Insomnia Cure: Protein Powder for the Temple Body

 Badami Cave Temple Columns, photo by Mukul Banerjee; creative commons license.

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If the body is a temple, then we need to be aware of  when we’ve let it fall into disrepair.  Nothing makes its normal upkeep more difficult than lack of sleep.

For the past three years or more, I’ve had chronic insomnia.  Rarely has there been a night when I’ve slept all the way through, and if I could get 4 to 6 hours straight on a workday’s night, then that was sheer heaven.  Often, I’d have trouble falling asleep and then I’d wake every few hours.  It became part of my natural sleep cycle…to not sleep.  My energy would flag at the office, and then I’d come home every single day and crash on the sofa for an hour or so.  No matter how tired I’d be at bedtime, even after a nap, I couldn’t sleep.

People gave me lots of advice.  Quit caffeine.  Yep, I did.  Exercise daily. Did that, too.  No difference, even when I was doing cardio and weights 5 to 7 times a week for over an hour each day. 

My favorite?  “You just need to learn to quiet the mind.”  Duh.  I learned to meditate years ago.  That was, at times, of some help in falling asleep but not in keeping myself asleep.  In most cases, it wasn’t a matter of quieting my mind at all or destressing before bedtime. I learned a long time ago not to read email immediately before bedtime or talk to anyone with a history of saying upsetting things to me.

Plenty of people, including doctors, shrugged it off as being perimenopausal and something I should just accept.  Well, I sure didn’t like that answer.  When I had a hot live-in boyfriend, I could overlook the insomnia somewhat and remind myself that he was going to keep me awake anyhow…but in the mornings, boy, was I dragging to work!

But for the past month, I have slept SOUNDLY, every single night but one…and that was a night with a relative who insisted on telling me a horrific and visually disturbing story right before bedtime.  Other than that, I have suddenly begun to sleep at least 6 hours a night (my normal need) without waking even once, and I fall asleep easily, too.  I’ve also stopped coming home every day and crashing on the sofa or feeling zonked after a workout. 

The one specific change I made was to add a protein supplement to my diet.

I’ve read recently that some whey protein powders actually cause insomnia, or at least certain brands do.  I don’t know about that, but I do know that the one change to increase my protein has made a big difference in how I sleep and therefore how I feel.  It’s been as stark as an on-off light switch. 

While chatting with a fitness coach, I realized that my protein intake has been too low.  I’ve been focusing on veggies more and eating healthy meals but I simply haven’t been eating enough protein.  Too often, I’m too busy to eat a full meal, get interrupted at work while grabbing lunch at my desk, or don’t get a chance to leave a meeting and eat until 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  Work can be crazy like that sometimes, especially if I’m in all-day meetings that don’t break for lunch and I look around and see everyone sneaking candy bars out of the vending machines and downing Coke after Coke all day.  I’ve resorted to a piece of fruit or crackers or something somewhat healthier but it’s still not enough fuel for my…temple.  By the end of the work day, the utilities are pretty dim!

After this conversation, I started keeping better logs of my meals so I could think more about nutritional values and my protein ratio.  I immediately began starting my days with a small glass of fat-free milk with whey protein powder and following up any workouts with the same.  I didn’t replace meals with protein shakes but simply added protein powder as a supplement to my normal meals, especially the skimpy ones where I couldn’t break free of work for a fresh, hot lunch.

The effect is that I now have an early morning boost of energy and stay boosted throughout the day.  I don’t feel as if I’ll fall asleep at mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and I don’t go home and nap.  I have the energy to go home and workout, and when I go to bed at night, the sheets feel yummy and I just fall right asleep.  If I sound like I’m gushing, well, sleep has eluded me for a long, long time!

I’ve used egg white protein in blender shakes before but it was recommended that I try whey protein powder. I  stopped by the most convenient grocery store I could find and bought a big tub of chocolate whey powder (Pure Protein) that has 25 grams of protein, 2 grams of sugar, and 140 calories.  I like chocolate so it seemed an easy answer.   I decided to go ahead and get something in vanilla, too, but my choices were limited.  I finally picked Designer Whey’s Biggest Loser Vanilla Bean Protein Powder, mainly because the grocery store had a special $3 off sale.  I was really turned off by the special branding of the product with TV’s Biggest Loser promotion.  I tend to dislike celebrity promotions of that sort, I don’t watch TV much at all, and I wasn’t using protein to lose weight.  It also had a lot less protein than the first tub of whey– 6 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber (different), 1 gram of fat, and 50 calories.  However, I wanted to experiment a little.

As it turns out, I wasn’t that thrilled with the chocolate protein powder.  I liked the taste but I really dislike clumps of undissolved powder on top of my drink, and it takes a hand-blender to get Pure Protein as smooth as I like.  For that reason, I don’t use it as often and usually only after a really intense workout.  That said, my young college student often finds that she misses meals or doesn’t have time for a full meal between classes and she absolutely loves the chocolate protein shake when she’s on the run.

The Designer Whey vanilla bean was much better than I expected.  In fact, I think it’s delicious and I’m really picky about the taste of vitamins and supplements.  Most of the time, I complain that supplements taste like either cardboard (which this does in water) or swamp water.  I was extremely pleased with the taste in skim milk. 

Though I know whey protein is the cause of insomnia for some people,  it gives me the added fuel I need to run my temple on, and at night the lights are all on in the halls, it’s quiet and tranquil, and there’s nothing stirring but the rhythmic sound of deep sleep.

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