The holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving is next week! Even though I love this magical time of year, I can’t help but feel my anxiety level rise as my to-do list grows. And when my anxiety increases, my sleep decreases. For whatever reason, my body likes to deal with anxiety at night in the form of insomnia.
Until several years ago, I have not been a good sleeper. I have been tortured with insomnia on and off my whole life. And torture is a pretty accurate word to use when it’s 2am in the middle of your umpteenth sleepless night, and your mind is still on that hamster wheel. I used to describe the feeling in my brain as having a light switch on that I just couldn’t flip off. Insomnia is MISERABLE!
About ten years ago, when I was also going through the worst of my years of sickness, I was driven into such a craze from yet another night of no sleep, that I decided I needed a little help in the form of a pill to get some relief. My doctor did not immediately jump to Ambien (which is what I was hoping he’d prescribe me for a quick fix) but instead looked for the source of my night time wired mind. He explained that when a person is experiencing anxiety, it is common to motor through your day pretty unaffected and coping just fine, but the second your head hits the pillow, that switch in your mind flips on and your body deals with the anxiety at night. I left his office without a prescription for Ambien and instead began a three year relationship with Lexapro, a serotonin re-uptake drug. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain that promotes a good mood and relaxation.
At first, I was so happy to be sleeping like a baby, that I was perfectly content taking my one little “sanity” pill each day. But after I had several months of better than average sleep under my belt, I was thinking a whole lot more clearly and became much less enthused about my magic fix. I loved how Lexapro took away any anxiety and insomnia I had been experiencing, but that’s not all it took away. I had no feelings. I had to force myself to do what I had previously been motivated to do during my days. I would be perfectly content sitting on the couch watching life happen around me with no care in the world. I didn’t like the feeling of not caring and not having an emotional attachment to pretty much anything. And then there’s the weight gain. I felt puffy and carried around an extra five pounds the three years the drug was in my system.
I made the decision to stop taking Lexapro after less than a year of starting it. Then began my two year yo-yo experience, as I tried to wean from myself from it. I began to research natural ways to boost my serotonin level because I believed that the cause of my chronic anxiety and insomnia was a chemical problem within my brain. I found that the body makes serotonin using the amino acid tryptophan. Eating a well balanced diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, eggs, fish, and meat is the best way to ensure I’m getting enough tryptophan. But some people can still come up short and need a little boost. I decided to supplement with additional tryptophan. Except I didn’t start with tryptophan, I started with something called 5-HTP, which is what the body converts tryptophan into before making serotonin. I started off very slowly and worked up to several capsules per day until I started to feel relief. I was able to ditch Lexapro for good with the help of 5-HTP.
But to be honest, I wasn’t completely satisfied with my sleep. I still lay in bed awake for at least an hour trying to shut off my overactive mind. I went back to researching and even met with a holistic specialist who suggested I try L-tryptophan instead of 5-HTP because it works better for some people. And guess what, I was one of those people. For the last several years, I have experienced amazing sleep. I feel like a new person!!
A few other supplements that have also helped improve my sleep are GABA, melatonin, and liquid calcium and magnesium. GABA is also a neurotransmitter in your brain that calms you down for sleep at night. I’ve found that GABA wipes out my anxiety, so my mind can turn off. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep through the night. Magnesium is also needed for your body to relax, and because magnesium and calcium need to be taken together for both to absorb properly, I take a liquid calcium and magnesium supplement by Bluebonnet each night. I have found all three of these supplements have further helped improve my sleep quality, especially during stressful or hormonal times when I’m prone to anxiety.
The holidays are a busy and crazy time of year. If you aren’t sleeping well or are suffering from anxiety or insomnia, don’t let that sabotage the merriment and celebration of the season. I encourage you to ask your doctor or other professional about these natural supplements that have helped me sleep.
My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the side dishes. I plan to make this bacon and butternut squash “risotto” for my family this year.
I am open to any shortcuts I can find to save myself a little time in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. To make this side dish, I bought my butternut squash pre-chopped. I have found organic pre-chopped butternut squash at both Costco and Whole Foods. If you prefer to chop your own, here is a great tutorial on how to do it.
Next, I “riced” the cauliflower by putting the florets in my food processor and pulsing until they are pieces the size of rice. A head of cauliflower yields quite a few florets, so I processed several batches before finishing the entire head. Here is another method to “rice” cauliflower. I also diced a couple stalks of celery and about a fourth of a purple onion and set them aside.
I then chopped five pieces of uncured bacon and cooked them in a large pan over medium-high heat for about five minutes.
Next, I added the diced celery and onion and a half teaspoon of both salt and pepper to the pan and cooked it for another five minutes.
I added the butternut squash to the pan and cooked it for about seven minutes or until the cubes of squash became tender.
I added the “riced” cauliflower to the pan and cooked it for another seven minutes. And lastly, I stirred in chopped sage, pine nuts, and a little ghee for additional flavor. Ghee is clarified butter that is a casein-free and lactose-free substitute for butter.
- 1 butternut squash
- 1 head cauliflower
- 2 stalks celery
- ¼ purple onion
- 5 pieces of bacon
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- handful of chopped fresh sage
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- Peel and cut up the butternut squash, or buy it pre-chopped. Set aside.
- "Rice" the cauliflower in a food processor and set aside.
- Dice the celery and onion and set aside.
- Cut up the bacon, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes in a large pan.
- Add the celery, onion, salt and pepper to the pan, and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add the butternut squash to the pan, and cook for 7 more minutes or until the squash is tender.
- Add the "riced" cauliflower to the pan, and cook for 7 more minutes.
- Stir in the the sage, pine nuts, and ghee.
- Serve warm.