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I’ve been on a health kick lately, reading about the effects of different vitamins and nutritional supplements, and have come across some surprising information about both the impact of not getting enough sleep, and the vast array of things that impact your ability to get continuous, uninterrupted, restorative sleep – the kind where you wake up the next morning raring to go, feeling energetic and joyful.

All that information made me think of you, my readers. As it turns out, insomnia is one of the most pervasive and persistent of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Even if there weren’t other statistics to support that statement, I would be able to tell just from the volume of responses to my post on insomnia. From the comments it’s clear that many people have struggled for months, if not years, with the effects of not being able to fall asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or simply waking up tired all the time.

Well, I have some good news for you. If you’ve been struggling with sleep issues, you’re not alone. (One in four people suffer from insomnia at some time in their lives, and the number is even higher for ex-smokers.) The good news is, there are some easy, inexpensive things you can do about it that will not only help you sleep, but will also improve your health in other ways.

The Impact of No Sleep

If you suffer from insomnia, I probably don’t have to tell you that it robs you of your joy and energy, and puts you at risk for returning to smoking. But did you know chronic insomnia is also associated with a whole host of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, anxiety, stroke, and potentially cancer? As an ex-smoker, the last thing you need is to increase your risk for any of those, right?

What’s NOT a Solution

You probably also instinctively shy away from sleep drugs like zolpidem (Ambien®), eszopiclone (Lunesta®), and temazepam (Restoril®). They may put you to sleep, but they result in poor sleep quality, which means you may be just about as tired as if you hadn’t slept – especially over the long term.

Or maybe you’ve resorted to them, desperate for a decent night’s sleep, but you know it’s not the best long-term solution.

So what can you do?

Here are five easy, inexpensive things to do right now to sleep better tonight. And they’re actually GOOD for you.

1. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that contributes to over 300 biochemical processes in your body. If you take a multivitamin, it probably has magnesium in it, but you still may not be getting enough. Magnesium deficiency is associated with all kinds of health issues including cardiovascular disease, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, depression, anxiety, and – you guessed it – insomnia. Magnesium deficiency is widespread, and if you drink carbonated beverages, caffeinated beverages, or alcohol, have a “sweet tooth,” or are over 55, you’re even more likely to be low in magnesium.

How to use it to help you sleep

You’ll want to take 400-500 mg of magnesium before you go to sleep. Ideally you want a chelated form (such as citrate, ascorbate, orotate, or glycinate). You can take capsules or tablets, or for a noticeable immediate benefit, get a magnesium powder that dissolves in water, and take that right before bed. Here’s a very affordable version from vitacost.

2. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland in response to darkness. When things are working right, melatonin production rises at night, and is lower in the morning. Exposure to some kinds of light (e.g., light from a TV or computer screen) can interfere with melatonin production, so it’s best to stay away from those as part of your bedtime routine. Melatonin production also tends to decrease as we get older, so if you’ve been smoking for years, you may have a double-whammy related to insomnia: Your melatonin production has dropped as a natural result of aging, and you also have insomnia related to nicotine withdrawal.

Melatonin has been shown to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, improve sleep quality and alertness after sleep, and reduce the number of times you wake up in the night, so no matter what form your insomnia takes, melatonin may help.

How to use it to help you sleep

Use sublingual* melatonin tablets or drops just before bed. Just put a tablet under your tongue if you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Within 10-15 minutes you should begin feeling relaxed and drowsy.  I don’t take melatonin routinely, but when I have trouble falling asleep, I use Source Naturals 2.5 mg peppermint sublingual tablets.

Here are some other options if you want to try a different dosage or flavor.  Whatever you choose, I definitely recommend using a sublingual version.  *Sublingual just means that instead of swallowing it, you put it under your tongue and let it melt. That allows it to be absorbed through your mucus membranes and enter your bloodstream directly, without going through your digestive tract. The benefit is that you feel the effects faster and it doesn’t matter if your belly is full or empty.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with an astonishing array of diseases and poor health outcomes ranging from bone problems to cancer, including sleep problems and restless leg syndrome. Deficiency is really common, as well, with some experts estimating that up to 80% of the US population has Vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Smoking depletes Vitamin D, so if you’re an ex-smoker and you haven’t been supplementing with a significant dose, you’re almost certainly deficient. (If you’re taking a multivitamin with the RDA of 400-800 IUs of Vitamin D, you’re probably still deficient. You can ask your doc to test you if you want to find out for sure, but you can also safely supplement with around 2,000 to 5,000 IUs a day without much concern about getting too much.)

How to use it to help you sleep

You won’t get the immediate relaxation from Vitamin D that you get with magnesium or melatonin, so consider this a longer-term strategy for improving your sleep. The recommended form is Vitamin D3, and it’s inexpensive, widely available, and typically comes in small softgels that are easy to swallow. Since Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is better absorbed if you take it with a meal. Here are the ones I use the Vitamin Shoppe brand of 5000 IUs, but you can choose a different dosage if you prefer.

I recommend taking vitamin D regardless of what other sleep solutions you decide to try – it’s inexpensive, useful, and hard to accidentally get too much of, so just consider it cheap insurance.

4. Potassium

Potassium is another of the minerals that has an impact on sleep. In particular, if you tend to wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, low potassium might be the culprit. You can increase the amount of potassium in your diet by eating more potassium-rich foods such as beans, leafy greens, avocados, and bananas, or by adding a potassium supplement.

How to use it to help you sleep

If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, consider keeping bananas on hand to have for a midnight snack, or just eating one before bed.

5. Progesterone Cream

This suggestion isn’t for everyone, but particularly if you are a near-menopause or post-menopausal woman, you may find progesterone cream helpful. Progesterone is one of the hormones that declines with age, and supplementing with it can help you relax and sleep at night. (If you’re concerned about news of hormone replacement causing cancer and other diseases, rest assured: real progesterone cream is a bioidentical* hormone which is molecularly identical to the hormones made in your own body, not the patentable progestin and/or horse-urine-derived Premarin that were implicated in the disease outcomes detailed in the Women’s Health Initiative study.)

How to use it to help you sleep

Progesterone cream is available over the counter at many drug stores, or you can order it online. It’s simple to use – just rub the recommended amount (usually ¼ to ½ a teaspoon) into your skin about 30 minutes before bed. It works best when used routinely, but the effects are pretty immediate.

I’ve used a couple different versions, and find that the Source Naturals progesterone cream works well, and it also absorbs better than some of the others I’ve tried, which left me feeling sticky.

*For a detailed explanation of the difference between bioidentical hormones vs. non-bioidentical along with some of the effects of balancing hormones, read this.

 If you try one of these, or find something else that works well for you, please share your experiences in the comments below.

How to Stay Relaxed Without Smoking

This post is part of a myth-busting series about quitting smoking.  Good news: You do NOT have to give up your ability to relax or deal with stress!

Dear Advisor,

If I quit smoking, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to relax – I can’t handle even the thought of a stressful situation without a cigarette.


Stressed and still smoking

Dear Stressed,

Most smokers share a sense of anxiety about dealing with stressful events without smoking.  In fact, this may be one of the most common reasons people go back to smoking after they’ve quit.

I’ve got some really good news for you, though.  It’s not only possible to deal with stressful situations without smoking, it’s actually easier, once you create the correct circumstances for yourself.

Let’s look at what happens when you, as a smoker, experience stress:

[click to continue…]


Are You Willing to Question Your Beliefs?

In my last post I talked about the idea that quitting will become easier if you can wrap your brain around the idea that quitting is not actually about “giving up” something.

It’s normal to feel that quitting IS about giving something up – most people do.  But when you start from that viewpoint you’re halfway down the path of failure, because no matter how much you want to quit, you’re just not fully committed.

It’s not win-win.

It’s not all good.

There’s this dark side to quitting for you that sounds like, “I’m losing my best friend.”  “I won’t be able to enjoy my coffee any more.”  “I can’t relax without a cigarette.”  “I can’t de-stress without a cigarette.”  “I can’t have any fun without a cigarette, and I’m gonna end up fat and cranky and miserable, and maybe even divorced and unemployed, and it’s just not worth it.” [click to continue…]


Why is quitting so hard?

I get this question a lot in one version or another. It’s a sensible question – quitting something you know is killing you, that’s expensive and messy and inconvenient – that should be easy, right? But somehow it’s not.

The truth is, there are a lot of things that make quitting challenging – the addictive nature of nicotine, the extent to which smoking is associated with all of the things that we do, from eating to relaxing, the fear of withdrawal. But there’s really only one thing that makes quitting hard.

What makes quitting hard is this:The idea that when you quit you’re really giving up something. If you are a long-term smoker, you almost certainly have a deep-seated belief that quitting means that you won’t enjoy life as much (or at all) after you quit. That belief is what makes quitting difficult.

If instead you really had the sense of breaking free – if you expected quitting to feel like you’d just finished paying off a debt, or just completed a difficult task, you would end up approaching quitting with a completely different view. And that different view would give you a completely different way of being around quitting: You would be excited and joyful about the prospect of what was to come.  You wouldn’t be able to help it, that’s just what it would feel like to you.

And guess what? Quitting under those circumstances would actually be easy, despite the challenges associated with it.

I’m planning to spend the next few posts talking about some of the misconceptions around smoking and quitting that feed into the view that quitting means giving something up. It does not, despite your experience that makes it feel like it does. If you can get – at an experiential level – the fact that quitting is NOT about giving anything up, quitting will actually become easy for you.

I invite you to use the comment section to say what you feel you’d have to give up if you quit, and I’ll try to address it in an upcoming post.


I’ve quit – why can’t I sleep?

Dear Advisor,

Three weeks ago I quit smoking cold turkey after smoking for 25 years. It was very hard, but hardest of all has been the insomnia I have been experiencing since then. Any advice?

Sleepless & Exhausted

Dear Sleepless,

Congratulations on quitting – that’s a HUGE accomplishment! The next step, of course, is to get through the aftermath of quitting without going back to smoking, right?

Insomnia is a common problem after quitting, but rest assured it’s temporary – once your body adjusts to not smoking, you will sleep better than before, and wake up much more rested than you did when you were smoking.

tired woman

What’s happening is this: Nicotine affects your sleep patterns, and after you quit, it takes your body a few weeks to readjust to the new patterns. Research shows that smokers spend more time in alpha (light) sleep, and less time in delta (deep) sleep. When you quit, some of the time you were spending in light sleep ends up breaking the surface into wakefulness, meaning that you wake up multiple times during the night.

The good news is, as long as you stay off of nicotine, within a few weeks your body will gradually adjust on its own so that you revert to the sleep of a non-smoker: more time in deep, restorative sleep, less time in light sleep, and no waking up multiple times in the middle of the night.

In the meantime, you need to get some sleep, right?

The normal techniques for dealing with insomnia should help you get some sleep during this adjustment period, as well as help to get your body on track for normal restorative sleep patterns:

  • Don’t get reliant on sleeping medication.
  • Keep regular sleep hours.
  • Don’t spend hours laying in bed awake – if you can’t get back to sleep get up and do something for a little bit until you feel sleepy again.
  • Avoid nicotine, excess caffeine, and napping.
  • Develop a relaxing nighttime routine to prepare your brain for sleep.

If you need more help, take a look at this article about insomnia and what to do about it.


Share your experience with others: Have you had trouble sleeping after quitting smoking? What did you do to deal with the problem? How long did it take for you to get back to normal sleep patterns?

Ask the Advisor a Question

If you haven’t managed to quit yet, but still want to, read more about the Complete Quit System and how it deals with the psychological aspects of quitting.


Cold Turkey Withdrawal – How to Avoid It

Dear Advisor,

I’m planning to quit smoking soon, and I’m wondering, what are the withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking cold turkey?

Cold-Turkey Quitter

Dear Cold-Turkey Quitter,

There are many withdrawal symptoms that can occur when you quit smoking cold turkey.  They include headaches, anxiety, itchiness, insomnia, restlessness, muscle cramps, fatigue, cotton mouth, heart palpitations, drowsiness, sore throat, poor concentration, tremors, constipation, digestive problems, irritability, hunger, thirst, dizziness, sensitivity, and the list goes on.

Yes, it’s a long list of symptoms, most of which are a result of the rapid depletion of nicotine from your body that happens when you quit cold turkey.

The good news is, even if you do decide to quit cold turkey, it’s very unlikely that you’ll experience all of these symptoms. The even better news is that there are ways to minimize the withdrawal symptoms you do experience.

The simplest way to minimize withdrawal symptoms [click to continue…]


I’ve quit for 4 days – when do the cravings go away?!

Dear Advisor,

I’ve stopped smoking now for 4 days and am finding it really hard today. I’ve got a headache and feel sick – is it because I’ve stopped smoking? How long do cravings last?

In a Funk

Dear Funk,

A headache is one of the classic nicotine withdrawal symptoms, so it’s quite likely this is because you have just quit, especially if you quit cold turkey. I’m not sure about the ‘feeling sick.’ If you mean you feel nauseous and achey, you may simply have the flu. If you’re referring to a general feeling of malaise – listlessness, respiratory issues, etc., those may well be withdrawal symptoms. The good news is, these symptoms will pass, generally within a few days if not sooner, provided you don’t return to smoking. (Intermittent cigarettes may feel like they temporarily relieve some of the withdrawal, but in the long run it just makes them go on for longer.)

You also ask ‘how long the cravings will last.’ The answer to that question [click to continue…]


I’ve quit smoking – now how do I stop eating?

Dear Advisor,

Here it is, mid-January, and I did manage to quit smoking for 2010, so far at least.  However, now I have another problem:  my middle is expanding noticeably.  In fact, I’ve already outgrown several of my pants.  I know why – it’s because I’m eating almost constantly!  Any advice?


Smoke-free but Still Growing…

Dear Growing,

First, congratulations on quitting – that’s a HUGE accomplishment.  Just for some perspective, the health risks of smoking outweigh the health risks of being overweight so dramatically that you’d have to double or even triple your body weight to even come close to equivalent risks.

So make no mistake, even if you’re gaining weight, quitting was the right move, health-wise.

Vanity-wise, though, no one wants to be overweight, and there are some things you can do to begin to put a stop to that out-of-control [gravy] train.

1.  The first thing to do is [click to continue…]


New Year’s Resolution 2010

Dear Advisor,

We’re just a few days into 2010, and I’ve already failed at my New Year’s resolution – again. I really, really want to quit smoking, but no matter what I do, nothing works.

I’m tired of making the same old New Year’s resolution every year, only to fail, over and over again. Is it possible I just don’t have enough willpower to quit?  Do you have any advice that will help me quit permanently?


Tried & Tired in Denver

Dear Tired,

I do have some advice for you, and in the spirit of the New Year, I predict that 2010 will be the year that you finally quit for good.  Here are three things you can do right now to improve your chances of success: [click to continue…]


How to Kill the Dragon

Dear Advisor,

I’ve been smoking for about 45 years, and recently I tried the 3-month program using Chantix.  I’ve been off the pills just over two months now and I haven’t smoked, but my life is a mess trying to stay quit.

iStock_000004741362Small-narrowI get up around 1 PM then sit-lay-sleep on couch till about 3 AM when I go to bed. I try to sleep as much as I can to avoid smoking.  I usually don’t bother getting dressed, sit around in my robe.  I often go a week before taking a shower.

None of this was me 4 months ago.

Before quitting I was an active person.  Now I’ve turned into a recluse trying to avoid places where I smoked.  I have a nice hobby machine shop I can tinker in but I don’t because I always smoked while in the shop.

I constantly crave cigarettes, and it’s not getting any easier as time goes by.  Any advice will be sincerely appreciated.


Down & Out

Dear Down,

I am not a clinician, so this isn’t an official diagnosis, but it seems clear that you are suffering from depression.  Part of your depression is likely related to the grief process as a result of quitting smoking, but you’ve experienced some other major losses lately, too.

All of the things you used to like to do that you are now avoiding [click to continue…]