Gone are the days where I could fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Instead, I have what my doctor refers to as “intractable” insomnia, meaning it’s stubborn and difficult to treat. It appeared as one of my first Lyme disease symptoms, and it’s remained a problem throughout the last several years of treatment. My insomnia was so severe, I lost the ability to nap altogether, and I wondered if I’d ever regain that essential function. I had become a professional insomniac without trying.
In the early years, I tried every herb, supplement, medication, and lifestyle adjustment anyone suggested to me to get to sleep, and I spent a ton of money on things that were of no help to my situation. My body was begging for sleep, and yet, it was the one thing that seemed to elude me. But I refused to give up on obtaining some precious shut-eye, and I continued to experiment with a variety of products to support my sleep.
Although this aspect of my healing is still a work in progress, I’ve gone from zero sleep (which inevitably landed me in the ER) to sleeping about half the time most nights —a small victory for which I am grateful. I rejoice in any amount of healing that’s taken place in my body.
For most people, poor sleep with Lyme disease seems to be the norm rather than the exception. Over time, however, I’ve managed to gather a few items that consistently aid my ability to sleep, and I’d like to share those with you in this article. I call these supplements my “sleep cocktail.”
Below are five supplements I use to augment my insomnia treatment.
Poor Sleep with Lyme Disease
1. Phosphatidylserine: An adrenal saliva test I’d done a few years ago revealed elevated nighttime cortisol levels, which made it difficult to fall asleep because my body was constantly in fight mode. My Lyme-treating nurse practitioner recommended I give this supplement a try. Phosphatidylserine lowers cortisol levels. When I take it before bed, it reduces stress, lowers cortisol, and helps my body enter into a state of relaxation.
2. Liposomal glutathione: Glutathione is a master antioxidant and detoxifier in the body, and the liposomal form penetrates the gut lining for greater absorption into the bloodstream. A bottle of liposomal glutathione can be pricey, so I choose to reserve its use for when my neurological Lyme symptoms are flaring, or I’m experiencing a Herxheimer reaction from an aggressive Lyme disease treatment. With regards to sleep, taking the supplement at night seems to lessen my insomnia, reduce pain, and decrease the burning sensation I often feel in my brain and spinal cord.
3. Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland of your brain. It helps control your sleep-wake cycles and causes you to feel sleepy at night. Your body produces melatonin as it gets dark in preparation for you to fall asleep, and it decreases production when your eyes see the light. Since I routinely have trouble falling asleep, I’ve found melatonin to be useful in cutting down the time it takes me to fall asleep.
Additionally, I use a sleep mask to minimize my exposure to light and optimize my body’s melatonin production —which can potentially keep me awake. Darkness encourages the body to wind down.
4. CBD Oil: For the last seven years, I’ve dealt with throbbing nerve pain in my teeth and jaws due to chronic Lyme disease, which often keeps me up at night. Despite many dentist and doctor visits, no one had been able to come up with a way for me to control the pain. One doctor’s best guess was that I was experiencing facial muscle spasms. I spent several weeks seeing a chiropractor to work on my neck alignment and muscle tension, but my pain never improved. I’d resigned to the idea I would just have to “live with it.”
Enter CBD oil.
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I’ve heard of other patients having success with this supplement, but I’m in the beginning stages of exploring its benefits. During my research, I discovered a 2012 study involving mice that showed CBD oil was able to reduce chronic and neuropathic pain without the psychoactive effects of cannabis or other pain-relievers. Since CBD oil is now more widely available, I decided to give it a try. Although I’m new to using it, I can honestly say my facial nerve pain is significantly diminished, and I’m able to sleep better as a result of having less discomfort.
5. L-theanine: L-theanine is an amino acid precursor to the calming neurotransmitter called GABA. It crosses the blood-brain-barrier, and therefore, directly affects the central nervous system, helps reduce anxiety, and induces a state of calm. A unique property of L-theanine is that it doesn’t make you drowsy like some prescription sedatives or sleeps aids; rather, it slows down brain activity so that you can fall asleep. L-theanine is one of my favorite supplements, and I’ve used it as part of my sleep regimen for many years and so far, it hasn’t lost its effectiveness.
For many people, insomnia can be a disabling symptom of Lyme disease. Sleep is an essential component to recovery from any chronic illness. When you can’t sleep, you simply can’t function in a productive manner. In addition to the options that I’ve listed that have worked for me, there are a wide array of other natural sleep remedies that you may find helpful. If you’re having trouble sleeping, please don’t give up the search to find something that works for you. With some trial and error, you can create your own “sleep cocktail.”
I’d love to hear about the supplements that have helped you. Please feel to continue this conversation by leaving me a comment.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on June 20, 2017 and was updated on October 30, 2019.
ProHealth Editor and Content Manager Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and certified Pilates instructor whose life was transformed by Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and interstitial cystitis. She is creator of the DVD, A New Dawn Pilates: pilates-inspired exercises adapted for people with pelvic pain. Jenny is a health journalist who writes about her journey on The Lyme Road as she continues to pursue her personal healing with the support of her husband and two rescue pups. You can find her on Instagram: @jenny_buttaccio or Twitter: @jennybuttaccio.
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