Insomnia, meditation, cannabis, polyphasic sleep, and a sleep protocol to help you sleep better.

When I was a child, I slept… well, like a baby. I remember waking up at 6:00 AM bright and refreshed all the way up until puberty. As I grew, so did my mind and all the exciting things in life to think about. It would run, and run and run. I struggle with insomnia like so many others, but I think I’m getting a handle on it. I sleep from 10 or 11 PM until 7:15 AM, usually at least 5 nights out of the week, uninterrupted, waking up feeling refreshed. How do I do it? I’ll share my journey of how I got here and the stupid things I’ve done along the way that I would like to warn against.

From puberty through high school, it wasn’t a big issue, being an insomniac. You have a lot of energy and very low stress load. If I didn’t get a full night of sleep, it didn’t really matter. By college, it did. It’s frustrating that I couldn’t get real information on improving sleep beyond “set a bedtime and make sure to get 8 hours”. Well, that doesn’t work if you lay in bed for 2 hours before falling asleep, wake up every hour that you sleep, and then wake up 52 minutes before the alarm goes off. I got frustrated. I tried polyphasic sleep. I did variations of this for about a year, 9x20min naps per day, 3x30min + 1x3hour per day, the best one was 45 min long naps with 90-180 min at night. It was my own mind telling me “FINE! If you CAN”T sleep then DON”T sleep!” This is important because I now realize that was part of my failure to get to sleep. The way I approached sleep became important. I am thankful for that experience however, because after about 3 months of only 20 min naps with crashes, I learned how to fall asleep in 60 seconds. The result was amplified due to sleep deprivation, but I realized that I needed a protocol to succeed. I needed a plan when I approached sleep.

Shortly after going back to a normal sleep schedule, I transitioned to general low carb and exercise. This helped the waking up constantly throughout the night. To this day, my personal symptom of waking up in the night seems to be caused by restlessness, both mental and physical. My body and mind become restless if I don’t exercise them enough. I know, preaching to the Ketogains choir. Low carb wasn’t great, keto works better, but more so for the energy aspect, not as much on the sleeping. I’d feel more energetic constantly, rather than only at night. Whenever I add in exercise, that improves my sleep significantly.

I tried herbs. They work okay. I wouldn’t rely on them because they have to be cycled. I needed a longer term solution.

I started keto in June 2013 and there wasn’t much sleep improvement until I started cannabis a few years ago. It has helped me sleep, yes. It has done so many other things for me though. It has given me a new perspective on so many things. My dose has changed constantly since I’ve started, I’ve taken breaks, and experimented in as many directions as I can think. My conclusion is the same: each cannabis strain is its own experience. The way you consume it matters too. And from person to person there can be variation. What you ate that day makes a difference too! Terpenes (smell chemicals) seem to interact with THC and provide an affect upon the user. Limonene smells like lemons and is very energizing. Beta Carophyll smells like cloves and pepper and is relaxing. You need to know how to select your strain if you want to use cannabis for sleep. Sativa vs indica does not matter. That is a myth. It is about the terpenes. The flavor. A lemony and piney strain will always be energizing unless it also has that pepper smell. Some strains have both! There are a few terpenes and they are very important, you can easily search terpenes and find many articles to learn from. No all inclusive list of terpenes and their effects exists as far as I know.

Caution: everybody likes to start with edibles though that is not recommended. When consumed, THC goes to the liver and gets metabolized into 11-hydroxy-THC, which is 5x more potent gram for gram than when smoked. The high also feels different and is much more intense. Not recommended for beginners. If you want to start THC and don’t like smoke, find a vaporizer. That’s how I started. I LOVE the Arizer Solo, very cheap, effective, easy to use, but it’s old, I’m sure there’s a better one out now.

Vaping however is more energizing than smoking, so if you’re going to vape, I’d suggest vaping in the late afternoon (4:20 WOO!) or early evening, likely no later than 7.

Smoking tends to wake people up for the first hour or two after they smoke, then they come down. If you’re going to start smoking, I’d suggest to smoke 2-4 hours before bedtime.

The reality with THC is to start slow, try various strains and keep going.

CBD can be useful for sleep too. It is non psychoactive though many users claim to feel relaxed in their bodies. The dose needs to be high, so smoking it is usually out of the question. Procure some oil and experiment. There is no real danger in too much. Project CBD is a fantastic resource for learning more about CBD.

Through weed, I added meditation to my sleep routine and ended up to where I am now. Here’s how I approach sleep:

  • Light is the most important friend and enemy. This has been the most important thing for me to focus on while I aim for sleep. Our society has far too many lights and they are on too late. We also avoid light in the morning.
    • Ideally, 2 hours before bedtime you will turn down the lights. I need them entirely off an hour before bed. Optimal: use candlelight and read a book and hour or two before bed. Acceptable: get red filters for your tv, smartphone, computer, turn off the lights, keep light exposure to your eyes to a minimum.
    • The morning matters too! Exposing my eyes to light at the same time every morning has helped tremendously in moving and solidifying my sleep schedule. Optimal: watch the sunrise. Acceptable: artificial light.
  • Cannabis.
  • No more eating two hours before bed. It’s too much on your stomach.
  • Drink a glass of water before bed. I dunno why, but it do.
  • Small dose of melatonin taken sublingually. I put 0.7 mg under my tongue and lay down to sleep. Make sure when you take it to be done with exposing yourself to light or you’ll start to screw with your system. Melatonin is the darknness hormone. Don’t give it light.
  • Meditative Techniques:
    • Visualize yourself in a story. It doesn’t really matter what the story is. You need to create an experience that is realistic and repetitive. I’ve used walking down endless stairs, drawing down curtains, walking alongside a picket fence moving my hand from one post to the next. The key is to have repetition. Do that action over and over in your mind until you really feel connected to the experience. Then slow it down. Don’t battle it. Persuade it. You can step down those stairs, just ease up on it. Slow down. You’ll find occasionally the urge to speed up. Do it. It’s more important to stay connected to the experience and flow with it and maintain the story you’ve built than it is to try to control the story. Let your mind speed up, go with it, then start to slow it down again. The story is merely a representation of your mind going through it’s stuff. If you stay with it, you can guide it into your story and slow it down and you’ll just fade off into sleep.
    • Become aware of one part of your body, maintain awareness of that body part. I choose the term aware specifically because it isn’t focus. When you want to focus on something, you TRY to focus. It requires effort and that isn’t what you want for sleep. With awareness, you BECOME aware. No real push involved, merely a gentle understanding. Choose one part and stay on that part, don’t bounce around. If you choose the feeling of air going in and out of your nose, stay there. If you feel your stomach rising and falling, stay there. If you move off, and you assuredly will, then gently come back to your awareness. No need to struggle.

 

I think the most common thing we struggle with when we try to sleep is actually the struggle. We struggle with struggling. Stop fighting yourself to get to sleep. Approach sleep with calmness and the idea of teamwork in mind. YOU are not YOUR MIND since YOU control YOUR MIND. Two separate entities. This is something I learned only after starting to smoke weed. Cannabis allows me to treat my mind like a tangible object that I can mold to my liking. Before, I couldn’t grab it. I knew it was there, but I could never manipulate it. I was always manipulated by it. Putting in the work with meditation is really what molded my mind though to sleep the best I ever have.

 

About Author

Dustin Sikstrom

Low carb since 2010, ketogenic since June 2013, lifting consistently since September 2013. Musician and music teacher, sax, guitar, and drums. You can’t brute force biology, but you can outsmart it and work with it.

3 Comments

  1. Mavis Frazier

    Well done. The bit about the cannabis was new to me and very interesting. I would add one bit about the melatonin which you implied but didn’t say, always take it at the same time, the time you want to fall asleep. If you take it at 2 AM when you decide you aren’t going to be able to sleep you are programming your body to fall asleep at 2 AM.

    Another little hack. One of the triggers for the brain to turn off the wake system and turn on the sleep side is when body temperature drops. You can trigger this reaction by taking a hot shower and then letting your body cool down after.

    Reply
  2. Sweet Leaf

    I’ve recently been experimenting with cannabis myself. Always used to find it too anxiety-inducing but found success recently with high-CBD strains (it’s legal where I am). That was a “gateway” to some regular, high-THC strains I find tolerable. Which specific strains have you found most helpful for insomnia?

    Reply
  3. Misha Sakharoff

    Hi Dustin, sleep is interesting field because I think, in a way it reflects your day. It depends on so many different aspects of nutrition, stress response, breathing, amount and quality of movement and how all of those interconnect and interdependent. I wrote a little article about these interdependencies and how they affect sleep. When you do, keto, lifting, playing a few musical instruments, we can more easily see the connections and effectively connect the dots 🙂

    Here you go:
    //sakharoff.com/improving-sleep-quality-integrative-approach-lifestyle-disease/

    Reply

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