Today I had a really great visit with my friend, fellow artist, and super-blog fan Libby. I don't get to see her very often (she lives in Texas) so we had lots of catching up to do. Creativity, health, family, we talked about just about everything but the current presidential campaign. (Yawn.)
Libby always asks me what I'm writing, and I always apologize about the languishing state of my blog. She asked me how my sleep situation was going since the last time I posted and I realized that I'd left my readers hanging... I actually deleted that sleep post I wrote several weeks ago. The "solutions" that seemed to be apparent at that time didn't seem to be working after all.
But now I think, at least I hope, I have some answers.
Backstory... in April, I realized that my sleep pattern was deteriorating. I either could not fall asleep or if I was able to fall asleep I'd wake up multiple times feeling overheated. After 4 a.m. I'd be unable to get back to sleep at all. I thought perhaps my estrogen dose, which I had been gradually reducing (under doctor's supervision) for about 2 years had something to do with it.
My doctor increased the dose which within a few days relieved the frequent nighttime waking. He also adjusted my thyroid medication because my TSH was a little low. (I was treated for Grave's disease in the 1980's with radio active iodine so I have to take thyroid medication, and thyroid imbalance can also cause sleep issues.)
But I was still having trouble falling asleep and was still waking up too early. So 4 weeks ago my doctor increased my estrogen dose again and also suggested several strategies to improve my sleep while my hormone level stabilized:
-Avoid caffeine, including decaf and chocolate.
-Avoid TV and LED screens one hour before bedtime.
-Avoid eating for 3 hours before bed.
I did all that. That last one was easy... I never eat after 8 p.m. and I always shut off my computer after dinner.
But even with those restrictions, I still needed to take OTC sleep meds off and on for a while. (That was okay with my doctor.) After about 2 weeks things started improving and I had several great, solid, med-free nights sleep. But I didn't know whether the improvement was on account of the things I was avoiding, or the increased estrogen. Still, it wasn't a good time to start experimenting because the very next week my hubby and I took our annual vacation/anniversary trip.
We traveled 3 time zones west. In order to make the time zone adjustments, I took OTC sleep meds for the first 3 nights. I slept pretty well for the next 4 nights without medication, but I was still waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. But that's not uncommon when you travel west.
While on vacation, I relaxed my alcohol restrictions a bit. One night at dinner I had a couple sips of hubby's wine. One night we split a glass of champagne. A few nights later I had a whole glass of wine.
On the last day of vacation, he bought some dark chocolate-covered almonds. I had a few. They were so good. That night we went out for ice cream and they didn't have any flavors (except boring vanilla) without chocolate. So I ordered peanut butter cup. It was loaded with big chunks of dark chocolate. I think it was more chocolate than ice cream. It really wasn't very good, but I ate it anyway. Within an hour, I had violent diarrhea. I chalked it up to pre-flight nerves... we had to get up at 3 a.m. to catch an early flight home... even with two alarm clocks set, I worry that I'll oversleep.
By midnight my belly settled and I dozed off and on for the 3 hours until the alarms went off.
After we got home I took OTC sleep meds for 3 days to help get back on Eastern Time. On day 4 I went back to having wine with dinner. I fell asleep fine, but was still waking too early. I did not want to blame it on the wine, so I blamed it on the time zone shift.
A few days later I did another trial of chocolate. I had a small handful of dark chocolate chips in the afternoon while making chocolate chip cookies and then 2 cookies for dessert. At 1 a.m. I was wide awake staring at the bedroom ceiling. Darn. So I broke down and took Tylenol PM. And did a reality check.
I immediately discontinued chocolate and the next night I fell asleep just fine. But the early waking and difficulty getting back to sleep remained.
So I quit wine too.
And I think, hope I have my answer. Chocolate (caffeine) makes it impossible to fall asleep. Alcohol makes me wake up too early.
If I want to sleep. And I do. And I don't want to take sleep meds, and I don't. Then it's no chocolate. And no alcohol.
I am also still avoiding screens and TV past 10 p.m. but honestly, I don't think that's the problem, because on a couple of occasions a movie has run late and I fell asleep just fine. On the other hand, I'm getting more reading done.
I also found out that caffeine in chocolate can cause diarrhea in sensitive individuals. Since I hadn't had chocolate in a month, and then ate a bunch of it, I'm going to blame the chocolate.
In the post I deleted, I wrote that I thought sugar might also be messing up my sleep. But I hope not. Seems like I've had dessert after dinner (non-chocolate) on nights that I've also avoided alcohol and I've slept pretty well. But the jury's still out on that.