March Update: Health issues, race changes… life happens.

Posted by Jen on Mar 7, 2013 in Uncategorized |

Breakdown. Breakthrough.  Life just happens and you have to deal with it the best you can.  My life has hit a ceiling of sorts and I am pausing for a second to fix my broken down system.  I have been struggling with some severe insomnia issues for well, about 2 years now.  Its no secret my daughter has not been an easy sleeper, but even in the last 6 months when she is getting more routine sleep, I am unable to.  I stay up for hours or even all night just to fret over anything and everything.  My laundry, my work, races, songs in and out of my head, I think of a million things I need to do, and it just cycles over and over.  December was the worst ever and I sought help from a doctor who prescribed me Lunesta.   The problem is, this stuff is bad for you.  A New England Journal of Medicine article published  in 2011, sighted a study that showed that people who used more than a dozen pills in a year had an increased mortality rate of three times greater than those not on sleeping pills.  Now, there were many subgroups, outliers, etc, but the bottom line is, sleeping pills are not good.  Since January, there has only been about a half dozen times I have fallen asleep without one.  Yeah, this is not good.  I functioned okay in January, worse in February , where at Ray Miller 50k I witnessed a true performance decrease due to lack of sleep and since a near shooting incident about two weeks ago, I have experienced more stress than my body knows what to do with.  I got the flu last week and my body couldn’t and wouldn’t move for about three days.  Yes, body, I am listening and I’m sorry I have been pushing you so hard.

I have since seen a few doctors who have boiled down for me the following possibilities: Adrenal fatigue due to excessive cortisol stimulation- read too much dang stress, female hormonal deficiencies that are classic for extreme athletes- FAT, female athlete triad, and/or now post-traumatic stress from the shooting incident.  Training has been very little in the past two weeks and my mental and physical health concerns have come to the forefront as they should.

In the next two weeks, I am going to be undergoing labs, testing, etc to figure out how to help my body and mind back to a healthy spot.  I am confident that in part I must let go of some stressers in my life.  I must prioritize to my family, sleep, nutrition, running and work and fun.

With all of this means I must re-arrange my racing schedule to allow me some time to recover and get back into the swing of things.  Sadly, I must let go of Antelope Island 100 mile run in a few weeks.  I am optimistic that I will be able to take an extra month to get my life back in shape and hopefully toe the line at Zion 100 on April 19th.  I will wait a bit longer to make that decision to make sure my health starts to turn around.

Sleep really is the secret to good health, fast racing and a happy mental outlook.  I am learning about optimum sleep habits, routines, relaxation techniques and meditation. To train and race and work and be a mom on only a few hours of sleep a night is straight up silly.  I think this is just a bump in the road and I know I will recover.  Life’s lesson- stay flexible and always prioritize your health.

I am open to any and all suggestions for curing this bout of insomnia.  What has worked for you?


Olga King
Mar 7, 2013 at 11:22 am

Jen, dear. This is so timely for me, although very painful for you. It’s been 7 years since my life stress level went through the roof, and practically never settled down. The insomnia, while is not a consistent item on daily basis, is something that follows me, and the thoughts are real. Seek help. Therapy? For immediate relief I often use Melatonin, and it seems for the most part give some rest – and not that I heard of bad side effects (though I never looked). I was on it practically daily for the last 3 months since discovering it. Hang on. I hear ya on cortisol and other crap too – just clawing my own way out.

Mar 7, 2013 at 11:25 am

Geez, you too? Sorry Olga- it’s a tough boat to be in. A female thing moreover? I wonder about the fine line that hormones play. Thanks for the advice on melatonin!

Erin Earle
Mar 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I used to have terrible insomnia — throughout my 20s & early 30s– a very stressful period. I was living in Japan at the time and ended up seeing an acupuncurist weekly. sleep issue solved!! I have had great success with acupuncture, off and on throughout the years, in the treatment of my sleep issues, depression & eating disorder troubles — you might want to give it a go. It is not a quick fix but rather a mellow/gradual one. It feels wonderful though, and it is very relaxing and excellent self-care if you can find a good practioner.
I am so sorry you are struggling! SO frustrating not being able to rest.

Mar 8, 2013 at 1:31 pm

My DH and I have had some bouts with insomnia (he worse than me at the moment, work stress – me seems to be more hormones – thyroid/estrogen/cortisol triad is a toughie). Things that have helped: melatonin, homeopathic remedies (Boiron brand Quietude, Bach Rescue Remedy Sleep Melts (DH finds those very helpful when he wakes in middle of night). I have allergies and there are only a few meds I can take for them – the one I take in the evening is 1/2 of a 25mg tab of Benadryl (or generic) – helps w/ allergies disrupting sleep and side benefit makes me drowsy – not guaranteed every night, but mostly. Meditation and relaxation breathing audio assistance, both at other times like bedtime or first thing, and via ipod when awake and wanting to sleep. One thing that makes a big difference for me is getting off the computer 2h before desired bedtime – hard, but my circadian is affected by computer/ipad in a way it’s not by TV (where I allow an hour). I actually just purchased some orange glasses/goggles that are supposed to filter blue light and help with evening computer work sleep issues. The last hour before bed is quiet book reading. I’ve also found that I sometimes wake up more during the night if I’ve eaten late – seems like my digestion competes w/ my sleep & repair processes. I sleep with an eye mask and I didn’t think it would help but it really does, at least with falling asleep initially. If/when I wake up to use the restroom, I take it off so that my wake light can work.

I assume docs are checking your calcium/magnesium levels, those matter for sleep.

For waking, I use a Phillips wake light that starts a light coming on dimly a while before the alarm goes off (mine is 30 min). If I’m getting good sleep, I’ll wake with the light. Knowing how I react to computer light, when I want to wake myself up, I grab my ipod and start checking email and twitter (fun at 4am!).

I want to try acupuncture for injury prevention/treatment, haven’t gotten to it yet. Good to know it might help with sleep, maybe DH could get help that way.

Wishing you all the best, and answers and relief soon.

Mar 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Thanks Melissa, That is super helpful. I really like the idea of holistic approaches and especially meditation and breathing. I’m curious what your hormones showed and if you did anything to get them at better levels. I’m testing those in a few weeks. Much peace to you!

Mar 10, 2013 at 8:57 am

The research on meditation/mindfulness/breathing is very strong in terms of dealing w/ stress, insomnia and it doesn’t take a lot of time to get benefits – many books avail, let me know if you need recs. There’s some data re yoga as well, and I have friends whose insomnia was eliminated from a regular practice. (I’m just reading The Last Best Cure by Donna Jackson Nazakawa now – which covers these topics and acupuncture, all from her perspective as a patient with many severe chronic conditions trying them out – and I am nodding my head a LOT.)

I know my doc has said that balancing that triad of hormones, which all interact and are affected by stress and aging is very difficult. I’m an interesting “case” hormonally. :) Perimenopausal, on continuous bc pills, which makes the estrogen-related testing iffy, but all those (last test anyway) showed normal. I can tell when my hormones shift (PMS-type mood swings). Adrenally, my cortisol was fine but DHEA was very low which can indicate long-term stress and be an early warning sign. Doc said I could supplement w/DHEA, took once & felt so energized it scared me – isn’t that sad, I felt so good it scared me – haven’t taken since. (due to a number of health conditions and risks I try to take as little stuff as I need esp things that could affect estrogen like DHEA – there’s a lot I already have to take, and it all interacts) Thyroid – long story, but make sure they check for antithyroid antibodies, free T4 and free T3 as well as TSH, and look for a good range of 0.3-3.0 of TSH (most places say 0.5-5.0 or 5.5 but I think a clinical endo society came out w/ tighter range years ago). There is a school of thought of treating if antibodies are present even if TSH is “normal”, would definitely suggest considering. Doc suggested I could supplement w/ Phosphatidyl Serine 100 mg (evening) to help sleep (supposedly helps w/ stress, anxiety, cortisol). I did for a while but things seemed to get better. I haven’t had any of them (except thyroid) retested. One weird thing I noted – for years I used to take one of those nasal allergy sprays (like Flonase, Nasonex) and decided to stop. Well, they’re in the steroid family, and when you stop a med like that, you can go into withdrawal, which causes adrenal problems/symptoms for a while. For several months I was sure I had hypoadrenal issues (symptoms were unpleasant), but eventually it resolved as my body adjusted.

Due to other conditions/sensitivities/risks, I’m on a fair number of dietary restrictions, which may help me some also. If you have food allergies or sensitivities they can show up in all sorts of ways so you may want to check yourself out in these areas. I’m gluten-free (gluten-intolerant if not celiac), almost dairy-free (whey protein and very rare cheese), GERD diet (no coffee, chocolate, citrus/citric acid, tomatoes, spicy foods). I am not full on Paleo, but eat only a little in non-gluten grains (rice, corn), rare potatoes (tho eat sweet potatoes daily), avoid most legumes. If you have autoimmune issues, some folks suggest no nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant) and no eggs. Haven’t gone quite that far tho maybe I should. Cook most veggies and fruits I do eat at least a little.

That was probably WAY more than you wanted/needed to know, but if it helps you or anyone reading, I’d be pleased to have been of help.

My best to all.

Mar 11, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Wow- I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to go through some really possible causes and solutions. I will certainly heed your suggestions and continue my research. I am sure this is helping not just me, but so many others. Best to you as well!

Tina F.
Mar 17, 2013 at 7:32 am

While I don’t have insomnia, I do have trouble winding down enough to get to sleep. I asked my boyfriend, who is a Neurologist, what he would suggest. Behavioral modification like not laying in bed when you’re not tired, not reading/watching TV in bed, and limiting fluids before bedtime. I’m sure you’ve already tried those as they are pretty common sense ideas. However, I am hooked on the Spoonk (ridiculous name). It’s an accupressure mat that you lay on and it puts me out within 30 minutes. I get so relaxed that i can’t keep my eyes open. They sell them at Whole Foods but they are super pricey. I got mine from amazon a few weeks ago after a fellow ICU Nurse recommended it to me. My bf is hooked on it too, so i got very excited when i saw there is a deal on them right now on Groupon. I live in Sacramento so you may need to change your location to my region to search for it. For $35 it’s worth a shot, right? Good luck to you.

Mar 17, 2013 at 8:51 am

Wow thanks for the idea of the accupressure mat. I will absolutely look into that.

Apr 12, 2013 at 11:10 am

Jen – was wondering how you’re doing now. Any improvement?





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