Hi, I'm Christa, a writer at this Alexfergus.com website.
In this blog post, I'll explain my lifelong struggles with insomnia. This blog post is a bit different than what you'll ordinarily read on this website—akin to Alex's "Open Letter To Vegans Of The World."
I hope to provide you with insight into insomnia and give you my perspective on it instead of supplying you with a science-heavy argument.
After giving you lots of insight into my background today, the second installment of this series—soon to be published —shows you how Qualia Night has fixed this problem for me!
I'd love to share my story with you...
Are you on the brink of giving up all hope of getting better sleep? I was right there with you.
I've racked up quite a sleep deficit after three decades of being awake at all hours of the night, despite all my tireless efforts to do all the right things to facilitate sleep.
I seriously doubted anything could help my insomnia, which had left compounding hardships and heartaches in its wake.
Before knowing your story, it already matters to me. Regardless of the frequency or severity of your lack of sleep, I feel your frustration, resentment, grief, despair, resignation...
Whatever the root cause of your sleep struggles, there is a perfectly logical, complex, and compelling reason why your body operates this way.
There are no easy answers to this mysterious dilemma. Together, we can take steps towards reclaiming the restorative rest you need and deserve.
I want you to have full confidence in your resourcefulness, ingenuity, perseverance, and wisdom to discover and implement solutions that move the needle for you.
Qualia Night is a sleep supplement stack specifically formulated to be taken in the evenings to promote gradual relaxation before bed, a good night's sleep, and waking up refreshed and alert.
This was an exciting product to test because it significantly impacted several aspects of my sleep.
You can get it through the developer's website. One bottle is a four-week supply and costs $79. You can save $10 a bottle if you sign up for the subscription, which makes each bottle $69. If you sign up for the subscription, the first bottle is $29.
Here are my recommendations before testing Qualia Night:
Research the ingredients in this evening sleep supplement/nootropic. Talk with your doctor. Discuss it with your trusted health advisors. Examine it in light of your unique history: allergies, medical conditions, particular circumstances like pregnancy or nursing, and other medications/supplements/restrictive diets you are using.
For instance, some people are allergic to nightshades. One of the ingredients, ashwagandha, is in the nightshade family. There are 25 different ingredients combined in this powerfully synergistic formula. They interact with each other and may interact with other things you are taking.
Here's a breakdown of all the ingredients in Qualia Night:
Traditional medicine systems have been using these plants for thousands of years for their effects on other areas of the body that may be unexpected such as pregnancy and nursing. Just because they are organic and natural doesn't mean they aren't powerful.
This article represents a small fraction of all the scientific articles I read. I couldn't possibly include even a quarter of everything I learned.
What struck me was all the head-to-head comparisons of the effectiveness of some of these plant extracts included in Qualia Night that out-performed common over-the-counter and prescription medications for conditions seemingly unrelated to evening relaxation and morning alertness. I was very impressed and quite surprised.
For example, certain ingredients in Qualia Night impact our adenosine levels and receptors, just like coffee does, which has a significant impact on our sleepiness vs. alertness. I predicted that before even reading about the ingredients.
I was surprised to discover that adenosine is also regulating the functioning of other organs like our kidneys and lungs. It makes sense. We wouldn't want our kidneys producing as much urine at night as they do during the day.
It is incredible to me how efficient, versatile, elegant, and complex living things are, be it our phenomenal bodies or even the diversity of biologically active constituents in these plants. I'm in awe!
Again, my recommendation to you? Weigh all the potential pros and cons. This article is just intended as one convenient resource to help determine if it is something you want to look into deeper.
Before taking anything, I research it in depth to discover all the possible effects and interactions. Herbal medicine has equally powerful effects that may be wanted or unwanted for you.
If you decide to test Qualia Night (code FERGUS saves 15%) for yourself to see if it helps your relaxation in the evenings and alertness in the mornings. Listen to your body and customize the dose, timing, and frequency of days off based on your unique physiology.
If I had it to do over, I would have started gradually and increased the dose as needed. Other supplements didn't seem to have any effect on me. Qualia Night is much more potent than anything else I've tried, even the Rx sleeping medication Ambien.
Let me quickly add that the unwanted side-effects of some OTC and prescription (Rx) sleep aids such as nightmares, night paralysis, or acting out dreams were not a side-effect of Qualia Night in my 4-week experiment.
I have had a history of sleepwalking, sleep talking, acting out my dreams, and nightmares in the past.
I had noticeably fewer dreams on QN than what is typical for me. Only one was scary. It did not raise my adrenaline because, in my dream, I was being calm and caring in a crisis.
Also, I didn't act out my dreams, sleepwalk, or talk in my sleep while taking QN. I sincerely hope it will be the same for you.
This was a key benefit to me not having to contend with any of those side-effects that are common to many other sleep aids.
Want to know more? Keep reading or click to go to a topic that interests you in the table of contents:
In the next sections, I chronicle my experience with lifelong insomnia. These sections will help you understand—when you read the next installment of this series—why my Qualia Night results are so profound.
My experience will also give you insight into what life is like for an insomniac. So let's get started:
Sleep is your birthright. You didn't sign up for this struggle. I am proud of you for doing your best to handle all that you've been through in life.
More significant than simply improving my sleep scores or subjective, physiological symptoms, Qualia Night is the plot twist in my story.
Before Qualia Night, my life revolved around following all the sleep hygiene rules and checking all the boxes. I followed the rules more than anyone I knew and slept the least.
By day, I did everything I could to set myself up for my best chance of being able to sleep that night. Doing all the right things over the long haul requires motivation fueled by the belief that it is possible to sleep better.
Night after night, my hopes were dashed. Day by day, I worked at kindling a new flame of hope, always looking for correlations between cause and effect.
When the outcome was failed attempts at falling asleep, I would conclude that it didn't work because I had some small omission that negated everything else I had done right.
Over the past three decades, I've tried everything under the sun, but nothing helped me get the quantity and quality of sleep I needed.
My husband has consistently slept well and has always wanted that for me throughout our 28-year history. He has seen the lengths I've gone to and has asked me every morning, "How did you sleep?" then listened patiently to my long-winded reply after a long night.
Here's an older picture of the both of us from 1992. He was 17, and I was 16:
My husband and I were discussing my month-long experience of taking Qualia Night. He hit the nail on the head, saying, "Insomniacs try doing XYZ to improve their sleep. Qualia Night has earned a spot as plan A."
Stress and trauma are the main reasons I wound up with insomnia.
In response to trauma, the natural human survival mechanism is to do whatever works for you from moment to moment. The effects of trauma can manifest in a variety of complex ways, such as being self-protective, guarded, hyper-vigilant, on high alert and easily startled, high-strung on the inside, appearing to be in a daze on the outside, wired and tired.
Insomnia is a star in the constellation of coping mechanisms to survive and navigate dark times in life.
By the time I met Mark, on my first day of 11th grade and his first day of 12th grade, I had been living with insomnia for a few years already.
Early in our dating relationship, we visited my grandparents on their farm near where Mark grew up. We ended up flying a kite in the wide-open area between the house and the four towering harvester silos that stored corn for their cows.
I was not used to the climate there and the strong winds whipping across the cornfields. I was used to torrential downpours in monsoon season in the tropics, but thunderstorms were uncommon there.
It started to rain. The kite was at the very end of its long string, many times higher than the silos. It made me think of Benjamin Franklin's experiment discovering electricity.
It also brought back memories of me running for home along the beach in a sudden typhoon when a palm tree fell across my path two feet from me. I could imagine the tallest silo falling like the palm.
I began urging him, "Abandon the kite! Abandon the kite!" Which he still teases me about.
The flip side of the coin is that things that scared others, I took in stride. For instance, Mark took it upon himself to help me practice after my first day of behind-the-wheel training while my folks were out-of-state.
What started as a peacefully scenic drive around the lake in his parents' Chevy Blazer SUV turned into a near-death experience. I was unfamiliar with the road. There was a hairpin turn that I was unknowingly taking too fast.
Mark was shouting, "SLOW DOWN!" and pulling the wheel. It felt like the passenger side tires were lifting off the road. We screeched to a stop in the lane of oncoming traffic.
The car in the oncoming lane skidded to a stop in someone's front yard. The homeowner, watering his mailbox flowerbed, abandoned his garden hose and ran for his life.
Mark ordered me to switch spots with him so that he could drive us safely back to my house. After sitting in my living room for a long time, he finally uttered the sobering words, "We all could have died! That was horrifying!"
I calmly replied, "I've had a lot of near-death experiences. This one wasn't that bad really."
Not exactly what he wanted to hear.
I am fascinated by this article in Scientific American reporting on three clinical sleep studies that all showed the left hemisphere listens for threats and doesn't get as much deep sleep the first night in an unfamiliar environment.
Consider for a moment the grim reality that humans experience some frightening situations that are exponentially more threatening than the first night in a hotel room.
How does surviving trauma impact the magnitude and duration of asymmetry between the brain hemispheres?
Scientific American shares the details of all three sleep studies in its article "Sleeping With Half a Brain" and concludes:
"Yet birds and aquatic mammals such as dolphins and whales display the remarkable phenomenon of unihemispheric slow-wave sleep: one half of their brain is awake, including an open eye, and the other half shows the electrical signatures of sleep. This is most likely a protective mechanism, enabling the animal to fly or swim and monitor its environment for threats with one hemisphere while the other gets some rest.
"Intriguingly, they found that the left cortical default-mode network, a set of interacting regions associated with mind wandering and daydreaming, had less SWA [waves of deep sleep] than the right one during the first night... Also, the more asymmetric the pattern of SWA during the first night, the longer it took subjects to fall asleep.
"It is important that a sentinel—here the left cortical default-mode network—monitors the unknown environment for threatening events while we sleep. The human brain, it turns out, is endowed with a less dramatic form of the unihemispheric sleep found in birds and some mammals."
(from the Scientific American article "Sleeping With Half a Brain")
Over the three years of wearing a sleep tracker, I've had a very high percentage of light sleep. The image above is one example of that. I think those three sleep studies above shed some light on this.
In contrast, I spent far less time in light sleep while taking Qualia Night, as you can see in this image below:
The general consensus among those who tested Qualia Night, often for only a week or two, is that it didn't make them feel as sleepy as they expected. I believe them even though it is the polar opposite of my experience. Everyone is unique.
If I had multiple 24-hour cortisol-level tests from before, during, and after my month of taking Qualia Night, I could show you objectively what seemed clear to me subjectively.
Most people have high cortisol levels that naturally peak first thing in the morning to wake them up and energize them to start the day.
Their cortisol levels are lowest in the late evening and first part of the night, helping them fall asleep and get some good deep sleep early in the night to release human growth hormone, helping them stay asleep. Win/win.
For me, it has often been flip-flopped. My deepest sleep has often been right before my alarm goes off, as you can see in the image above. In fact, that was my only experience with sleepiness: wanting to shut my alarm off and wishing to fall back asleep before finally dragging myself out of bed.
Thanks to the deep sleep in those early morning hours, on weekends when I could shut my alarm off, the release of human growth hormone right as Mark was waking up for the day helped me stay asleep and sleep in to catch up on sleep.
I did often experiment with keeping my sleep the same on weekends but still struggled to fall asleep. It created an ongoing sleep deficit that didn't help me feel sleepy to get more sleep on weekday nights. It often resulted in getting 0–3 hours of sleep right before my alarm went off.
When we were sent home on a 2-week furlough at the start of the pandemic, my sole goal was to learn to get 7 hours of sleep a night. I turned off my alarm clock. Sure enough, I could sleep longer with the boost from the deep sleep around 7am without it being interrupted by my alarm.
My circadian rhythm lost what little sense of time it had despite the fact that I would go out for long walks around the neighborhood when I woke up. I remember one of those nights getting zero hours of sleep after having been up all day.
Oddly enough, the years of consistent timing of the morning stress of waking up to an alarm clock and having the sinking feeling that it was time to get ready to go to high-drama job, having half a cup of coffee, procrastinating because I didn't want to go, and then rushing at the end because I didn't want to be late was enough to raise my cortisol levels somewhat to help my body clock keep time.
Surprisingly, without that adrenaline-pumping start to each workday and the sporadically high-conflict environment throughout the day, while being at home on a temporary furlough, my body clock became increasingly disoriented. I still didn't feel sleepy. It was a pandemic-furlough twilight zone.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. At the time, I had no idea that reducing that consistent morning stress would start to make my sleep schedule drift further and further into no-man's land.
When I knew I had to get up for work in a few hours, I would lay awake in bed, sometimes all night long, trying to at least get some "rest."
In other seasons, I would use the cognitive behavioral therapy strategy of limiting my sleep window and getting out of bed if I didn't fall asleep in half an hour.
During my furlough experiment, I let my guiding principle be to do what reduced stress and made me feel peaceful, happy, and supported.
That went against the grain of a lot of the sleep-hygiene rules I had always followed religiously. I started to notice the unexpected adrenaline spikes in my day that could be keeping me up at night.
For instance, my heart was often racing at the beginning of my 2mph morning walks. To counter that adrenaline spike, I started slowing my pace down enough to keep it in the fat-burning zone, even if that meant coming to a complete standstill in the middle of the street and waiting for it to calm down.
I knew I was on to something, even though it seemed sacrilegious. I was following my feelings to keep my adrenaline and cortisol low and doing things that made me feel supported, happy, and peaceful.
It helped take the sting and aggravation out of my wakefulness during the night. One of those cognitive-behavioral activities in the middle of the night that might raise a couple of eyebrows was scrolling through Instagram posts that made me feel encouraged, understood, and hopeful.
I felt like a rebellious, hard-core maverick at midnight, mulling over those mellow posts with my screen brightness on zero and my blue-blocker glasses on while sitting in my massage rocking-chair like somebody's granny.
I had already knitted everyone scarves in 2018. When my right wrist grew sore from those long nights, I simply taught myself to knit left-handed, so they could both be equally sore. In hindsight, it would have helped to be icing my wrists instead of simply alternating dominant-hand projects each night.
Instagram seemed justifiable in light of the fact that I could sit in total darkness compared to needing adequate lighting for knitting.
Also, the empathy I experienced from the posts created by complete strangers made me feel like I wasn't alone in my disappointment over not being able to sleep, which was a good feeling and made me relaxed to try going back to bed.
Women's intuition told me I was on to something, but I didn't have any scientific ground to stand on those first few months of adopting that Instagram strategy.
Bart, who also works at Alexfergus.com, wrote a comprehensive series of articles sharing his wealth of insights into dopamine. He also shared a link to an interview with Dr. Huberman regarding that goal-driven neurotransmitter.
I watched 18 more of Dr. Huberman's YouTube interviews in short succession. His explanations helped make sense of why my feelings-based strategy was helping and what more I could do to help me sleep. He's on Instagram and shares a plethora of practical applications from neuroscience to navigate things like sleep, learning, courage, and social dynamics.
I discovered the science behind why I should only stay in bed if I can remain optimistic and peaceful. If I felt myself just beginning to grow frustrated by the tossing and turning, that was my cue to get up before my dopamine went into overdrive from feeling trapped in bed staring at the ceiling. Instead, I'd do something pleasant like scroll through my collection of soothing Instagram influencers' posts to feel pleasantly relaxed again.
I knew what it felt like to feel wired and tired but not sleepy all these three decades. I would read about sleep studies that used the build-up of sleep pressure over time to try to strong-arm insomniacs into sleeping or at least get them to concede that sleep is possible sometimes.
For instance, one study limited participants to 5 hours or less of sleep the night before and then broke up the next 25 hours into 50 segments of half an hour each. During each segment, the participant was given the opportunity to sleep. Once the machines showed the person was asleep, they were woken up after 3 minutes and asked if they thought they had been awake or asleep.
Even the most hard-core insomniacs fell asleep a few times, at which point the scientist would wake the subject up and triumphantly proclaim that they had been sleeping whether they knew it or not.
Still, I always wondered what the point was since out of the 50 tries to sleep, only a few times were successful. I felt like the scientists just didn't understand that some of us never felt sleepy, no matter if we had gotten zero hours the night before.
No wonder physicians view the study and practice of insomnia management as the "Cinderella of Medicine." This strikes me as funny any way you look at it, especially in light of the way Qualia Night worked like magic to sweep me into dreamland, yet if I took it too early, the magic would wear off after midnight.
Holding on to hope decade after decade has often felt like believing in fairy tales when I read about the uphill battle scientists face to try to cure insomnia against impossible odds.
I tried an Rx sleep medication about 16 years ago. It did not make me nearly as sleepy as Qualia Night. It had too many unwanted negative effects, so I discontinued it after a month. Nightmares and sleep paralysis are side-effects of some Rx and off-label sleep aids.
I thought my insomnia would have resolved before 2020. After all, we have humans living on the International Space Station, nanomedicine, artificial intelligence, data science mining, powerful algorithms, functional imaging brain scans, and high spectrochemical analysis.
What more are we waiting for to solve the mystery of sleeplessness? As hard as it has been to struggle with this for so long, I am really grateful that new developments in neuroscience are giving us more insight into sleep and that the team at Neurohacker Collective has created such an effective supplement to improve my sleep.
While it may not feel like we have much control over our insomnia, by analyzing the data, we can see the impact of different decisions in hindsight. One of those crossroads for me was leaving a job that was sabotaging my wellbeing.
I made the decision and commitment to leave in June of 2018. It took me another two years to finally bite the bullet and move on. I knew office drama thwarted my REM sleep.
I was well below the norm on REM sleep all these years. When I was paying close attention to my sleep data during this experiment, I was surprised by the good amount of REM I was getting.
After looking back at all my data now, I see that the increase in REM sleep was from changing careers to get away from office drama.
I started my new job in July of 2020 and averaged 78 minutes a night of REM that month. Working in an office environment, back in July 2019, I averaged 45 minutes a night of REM.
I feel proud of myself for taking the leap that increased my average REM by 73%. It has remained high ever since.
An additional benefit of my new job was that I was able to be permanently switched from working the day shift in July to the afternoon and evening shift in August.
It finally felt like I was working with my body instead of against it for my chronotype or cortisol levels or phase-delay natural tendency.
I can't tell you how many countless events I have wanted to attend over the last three decades that I had to bail on the morning of the event after a failed night's sleep. Everything in society runs on some type of 8 to 5 schedule that some secret society of early birds voted on in bygone days that has made any alternatives obsolete.
I only had two options. Either attend the non-negotiable planned event like my 8 to 5 work shift even if I had to go on zero minutes of sleep. Or cancel plans last minute if it was something I wanted to do that seemed less urgent than getting some sleep.
Being reassigned to the afternoon/evening shift has resulted in a substantial improvement in my quality of life and a noticeable improvement in my sleep as well.
Of course, there are always pros and cons to every choice we make because we usually can't eat our cake and have it too. The hardest part has been that Mark and I are ships passing in the night because he works weekdays and I work nights and weekends.
We only have an hour together from the time I finish my shift until he's ready to fall asleep because he has to be to work bright and early in the morning. Surprisingly, it kind of helps us be in a routine of doing massages and then going to bed together.
We try to spend our shared time off making memories together, even if it's just a partial day. Recently, we had a Sunday morning where we were both off, so we went to the Daingerfield State Park.
The map fell out of Mark's pocket. We ended up going the long way through the rugged, steep hiking trails around the lake. We couldn't get a signal for his cell phone, and the battery had died on mine from lots of picture taking.
In the end, we were both jogging, not knowing how much further we had to go or how many hours late I would be for work. Plus, we still had a 50-minute drive home before I could even charge my phone to call my boss to say why I was late.
At one point, I really thought we might have to sleep in the woods. We ran into a park ranger moments later, and he pointed us in the right direction. Thankfully, I made it to work two minutes ahead of schedule!
I'm so glad Mark has been supportive of me working a schedule that's at odds with his and the rest of traditional business hours because it is the perfect fit for me to sleep better.
The icing on the cake is that I'm often awake the hour before he goes to work, so we can have coffee together and compare our sleep tracker data, but I still have the freedom to sleep if needed.
Last night I had insomnia since I haven't started taking my second bottle of Qualia Night yet. In the wee hours of the morning, I decided to get up and shower because sometimes the drop in temperature from hot to cold helps me fall asleep.
Sure enough, I fell back asleep at 3:26am and woke up at 9:30am. Mark had taken the day off work to spend it with me on my day off in the middle of the week. We went to Bob Sandlin State Park together and walked 12,000 steps around the lake.
I fell asleep the last 20 minutes of the drive home after dark. Then I felt energized from my late little power nap and ended up not being sleepy at bedtime. It's such a balancing act.
I'm sharing my story with you to give you hope. I want you to know that I understand how challenging and frustrating insomnia can be when it affects every area of your life, from getting up to face a stressful day at the office or even causing us to sleep in later than we wanted on a special day trip that we have been looking forward to. It's so unpredictable!
My story isn't over, and neither is yours. In the next installment of this series, I'm going to tell you all about how Qualia Night has been a tremendous help in managing my long-term insomnia.
Hopefully, my story gave you some insight and encouragement for coping with insomnia. As you can probably imagine, it affects every area of life. For that reason, I highly recommend checking out the free sources with sleep tips listed a few paragraphs below.
If you've got insomnia, then you may always find the tip that cures insomnia for you among those sources. And if you're already sleeping well, sleeping better is always welcomed by everyone!
Christa Rucker has been biohacking her own physiology for two decades now. She loves to geek-out on researching scientific studies that connect different habits to measurable health outcomes. She also has extensive clinical experience assisting patients which has fueled her passion for prevention.
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