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Insomnia: Vet School Stresses and Hormone Messages

I had an excellent sleep last night. Not long, just a deep sleep, in comparison to the two nights before. I thought it was odd, though it coincided with my two work days, my work life hasn’t been so stressful as of late. But I have been tracking my cycle because I’m TTC, and then I thought - are the shifts in my hormones during my cycle contributing to my insomnia???

Turns out there is some science behind this random thought. The ebbs and flows, no pun intended, of your cycle hormones can contribute to insomnia.

In first year vet school, I suffered from insomnia, where I didn’t sleep for four days. I would go to bed, then lay there tossing and turning all night. I later attributed this to seasonal affective disorder. I mean, veterinary school is supposed to be hard! It's supposed to be stressful! A lot of people aren't sleeping enough. Many people on the verge of tears if you ask them how they are doing, so then maybe you are actually afraid to ask them how they are doing. It was January of 2013, and I thought it was related to school and the lack of sunlight we are exposed to.

So what is my excuse for having restless sleep now? Yes, on my 'Sunday' before I head in to my work-week, I feel a small amount of anxiety, and sometimes I am stressed about that week. Yes, I was feeling anxious about the uncertainty of our jobs during this COVID-19 crisis. But is that really what prevents me from sleeping? Why was I sleeping wonderfully a few weeks ago, and now have these dark circles under my eyes?

Randomly I thought I should look up insomnia and the menstrual cycle. When progesterone starts to rise and estrogen drops around ovulation, so does your serotonin (a precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin). Progesterone rising in your luteal phase makes you feel sluggish, but also makes you sleep more heavily. Then again, when estrogen and progesterone drop towards menstruation in the late luteal phase (premenstrual), insomnia returns.

Tips for Sleep

1) Use a bright light first thing in the morning (or sunlight) to reset your internal clock.

2) Drink chamomile tea

  • A friend of mine introduce me to Sleepy Time Tea - it's mint and chamomile and I prefer the flavour to straight chamomile

3) Treat Depression

  • My family doc said - if you have asthma you treat it, so you should treat this too. I am currently on Zoloft (an SSRI) which apparently works better in women than in men

4) Melatonin supplement

  • My husband swears by melatonin. Now that I know that it may work better to supplement during some parts of my cycle, I may try it again

5) Use a sleep mask and ear plugs

  • I started using ear plugs while sleeping when I was in India, and more recently started to use a sleep mask because I read that having complete darkness will improve your sleep

6) Limit Caffeine intake

  • Is this self-explanatory?

7) Drink Warm Milk before bed

  • This is an old wives tale, I am sure. Whether it's the increase in tryptophan or the increased warmth, that then leaves your body, having that drop in temperature that brings you into sleep, I am not sure. But I still occasionally due this.

8) Journal before bed

  • When I was at the psychologist, she said, write down all your thoughts on paper before bed, then they are there when you need them, and you don't need them while you are sleeping

One of my favourite psychology and sleep books is Sleep Thieves by Stanley Coren.

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