Midlife Hack: Insomnia


This is not a post about recalcitrant chin hairs. Nor is it a post about the middle-aged spread.

It’s about something far more urgent, far more important. Insomnia!

Now I know my children are probably laughing their heads off going, “You? Insomnia? You’re in bed by 9:00 p.m. every night!” But it’s true. I sleep poorly–have for a while now–and that counts as insomnia.

I don’t have the traditional kind of insomnia where you have trouble falling asleep; I have what’s called “early-awakening insomnia” — the kind where you pop right up at 2:00 a.m. and then can’t get back to sleep again. I know, joy.

Mostly, I’ve just put up with it. But now, finally, I’ve found a magic cure that has kept me asleep through the night for almost a month!!!

No, I’m not going to tell you to take a warm bath an hour before bed time. I’m not going to tell you to shut off your devices. I’m not even going to tell you to eat a small, high-protein snack right before going to bed (although you’re welcome to if you like). I’m going to tell you it’s much easier than that–

It’s a pill!!!!

Well, two pills actually.

Now I suppose this is where I should tell you that I am not a doctor, and I am not offering medical advice. I’m just sharing with you a little anecdote from my own life, a one-person trial based on no science and very little common sense, for that matter. I mean who just blindly ingests some supplements without consulting a doctor? Not you, I’m sure!.

Okay, so here’s the story. About a month ago, I picked up a book called, The Diet Cure, from a used book store. I thought it was going to be a book about how to cure yourself of the dieting habit. But no. It’s a book about how to use diet/nutrition to cure yourself of any number of ailments. (Hah! the English language–gotta love it!). Okay, so who doesn’t have any number of ailments, (I know I do), so I soldiered on.

It turns out that there several amino acid supplements you can take to help restore balance in your body and improve neurotransmitter function. I take two: GABA and L-Tryptophan.

Now before I tell you what each of these is (or you might want to stop here and just research them for yourself), I have to tell you that all my life I have been what I think of as a nervy, edgy person–quick to shoot off my mouth, impatient, high-strung. Most people who know me just call me crabby. But I’ve never really stopped to consider why. I just assumed it was a character flaw and moved on. I’ve also never stopped to consider (listen to) what it felt like inside. Until now. This nerviness, this edginess feels like a low hum or buzz, kind of like the sound given off by a faulty fluorescent light, perceptible only in its absence.

I know this is going to sound like an infomercial or good, old-fashioned revival meeting, but within an hour of taking GABA, for the first time in as far back as I can remember, I heard only silence.

True story.

I’d been going about my day, as usual, when around 1:00 p.m. I found myself getting a little irritable, so I took one of my GABA pills, and carried on. There was a lull in the crazy work day around 2:45 p.m., so I paused and took stock.


Really? This is what it feels like, what it sounds like? Pure, unadulterated quiet. No racing thoughts. No tightness in the chest. Just calm. Wow.

Emboldened, I tried the other pill, L-Tryptophan, later that night. This one is supposed to help you sleep (something to do with Serotonin, I think). Same result. Quiet, calm, no racing thoughts, AND I slept, uninterrupted, through the night.

To me, this has been nothing short of a miracle. I only wish I had known earlier that there was something off. I take one GABA pill (500 mg) and one L-Tryptophan pill (500 mg) on an empty stomach right before bed. I have tried taking it with food, but it seems to work best on an empty stomach. When I take it with food, it seems to have a muted effect (that’s the best way I can think to describe it). Again, this is based on no science–just trial and error.

The book says that you don’t need to take the supplements permanently, that most people can ease off them in six months to a year. Once normal function has been restored, your body can catch its breath and produce these neurotransmitters on its own, no help needed. This is a relief to me. The last thing I need is to be dependent on some substance to feel whole and calm. It’s only been a month, so far, so we’ll see. There might be a tapering off effect, but for now, I’m just relieved. As and when things change, I’ll report back.

Watch this space!

UPDATE: It’s been a year now and the insomnia is all but gone. I still have a hard time when I travel across time zones, but for the most part (and as long as I’m local), I sleep through the night. I have stopped taking the L-Tryptophan (I don’t seem to need it any more), but I do still take the GABA as it continues to take the edginess off during the day. Truthfully, I forget many times, but it seems not to make a difference. All is well.


Photo Credit: http://www.arwini.com/2014/02/tips-cara-gampang-mengatasi-insomnia-susah-tidur-di-malam-hari.html


Excerpted from a forthcoming book titled, Midlife Hacks, by Tina Pocha.

Categories: Midlife

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3 replies

  1. OMGoodness Tina, I have a similar problem but I get up at 3:30 sometimes 4 a.m and can’t go back to sleep. I’m usually in bed by 11:00 p.m but this happens whether I’m down by 10 or midnight. I heard the reason was menopause or eating too close to bedtime (the latest I eat is 7:30 p.m). Thanks to your experiment I’m going to try one of the supplements and see what happens. Maybe I can get a full eight hours in one night.

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