Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried many of the supplements and drugs that you’ll find mentioned on this site:
- Benzodiazepines (lorazepam – Ativan)
- Mirtazapine (Remeron)
- Doxylamine succinate
- Valerian Tea
- Tart Cherry Extract
I’ve used all of these for 30 days or more, and then have made a decision to either remain using them, or to discard them.
If using all these agents to try and help me sleep sounds unusual – it isn’t. It’s pretty common for chronic insomniacs like myself to try one thing and then another, hoping that the “magic antidote” appears – something that’s non-habit-forming, has no side effects, and completely natural.
It turns out that this is a fantasy. Only after experimenting with all of the above have I come to the hard-fought conclusion that simple, basic, sleep hygiene and time will be the only cure I ever find.
My particular insomnia is probably very different from yours. Mine was instigated by a brain-stem stroke. At the beginning, over two years ago, I was convinced I wasn’t sleeping at all. But with time, and some reassurance from my Zeo, plus starting to feel “more normal”, sleep was slowly improving for me.
But I thought it might be a good thing just to itemize the stuff I’ve tried, and my personal experiences with them all. Maybe there’s some information in here that you can glean:
Benzodiazepines (lorazepam – Ativan) 0.5-2.0mg
This stuff worked in the beginning, but over time it needed a larger and larger dose to gain the same effect. I’ve written about benzodiazepine use, and if this is in the cards for you – please do yourself a favor and have a look – there’s much more information there. After upping the dose a few times, my doctor tried to amplify the effectiveness again with another drug used in combination: mirtazapine.
Mirtazapine (Remeron) 30mg
I started using this in combination with the lorazepam, but after the long wean off the benzodiazepine, used it occasionally by itself. And it remained fairly effective. The side effect was that I felt so sluggish and attenuated the next day that I would often wonder whether it was worth it or not. I haven’t used mirtazapine now for almost a year.
Doxylamine succinate 25mg
I picked this stuff up at Costco in the USA. It’s their “Sleep Aid” and it contains the active ingredient you’ll find in most of the over-the-counter sleep aids – NyQuil, Unisom 2, Somnil, Dozile and others. It’s a sedating antihistamine common for use in night time cold remedies – where they’ll combine it with some pain medicine. It worked fairly well for the first few months (I wouldn’t use it every night), but after a while it became less and less effective. The next-day feeling with this drug was similar to the mirtazapine, so often I would regret using it the next day.
This is one of the natural sleep remedies, and the one I used is called “Mother’s Little Helper” from David’s Tea. I cannot say that it has worked at all for me, but I know that others I know count on it’s sedating effects. The only thing it made me do was pee in the middle of the night. It got to the point where I’d have to have the tea at 7pm, and then make sure my bladder was completely empty at 11:30pm. Even with that, half the time I would have to get up to visit the bathroom at 5am. This is the most recent experiment for me, and I haven’t taken it in the last week – but I haven’t noticed a difference.
Calcium and Magnesium (333/167mg)
I take these two together at night, and although I had high hopes that this would truly impact my sleep, it appears that I’m not deficient enough in either mineral for it to impact my nights. I was hopeful that the addition of calcium and magnesium would change the number of awakenings I had each night – but alas, they didn’t. None of the sleep parameters I monitor seemed to be affected by the addition of the minerals (Addendum 5/24/2012: New Research - Click Here).
Tart Cherry Extract
This one was kind of a lark for me anyways. There was some suspicion that the tart cherry effect on melatonin levels would change sleep patterns. And in the science it did. But with me it didn’t. I had used melatonin before with no real effect as well, so I didn’t think this one would either.
That old standby for jet lag is used clinically to reset your circadian rhythms, so I figured that it might just work for me too. It didn’t. I didn’t even get the vivid dreams that so many people report. Bummer.
Unless somebody out there mentions some “miracle, natural, holistic, herbal sleep potion” I think I’m done with sleep hacking with supplements for now.
What I am doing is changing my diet – going from a vegetarian to a more “paleo” diet. That means forgoing all grains, legumes, and most dairy and introducing a bit more meat – mostly fish and eggs (both of which I’ve had small amounts of before). I am looking for improved bloodwork (Small Particle LDL, HDL and Triglycerides) as the primary markers of positive change. But there’s repeated mentions of improved sleep on this regime/diet/lifestyle, so I can only hope.
Other than this diet change, to which improved sleep would be ancillary, I am continuing on the path of permanent mental change. And that means a repeated, very-long term commitment to the ideals of proper sleep hygiene:
- get up at the same time each day
- establish a night time routine
- getting some exercise every day
- getting morning light
- keeping the bedroom dark, cool and comfortable
- using the bed for sleep, not for watching TV (I have to admit reading in bed is one of my nighttime routines)
If I do this long enough (years, perhaps), my sleep will gradually improve. At least that’s what I’m telling myself……