Is there any greater pleasure than a deep, restful, full night’s sleep? For much of my life, I thrived on nine hours. However, on occasion I’ve suffered from insomnia, usually because of some stressful situation I was in.
A few months ago, though, I was feeling happy and excited about life. I had a new novel debuting soon and an offer for a film option, and I was in San Francisco to cover an artificial intelligence conference for a client. My freelance business was booming, I had a Venice Carnivale trip coming up, all was right with the world.
Except that I suddenly lost my ability to sleep through the night.
I’d fall asleep just fine, but awaken after 4 or 5 hours and not be able to get back to sleep for several hours–if at all. This went on for two months, every night.
It was awful. I slogged through each day. I tried meditation, therapy, seeing a doctor (who wanted to prescribe an antidepressant–no thanks!–and then suggested a beta blocker–nope!). I tried exercising more, drinking more water, not eating before bed, establishing a bedtime routine, not drinking alcohol, banishing electronic devices from my bedroom, everything I could think of. I was not only on a mission: I was DESPERATE.
Nothing worked. I had to push myself through each day, my brain struggling to form each word I wrote. On client calls, I kept as quiet as possible, worried that if I spoke, I’d sound drunk or, worse, unintelligent.
A gut-wrenching discovery
Then I began work on an article for Micron about the human microbiome. I’m a technology writer, so the focus of the article was on artificial intelligence’s ability to analyze the trillions of microbes living in our gut. A human could never do this; it would take lifetimes.
I was fascinated by what I learned. Did you know that the microbiome manufactures all kinds of substances that keep our bodies and brains healthy and functioning? The composition of your microbiome can determine your weight, your sex drive, your moods. Do you have depression? Anxiety? It could be your microbiome causing this. Wow!!!
As part of my research–and out of curiosity–I signed up to have my microbiome analyzed. Several companies do this, but I chose uBiome because of the recommendation of another Micron contractor, whom I interviewed for this story. It cost me $89. As it turned out, it was worth every penny. (No, I don’t get a kickback from uBiome for this article, although maybe I should, ha!)
When the results hit my inbox a few weeks later, I learned a lot of things about my gut. Some were not surprising: I have a lot of microbes that keep body weight down–although I’ve put on 20 pounds over the last several years, I am still fairly slender, and always have been, I have a lot of microbes that support the immune system–I rarely get sick, and when I do, I’m able to kick it fairly quickly.
But I also discovered that I was deficient in the microbes that support restful sleep–the ones that make a substance called GABA, which calms the brain. GABA-deficient people can also have anxiety, which I have experienced but which my basically sunny disposition mostly keeps in check.
Time for a microbiome tune-up
What could I do to increase the GABA-making microbes? My gut was lacking in the flora typically found in fermented foods such as yogurt. It was almost as though I’d taken an antibiotic. I had almost NONE of these microbes. Weird.
The way to kick my GABA-producing microbes into gear, the analysis said, was to increase my fiber intake dramatically. One suggestion was to take a one-to-one mixture of inulin, a plant-based fiber, and oligofructose. I found one online: Prebiotin, for about $30, and ordered it. I’m so glad I did: It has changed my life. (Again, I don’t get paid for this!)
I stir a 4g scoop of this colorless, flavorless, textureless powder into every cup of my morning coffee. I started with one scoop per day, and increased to two per day. I could do three per day or even four, but instead I’ve also increased the amount of fiber in my diet. I did deal with flatulence and, on the first days, some bloating and pressure in my bowels (I hope this isn’t TMI), but very quickly I began to see positive results.
About two months into this new regiment, I am sleeping through the night almost every single night. Yes, when I feel anxious about something I do tend to lose sleep, but even then I’m sleeping six hours, not four or even three. When I awaken in the night and can’t go back to sleep right away, I meditate until I fall asleep again. This usually takes about 20 minutes.
During the day, I feel as spry and chipper as a spring lamb. My mind works! My body has so much energy! And I feel happier every day, grateful for every night that I’ve slept well, my spirits lifted after a pleasurable night of deep, luxurious slumber featuring delightful, vivid dreams.