving early. But for the past five years, I have been fighting a nightly battle with insomnia. I have phases where it is better and phases where it is worse. Right now I have found a bit of a better way to fall asleep, but that is certainly subject to change. My problem is never staying asleep, it is falling asleep. I just can't turn off my brain.
My dad also complains of sleep issues, but I think he is one of the many people I know who can fall asleep, but wake up at an ungodly hour of 3am and can't go back to sleep. So what can you do? He's tried everything, Tylenol PM, Ambien, Melatonin. Now he tells me he has managed to train his brain to go Zen so he can go back to sleep. I'll have him post about that at some point.
We've all heard the solutions. When I ask my German doctor, she talks about sleep hygiene. It annoys me, but to a degree. she is right. I read every night before bed, and 90% of the time that is on my tablet. I'm sure many of you read the articles before Christmas about how devices before bed are killing you, like this one from the Huffington Post: They did a study on 12 people, who were told to read four hours before bed. Some read books and others read on iPads: "iPad readers took longer to fall asleep, felt less sleepy at night and had shorter REM sleep compared to the book readers, researchers found. The iPad readers also secreted less melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep. They were also more tired than book readers the following day, even if both got a full eight hours of sleep."
So my first step in dealing with my sleep issues was to go back to Kindle. Sometimes I read "real" books, but I mainly read in English, and Kindle just makes my life easier. I noticed a change in my sleep quality, but it didn't solve the problem entirely. One night, after three or four hours of my brain running wild, I turned the smartphone back on and searched for "sleep" on YouTube. I tried calming music, calming voices, strange birds, and finally, hypnosis. Hypnosis actually does help me. I downloaded an app called Sleep Well and it worked quite well until I got sick of the lady's voice and impatient with how long the whole process too. Now I still use the app when I feel the need, but it isn't something I use every day.
A friend of mine recommended a YouTube hypnosis approach for weight loss called The Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge. I started listening to it just to check it out, and to be honest, I have not lost a pound from listening to it, but it put me right to sleep. The voice is soothing and not at all annoying. I found myself falling asleep after only a few minutes. When it ends I half wake up and take out my headphones, but am able to go right back to sleep after that. The biggest problem for me is turning off my brain, as I said. So when I have had a lot of stuff going on at work on a particular day, or have been out, I find it impossible to switch off. But I am too impatient to turn on these apps.
After reading this article and hearing about it from other sources, I tried tried was Magnesium oil spray. Magnesium relaxes your muscles and moves calcium out of the muscles and back into the bloodstream. Itseems to help me calm down. It gives me a metallic taste in my mouth the next day, but I can live with that for a good night's sleep. I also tried melatonin, which you can't get easily in Germany. My parents brought me some over from the US. For the first month it worked great, but then it just stopped. I do use it once in a while now, but rarely. Who wants to rely on something you can't get here?
It goes without saying that I tried YL essential oils to help with sleep. Many of them have calming properties, like Lavender. Here in Germany there is even a product called Lasea that you can swallow to help with sleep. I tried applying lavender topically first, but I quickly gave up on it because it gave me horrible nightmares -- we are talking kidnapping and aliens and death. I then tried Cedarwood topically. I was able to calm down to fall asleep, but I am so sensitive to the effects of the oils that I don't sleep deeply at all when I apply them topically. Interestingly, for the kids, both of those work great. Diffusing helps more though. I heard about Rutavala, which smells terrible, but that didn't do it for me either. Using oils really requires experimentation, and sleep is a tough subject. I think every person who deals with sleep issues has his or her own issues with it and that there isn't an easy solution. I have many friends that have had great success with Cedarwood and Peace & Calming for sleep. Others use Orange. Valor helps Olivia sometimes.
What was my final solution on the oil front? A very potent combination does the trick. Here's my Facebook post from January on the subject, "For the past couple of years, I have been fighting sleep issues. I tried everything, and in Ireland I even resorted to Ambien. Benadryl worked for a while, but it made me dopey. Melatonin was great...for about a month. I tried hypnosis apps, which worked, but they started annoying me to death after a while. I can't turn off my brain to actually fall asleep. When you work full time and have a few kids at home, the situation goes downhill quickly. I hate being irritable and tired half the time. My father-in-law had issues with staying asleep. I made us both a mix from my big old oils book and guess what? Victory. He managed to fall back asleep several nights in a row and I am getting through without the drugs. Oils to the rescue again! I used Valerian, Roman Chamomile, Lavender, Orange, and Dorado Azul. A small price to pay for some precious sleep."
Here is the recipe that worked for me. This one is potent, so try other ones first. But it worked for my father-in-law, who had the 3am wake up issue, and for my sister's partner, Gina, whose mind won't turn off either:
Insomnia Blend (from the Essential OIls Desk Reference from Life Science Publishers, 6th edition):
12 drops Orange
8 drops Lavender
4 drops Dorado Azul
3 drops Valerian
2 drops Roman Chamomile
Carrier oil (like grapeseed, almond, or V6). See the Where to find page for links.
Add all the oils to a roller bottle like this one. I usually add food-grade grapeseed oil, because it is not expensive and it has odorless. Fill it up to the top with carrier oil and get ready to sleep. I usually apply it to my feet, but I don't think that matters too much.
What are your sleep issues? What works for you? I am always open to new suggestions.