"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
January 29, 2016
12 Easy and Natural Steps to Sleeping Better
by Sarah Hancock

Sleep is an issue for me. Insomnia and mania go hand-in-hand. For nearly two decades there were some nights where if I didn’t do something, I would just stay completely awake—active and awake—for days on end. I just didn’t have an off switch. It didn’t matter if I took a warm bath, counted sheep, counted backwards from a thousand (starting over again each time I moved), did deep breathing, light music, reading a boring book, guided imagery or mindfulness. You name it, I’ve tried it.

If any of the above things have worked in getting you to sleep, then you have never experienced insomnia to the freakishly weird depths that I have. It seriously didn’t matter how many hours I had already been up, if I had hiked 12 miles that day or if I had done other wild things that make normal people with balanced-brains tired. My body could be completely and utterly exhausted, but my mind would not turn off. Let me tell you, the headache one gets after not sleeping for 72 hours only gets more severe as the hours increase.

For eighteen years, there were nights where I could take my (high dose) of an antipsychotic, crawl into bed with the lights off and lay there for 45 minutes to an hour, take half a prescription sleeping pill, wait another half an hour, take the other half of the sleeping pill, wait another half of an hour and then take my emergency dose of the antipsychotic. There were many nights where two hours after going through that process, I was still bright eyed and ready to clean out the kitchen. Insomnia is the worst. The longer it lasts, the more likely a person is to start having psychiatric issues.

Last night I woke up with a start twice. Panicked both times. Waking up at odd hours is rotten. I do it all the time--especially when I'm stressed. But now that I have been medication free for nearly a year, here's what helps me:

  1. Exercise during the day to work off the excess energy and then take amino acids afterwards (I’ll explain that later)

  2. Wear wax earplugs. No more clock-ticking. No more spouse snoring. No more neighbors with loud radios.

  3. Turn off the cell phone, computer, tv, and any other electronic device with a screen. When I am trying to fall asleep (or when I wake up in the middle of the night), I don't turn on anything with light either. If I do, it wakes up my brain just like a farmer waking with the sunrise—especially the blue light of an electronic device.

  4. Do breathing exercises. Inhale slowly (to the count of 5-10) filling "my stomach" (it's really the lower 1/2 of your lungs; when you inhale, your chest shouldn't rise at all. It's called diaphragmic breathing and better circulates the oxygen in your brain) Hold your breath (counting 5-10), and then exhale slowly while counting 5-10. (It shouldn't be uncomfortable. You can adjust the number you count to depending on how you are feeling. When I'm stressed it's probably 4 or 5. When i am not, it's more like 8.) I count on my fingers each cycle. There are nights when my brain gets mad because I'm "wide awake" at midnight or 3--but then I can get back to sleep within 10 cycles. Other times it takes longer. 2 nights ago it took 37. But I went back to sleep. Last night I did it two separate times: 12:45 and 5:17. Worked both times, even though I'd been so stressed.

IF those things don’t work, some natural over-the-counter (at a health food store or online) non-habit-forming supplements can help. Please talk them over with your doctor before you try them):

  1. Choline helps with obsessive or racing thoughts. 300 mg. Takes about 30 min to work.

  2. Inositol Powder helps with stress in the body (racing heart, tight chest, etc) Teaspoon in a glass of water. It has the consistency of powdered sugar. Works in about 10 minutes. (If you are prone to physical anxiety during the day, you can put some in a water bottle and just sip it throughout the day.

The following can be done an hour before you go to sleep to improve your sleep quality. (If you are on psychiatric medication that makes you tired, be sure to set your alarm as a reminder to take the meds 1-2 hours before you hope to fall asleep. For years I made the mistake of waiting till I went to bed before taking my nighttime meds, lying awake for the next 2-4 hours. When I was on meds, I took my meds at 8pm so that I would fall asleep around 10-11pm. That would allow the meds to get out of my system so that I could wake up in time to be at work at 9 am.) Again, it is important to talk these over with your doctor before you try any of these.

  1. Lavender oil on the soles of your feet. If you don't have a lot of calluses, you can actually feel your body beginning to relax from your feet working its way up your legs. You could also sprinkle some on your pillow or put it on your inner wrist.

  2. Protein isolate shake. It has to say isolate! It comes in a powder form. Mix it with 8 oz of water. It binds with unnatural things in your body's blood stream (processed meds, processed food, etc) and carries them away from your brain through your gut. As the toxins are being carried away, for me, it's like the loud static in my head begins to turn off. The protein will also help your blood sugar stay balanced while you sleep. I prefer plant based protein isolate. They seem to agree with my body better. (Did you know there are more neurotransmitters in your gut than there are in your brain? Which is the reason why what you eat can affect your mood)

  3. Amino acids. You have to get a good "broad-based" one which means it's not just one type of amino. It's got an entire list on the back of the bottle. It works like the isolate, binding to the toxins. Aminos are the basic building blocks of proteins. Taking them helps your liver metabolize (process) the toxins. (If you take the protein isolate shake, you don’t need to do the aminos as well because they are automatically contained within it. Check the back.) Cool thing about the aminos/isolate I can take them if I wake up in the middle of the night and if it was the toxins that woke me up, I am able to get back to sleep within the 20-40 minutes (depending on if I take a liquid supplement or not). I usually am too full to take another shake, so I always take the aminos. (Earlier I mentioned taking amino acids after exercise because if you have ever been on any type of psychiatric medication—because it is a foreign substance, your body doesn’t know what to do with it and rather than flushing it out of your system, it stores it in your tissues. Exercise, or anything that causes you to sweat (massage, hot tub, yoga, etc) breaks down those tissues re-releasing those meds into your system, causing “secondary withdrawals.” Amino acids bind to the foreign substances in your body and assist in metabolizing them—flushing them from your system.

  4. Q Sleep Spray. Up to 8 sprays a night. It has a mix of 5 HTTP, valerian root and a couple other things. I love it because it gets me to sleep and I never feel groggy the next day.

  5. GABA. 250mg (The doctor at micronutrient support told me don't take more than that, even if they sell it in a bigger pill because it can act as a depressant at higher doses—nobody wants that.) Gaba is actually an amino acid that helps calm your body and assists your body into a sleep cycle.

  6. Melatonin. 5mg. My doctor said don't be tempted to buy a higher dose because it can also act as a depressant if you are prone to depression. Plus a higher dose will make you groggy in the morning. (Higher doses can also affect the heart in some people, so talk to your doctor.)

There are some nights where I do every single thing on this list. Gratefully, most nights I just do the sleep spray and the aminos/protein isolate.

  1. Have an integrative care doctor or naturopath assess you for Candida. Evidently stress or a course of antibiotics cause the natural and good Candida (yeast) flares, becoming a fungus. As a fungus, it escapes the stomach (no longer to properly digest your food) into the tissues of your body, robbing your body of its ability to absorb nutrients. This can cause all sorts of problems—the least of which is insomnia. In October, I began having sleeping problems again. After a thorough evaluation, my doctor decided that my body wasn’t absorbing the micronutrients as well as it used to because I likely had an internal fungal problem. It seemed absolutely absurd. But since there are more neurotransmitters in the gut than there are in the brain, I can only imagine how vital it is to provide proper nutrition to my brain. After all, after eighteen years on five classes of major psychiatric medication, it is only because of the micronutrient blend that I have been medication free for nearly a year. Finally I decided that not absorbing my micronutrients was likely the cause of this nasty bout of insomnia. After beginning the anti-fungal candida protocol, my ability to fall and stay sleep is gradually improving.

I never thought it would be possible to sleep without medications. But these things only work with a balanced brain. Gratefully the micronutrients create that balance. I feel excited as I learn new tools for my wellness toolbox. With my improved sleep, my mood and cognition are improving, too. I am finally learning how to properly care for my body and liking who I am becoming as a result.

I am in the process of compiling a book on living successfully with mental illness. I will let The Nauvoo Times know when it becomes available.

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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isn’t just possible — it’s probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying — not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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