Tracing My Insomnia via Diet and Exercise

The biggest threat to my eating program is not the tempting foods I give up. It’s not others jumping on me about protein as though they have any clue what that means. It’s not even the large amount of SAD food at my house that surrounds me constantly. My greatest adversary is insomnia.

I have always dealt with it. I gave up caffeine to manage it. I cut back medication I have to take due to it’s side effects. I use chamomile tea and certain essential oils. This has all helped keep the problem so it is not so frequent. None of them keep me free from it.

It used to be I would just lie in bed hoping to sleep. Now I go to bed and crash like I am going to have 10 hours. I wake up thirty minutes later awake and alert. I have no trace of anxiety or worries. I just wake up.


I’ll read a book. I’ll go through all my Facebook posts. I’ll read blogs and articles about current events. I’ll watch TV. Worst of all, I will eat. Even though I feel awake, I can tell I’m not mentally all in.

I have known for a long time the effects of sleepiness and appetite. In younger days I would stay up 40 hours straight and eat whatever. As life progressed I couldn’t keep this up and would make myself ill from what I ate. I used to think not sleeping made me ill. In truth it was my diet when I did not sleep. I slammed sugar and caffeine till my teeth ached. I ate chips and deli meat, cereal and milk, cake and ice-cream. I would have the worst heartburn imaginable. As I realized what was happening, I started cutting back on sleepless snacks, but could never resist them completely.

If you’re awake when you should be sleeping, the pleasure center continues to function but you make less happy chemicals. The result is cravings; the body’s desire for pleasure fulfillment nags at you. The longer you fight the desire for sleep, the more you crave. A person can have a glass of wine at dinner and feel satisfied. A person moving well past their bedtime with a bottle of wine will risk drinking half the bottle or more. The same goes for anything than a person adapts as a means of satisfying their pleasure center. Alcohol, marijuana, drugs, junk food, sex, etc. will all have enhanced desires the more fatigued the brain becomes. Rest is crucial for recovery of a day’s activity and for balancing the mind.

I still face this problem. I just completed a three-night sleepless week. The total amount of sleep was 7 hours over those nights. I fell asleep at 3 a.m. on Saturday with an awakening at 8:00 a.m. That’s five hours which by comparison felt like sleeping in. I ate my diet for the first two hours of my sleepless evenings, but it doesn’t work. My resolve is weakened and cravings increase. Once I reach the 1 a.m. time, all bets are off.

The side effect of eating pretty much everything in sight is that many things I once tolerated before nutritarian eating are no longer tolerable to my body. I have heartburn or a sour stomach with all its unpleasant expressions. This keeps me up longer and interrupts what little sleep I get. The cycle continues till I cannot function well during the day and finally crash. It will take at least a couple of nights to feel balanced. If that balance includes a night of excess sleep, the pattern might repeat.

It’s telling you it’s okay to eat, but it’s cake. It lies.

I try various natural remedies with mixed and inconsistent results. I know I could go to the doctor and get a prescription for sleep. Frankly, the risk of dependency scares me. I know of only one consistently effective solution that doesn’t come with risks of dependency. I can trace my return of insomnia to a single item:

Exercise, or more specifically, the lack thereof.

I have said it before and will repeat it. I do not think that exercise is an effective weight loss tool. It certainly is not effective on it’s own. However, the benefits of exercise for the body should never be dismissed. Building muscle and strengthening bones along with joint mobility and cardiovascular fitness are all crucial for our long term health. These are things diet alone cannot do.

However, beyond these benefits, the psychological impact make it essential in my life. Regardless of its effectiveness or ineffectiveness in weight loss, without it I cannot maintain my diet.

I have three preferred methods of exercise: run, cycle, swim. Yes, I have done a couple of short course (aka sprint) triathlons. I intend to do more which I will discuss at a later time. For now all I want to do it remind myself of the following: I run; I seep. I cycle; I sleep; I swim; I sleep. They key is duration. I can run for 30 minutes; I have to cycle for 45 or more; Swimming requires an hour to be effective as a sleep aid. They don’t have to be intense and breaks are acceptable. I can run a mile and walk a 1/2 mile, then run again. I usually combine swimming with cycling if I can’t get a full hour in the pool.

The morning after I crashed and slept for five hours, I forced my still groggy body out the door and did a 30 minute jog. I didn’t care about time or performance or intensity levels. I cared about my nights. That night I slept full and deep, but still had some fuzziness in me the next day. I forced myself to do another run the next day. I slept like a Disney princess that night.

Kiss me awake and I turn you into a eunuch.

I have avoided talking about exercise in my posts as I wanted to focus on my diet. In fact, I stopped exercising while going through rapid weight loss. The changes already caused me a small amount of vertigo when standing up. I didn’t want to make it worse or have a fainting spell while riding or running or swimming. That time has changed. I will do what I need to keep dizziness at bay and will add my exercise.

We so often hear the term diet and exercise as the prescription for good health. The key is that they are doing separate things and involve different physiologies. You can’t make up for the lack of one by increasing the other. They work together for a symbiotic improvement with each supporting the other.

You may compartmentalize them and suspend one or the other for a short period during a change in lifestyle, but inevitably you will find yourself out of balance. For me the results were clear. Just before my week of insomnia, I held to my plan and weighed in at 152.2 pounds. After the insomnia, I weighed in at 160.0 pounds. After I resumed exercise, I weighed in at 157.4 pounds. It was not the exercise burning calories or fat that caused the loss. It was the rest it provided and the ability to return to my healthy lifestyle.

Live mindfully, eat deliberately, exercise daily, sleep peacefully.

Via The Daily Post