Category Archives: Insomnia

Natural Supplements and Vitamins for Relief of Migraine and Neuropathic Facial Pain

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Updated: 11 Aug 2019

Disclaimer: This article is not medical advice: this is my experience only. The items listed here should not be used to diagnose, treat, or manage any condition. If you are on medication, you should not stop it without your physician’s knowledge and approval. Do not take any of these vitamins or supplements if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.

It began with a migraine and a strange feeling in one of my teeth. Actually, it was more like a strangely noticeable lack of feeling in the tooth: when I tapped it, it was almost as if the tooth weren’t in my mouth any longer. A migraine came and went, as usual, but the odd sensation in the tooth remained. A few days later, I had another migraine, which also came and went in a pattern I was accustomed to. The next week, despite having passed its annual inspection, my car’s radiator cracked and blew the engine, leaving me stranded at the side of the road and, worse, without any vehicle in an area where there is no public transportation. The stress of having to suddenly and unexpectedly find another (used) vehicle triggered another migraine. When I went to my doctor a few days later, he asked what had caused the increase in the migraine attacks, and I dutifully related my recent woes. “Reduce your stress,” he said before adding nonchalantly, “Oh, by the way, did I tell you I’m retiring at the end of the month?”

By the I got back home, I had another migraine. When I called for a refill on my pain pills, I was told it would be the last one the doctor could refill: he’d decided to retire at the end of the week instead of at the end of the month. Now I had only one bottle of 30 pain pills (Tylenol 3), had just lost the doctor I’d been seeing for thirteen years, and couldn’t get in to see a new doctor for at least 6 months. Despite my learning later that the odd-feeling tooth was infected and despite my having the tooth extracted, the migraine attacks did not relent. They were not only increasing in frequency but in duration. Instead of lasting 3-5 days as they usually did, each attack was lasting about two weeks. Then 3 weeks. A month. Six weeks. Early in 2018, I had a migraine that, to date, has lasted almost 15 months. The migraine had become chronic, intractable, refractory, status migrainosus, and any other benign-sounding words invented for this type of constant, debilitating pain.

After staying in bed the first three months of this migraine in 2018, I knew I had to find alternative ways to handle the situation. I wasn’t willing to be in bed the rest of my life, nor could I keep taking opioids every day. Saving the pain pills to use only during a hemiplegic migraine attack (whose pain is literally unbearable), I switched to aspirin for the refractory migraine, which is a migraine without aura. Aspirin is legal without a prescription and, for me, as effective as Tylenol 3 on that particular type of migraine, which means the aspirin takes the fiercest edge off the pain off but does not eliminate it. Since I wasn’t sure what was triggering this incessant migraine and feared it might be ingredients like dyes or preservatives, I began taking GeriCare aspirin, which includes only aspirin and cornstarch. I began using a sound wave device to help reduce the migraine pain, and it helped enough that I began to believe that the abscessed tooth, extracted in 2017, had damaged the middle branch of the trigeminal nerve and was triggering the refractory migraine. I had enough success to begin to get out of bed for a couple hours each day though I still had the unending migraine (I was wearing the sound wave device in a headband-sleeve during the day and sleeping with it under my pillow at night).

Six months later, when I was diagnosed with atypical trigeminal neuralgia (also called neuropathic facial pain) and put on Gabapentin, the constant facial pain and pressure were slightly reduced, but the excruciating lightning-bolt pain was not changed at all. Gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication used for hemiplegic migraine, did not affect the refractory migraine in any noticeable way. I began to be convinced that the months-long intractable migraine, whose pain is in the uppermost branch of the trigeminal nerve, was being triggered by the damage in the middle branch of the trigeminal nerve, damage which had originated with that odd-feeling tooth the previous year. Traditional medicine had not yet eliminated my pain, so I sought alternative, natural approaches to encourage my body to heal itself. After extensive investigation and several months of experimentation, I found quite a few supplements and vitamins that consistently reduce the pain of both the migraine and the neuropathic facial pain (atypical trigeminal neuralgia).

Although I thoroughly researched everything I wanted to try for pain relief, I never took more than one new supplement or vitamin at a time, and I discontinued any that triggered a hemiplegic migraine, aggravated the refractory migraine or neuropathic facial pain, or did not noticeably reduce either pain. I also started with the minimum amount of any one item to make sure I didn’t have any allergic reactions. Because so many supplements and vitamins have natural sweeteners (such as honey or stevia), artificial sweeteners (such as sucralose or maltodextrin), or preservatives, all of which trigger hemiplegic migraine attacks in me, I have included only those versions of the supplements with the fewest ingredients. Please note that I also made my doctor aware of all the vitamins and supplements I was taking to help reduce the chronic pain.

Natural Supplements
for Pain Relief *

 

Natural Vitality Calm (Magnesium)
Magnesium supplements are often recommended for people diagnosed with migraine, and I started taking Natural Vitality Calm magnesium after the refractory migraine began its second month. Since too much magnesium too quickly can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, I started with a ½ teaspoon each night and slowly worked my way up to the recommended dosage of 2 teaspoons a day. I tried splitting the dose into 1 teaspoon each morning and night, but as it didn’t make the migraine go away and as I sleep better with the Calm at night, I now take the entire dose at night about an hour before bed. (I dissolve it in about ¼ cup of hot water and drink it when it’s cool.) If I miss the Calm for a few days, as I did when I had the flu, both the pain of the refractory migraine and of the trigeminal neuralgia increase. The Calm alone does not entirely eliminate the pain, but in conjunction with the other items, it does help lower the pain level.

Natural Vitality (unflavored, plain) Calm ingredients are Ionic magnesium citrate, made from a proprietary blend of citric acid and magnesium carbonate. Calm is also available in individual packets, for when you are away from home.

Calm is available in several flavors, and each flavor comes in different sizes: lemon (8-oz or 16-oz plastic bottles), raspberry-lemon (8-oz or 16-oz), cherry (8-oz or 16-oz), or orange (8-oz or16-oz). Since the flavored versions contain stevia, which triggers migraine attacks if I consume it, I have only tried the plain flavor.

I buy the unflavored Calm in the larger 16-oz size, which is more cost-effective( less packaging), and it’s cheaper to buy the pack of two 16-oz bottles (my guy uses the other bottle, and the magnesium eliminates his nightly leg cramps). Taking the recommended dosage of 2 teaspoons/day, one 16-oz bottle of Calm lasts me a year.

Lemon and Raspberry-Lemon are also available in two-pack of 16-oz bottles for significant savings, as is Cherry. Natural Vitality Calm is available as capsules in bottles of (120 or 180) or as gummies in bottles of (120 or 240); reviewers note that both capsules and gummies are as effective as the powder formula at reducing anxiety and insomnia, so there is reason to believe that the capsules and gummies would also both help with pain relief. (As soon as I try the capsules and gummies, I’ll update this post.)

Deep Sleep
I am plagued with insomnia before and during a migraine. The insomnia worsened with the neuropathic facial pain. Initially, I thought the extensive facial pain was due to the refractory migraine and not, as I now believe, vice versa. After the migraine lasted three months, I wondered if the accompanying insomnia was, in fact, extending or perhaps re-triggering the migraine. In addition to recommending the Natural Vitality Calm magnesium supplement, my medical massage therapist takes Deep Sleep, and she let me have a few pills to try them. I didn’t fall asleep, but within thirty minutes of taking one softgel, I noticed that the migraine pain was slightly less.

At least three of Deep Sleep’s herbal ingredients — California poppy, valerian, and oat seed in milky form — are also noted for pain relief. I began taking the Deep Sleep every day, for pain, not just to combat insomnia, and it helps lower the pain. I’ve tried Deep Sleep in liquid form (with alcohol in 2-oz or 4-oz bottles, and without alcohol in a 2-oz bottle) and in soft gel form. All three versions of Deep Sleep reduced the pain, though I thought the liquid form with alcohol worked slightly better on the pain than did the version without alcohol. (All three forms of Deep Sleep helped with insomnia.) I now take one softgel tablet 3 times a day for convenience (total = 600mg/day); using the softgel tablets allows me to put the Deep Sleep in a  small bottle with all my other medications and supplements for the day.

The Deep Sleep softgel ingredients are alcohol-free organic concentrated extracts of California poppy, valerian, passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, oat (seed in milky stage), and orange peel; and the proprietary blend is equal to 200 mg per softgel. Deep Sleep softgels come in bottles of 60 or 120 softgel capsules, and the larger bottle saves considerable money. Deep Sleep noticeably reduces migraine pain and neuropathic facial pain.

California Poppy
Because California poppy is the first ingredient listed in Deep Sleep, I bought a bottle of that as well when I realized that the Deep Sleep was reducing the refractory migraine pain. When one manufacturer ran out and didn’t know when the item would be in stock again, I didn’t bother to find more of it: the pain increased. After I began taking it again, the pain returned to its lower level. Adding California poppy to the Deep Sleep helped reduce the pain, and I take one tablet 3 times a day (total = 1500mg/day).

Secrets of the Tribe California Poppy only has one active ingredient: 500 mg of organic California poppy, dried herb and flower, in a pure gelatin capsule. Secrets of the Tribe California Poppy comes in bottles of 90 or 230 capsules; as with other products, the larger size is more cost-effective.

Valerian
Valerian is an herbal supplement that has been used to alleviate insomnia and anxiety. Valerian also seems to reduce pain. When I began taking some valerian during the day during this atrociously long migraine attack, I immediately noticed that the pain level was lowered. I use NOW Valerian because they don’t include any preservatives, colors, flavorings, or other unnecessary ingredients in any of their products.

NOW Valerian ingredients is 500 mg valerian root in a cellulose capsule. NOW Valerian comes in bottles of 100 and 250 capsules, and the larger bottle, because it contains less packaging, is noticeably cheaper to purchase. In addition to taking valerian for the chronic pain, I take 1-3 more valerian at night before bed to help me sleep better.

Ginger
I tried turmeric capsules when this migraine first started, and then tried supplements that combined turmeric and ginger since both have reputations as anti-inflammatories. Each time I’ve tried anything with turmeric, however, it’s triggered a hemiplegic migraine. Since I eat crystallized ginger and use it in my tea all the time (it’s provides natural nausea relief during a migraine attack, but I also happen to love ginger), I decided to try ginger in a capsule form to get a higher concentration. I prefer NOW Ginger for the same reason that I use its other products: because NOW doesn’t contain so many of the nasty things that trigger migraine attacks for me. At first, I didn’t think the ginger was having any effect. When I ran out, and the pain level spiked upward, I got more ginger capsules right away. I take one 550 mg capsule 3 times a day, and, with everything else, the ginger keeps the pain level lower.

NOW Ginger ingredients are 550 mg ginger root in a gelatin capsule, magnesium stearate from a vegetable source, and silica. NOW ginger comes in 100-capsule bottles, and also in a 2 pack of 100 capsules, but it’s cheaper to purchase multiple bottles of the 100-capsules than to buy the more expensive 2-pack version.

Methylcobalamin Vitamin B-12
Researchers discovered that people who have dental or other surgical procedures on their head or face and who develop neuropathic facial pain (formerly called trigeminal neuralgia) may be deficient in vitamin B-12. “Nutritional experts suggest that the most effective form [of B-12] is methylcobalamin,” not the cheaper, more readily available cyanocobalamin version of B-12, which must, in any event, be converted by the body into the methylcobalamin form of B-12 to be used for effective pain relief. Injections of B12 have helped some facial pain patients, but not all of us can afford the injections. Though the Facial Pain Association recommends sublingual methylcobalamin B-12, I have thus far been unable to find any versions that do not contain maltodextrin or stevia, both of which are migraine triggers for me. Fortunately, the PURE capsule version significantly reduces the neuropathic facial pain and the refractory migraine pain that seems to have been triggered by the atypical trigeminal neuralgia which started in 2017.

PURE Encapsulations methylcobalamin B-12 has only one ingredient: 1,000 mcg B-12 as methylcobalamin, in hypoallergenic plant fiber (cellulose) vegetarian capsules (cellulose, water). PURE methylcobalamin vitamin B-12 comes in bottles of 60 or 180 capsules. PURE methylcobalamin vitamin B-12 also comes in a liquid form (30 ml bottle), but it contains stevia as well as the preservative potassium sorbate, so I cannot take it (if those two ingredients do not trigger migraine or neuropathic facial pain  for you, please do let me know  how the liquid version works).

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
In a “multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial” with diabetes patients experiencing neuropathic pain, Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) reduced their pain, suggesting that ALA plays a “broader role than just simply being an antioxidant.” Although many foods contain ALA, including beets, brussels sprouts, carrots, and potatoes, higher doses of ALA may be needed to repair any damage to the trigeminal nerve.

Research with diabetics taking ALA supplements revealed that it can lower blood sugar. Since I have hypoglycemia (diagnosed over thirty years ago after several episodes in which I lost consciousness from very low blood sugar levels), this ALA-lowered blood sugar was initially a problem for me, and caused some hypoglycemia-related dizziness and cold sweats. I started the ALA at a low dosage and, with my physician’s supervision, slowly increased it. ALA has also been shown to interact with some medications, so do not take it without checking first with your medical provider.

Since taking ALA, the neuropathic facial pain and the migraine pain have both been noticeably lowered. Further, along with the methylcobalamin B-12, the ALA significantly reduces both the constant neuropathic facial pain and slightly reduces the severity of the lancinating pain triggered by things like coughing, sneezing, lying on my pillow, or touching my face.

One of the bestselling ALA supplements is Nutricost ALA, but it doesn’t make it clear whether its ALA is the natural (R) or synthetic (S) version, so I can only assume it’s the synthetic version. (Update: I tried a bottle of Nutricost ALA, and it triggered 2 hemiplegic migraine attacks in 10 days, so one of the ingredients used to make the capsules is something I cannot tolerate.)  I take Simply Nature’s Pure ALA, which contains 300 mg each the R-ALA (natural form) and the S-ALA (synthetic form) version. Simply Nature’s Pure also offers a money-back guarantee if you do not find that their ALA helps with your pain, which influenced my choice of their product.

The pain of the constant and refractory migraine (without aura), even if caused by damage to the middle branch of the trigeminal nerve from the originally abscessed tooth, has also been reduced by the ALA. The more severe pain of hemiplegic migraine or of migraine with aura is also improved by my taking ALA. No matter the type of migraine attack I may be having — refractory/constant (without aura), with aura, or hemiplegic — the ALA significantly reduces pain. I now take 3 capsules a day (total 900 mg of R-ALA and 900 mg S-ALA) of Simply Nature’s Pure Alpha Lipoic Acid.

Simply Nature’s Pure Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) ingredients are 300 mg R-ALA (natural) and 300 mg S-ALA (synthetic), vegetable capsule. Simply Nature’s Pure ALA comes in a bottle of 120 capsules, and if you find that the ALA works for your migraine attacks or trigeminal neuralgia or both, it is significantly cheaper to buy the 2-pack or 3-pack of ALA 120 capsules.

Supplements and vitamins to reduce migraine and  neuropathic facial pain
• Natural Vitality Calm magnesium
• Deep Sleep
• California poppy
• valerian root
• ginger root
• Methylcobalamin vitamin B-12
• Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

All of these natural supplements and vitamins make a noticeable difference in lowering the pain level of this neuropathic facial pain (atypical trigeminal neuralgia) and the refractory migraine. Is any one of them more responsible for the pain relief than the others? In reality, I believe that it is the synergistic effect of them all that is finally significantly reducing the pain, but if I were forced to choose only one or two of these supplements, I’d start with the ALA and the methylcobalamin B-12. Since I am beginning to have a few pain-free hours each day, I am optimistic that eventually, as the nerve damaged by the originally abscessed tooth continues to heal, I will one day be mostly free of the atypical trigeminal neuralgia as well as of the refractory migraine, which I think is being triggered by the neuropathic facial pain. At the very least, I’ve found a combination of natural supplements and vitamins that have helped me reduce the severe pain of both these conditions and allowed me to regain control of my life.


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Filed under Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia, chronic pain, Chronic Pain Treatment, healing, health, Health and Wellness, hemiplegic migraines, Infratonic 9, Infratonic Sound Devices, Insomnia, migraine, migraine self-care, Migraine Treatment, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines, Neruopathic Facial Pain, Neuropathic Facial Pain, trigeminal neuralgia, trigeminal neuropathy

Sleep Well: The Best Free Self-Hypnosis Meditation App for Insomnia Relief

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Insomnia can be triggered by both good and bad life events, and this sleep disorder can hit anyone at any time since it has multiple causes (discussed more fully here). Short term or “acute” insomnia can be caused by common illnesses such as colds or flu; chronic illness, disease, and various neurological disorders can cause acute insomnia to become chronic. Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications, along with some herbal remedies, can bring on this sleep disorder, though not for everyone. In both men and women, trauma, whether physical or emotional, can have lifetime negative health effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and insomnia, while childhood trauma, including divorce or sexual abuse, contribute to insomnia in childhood and adulthood. The blue light from our digital devices, including flat-screen televisions, smartphones, and tablets ,can contribute to insomnia when used to close to bedtime, because they suppress melatonin, and researchers have learned that the brain seems to have its very own wake and sleep cycles, which can get stuck on “wake,” preventing sleep.

Since the quantity and quality of sleep affects our health, and since insomnia can lead to “decreased quality of life, increased rates of depression, and even increased risk of heart disease,” insomnia, especially when it becomes chronic, should not be dismissed. Chronic insomnia, medically defined as an inability to fall or stay asleep for at least three nights a week for three months or longer, is not just extremely unpleasant: it’s dangerous to our mental and physical well-being. Though I use both Sleep with Me Podcast (reviewed here) and Relax Melodies (reviewed here) to ease insomnia, Surf City’s free self-hypnosis meditation app Sleep Well Insomnia Relief was in my self-care kit for years before I found the previously mentioned apps, and I still use it regularly, with reliable success.

Sleep Well Insomnia Relief
Self-Hypnosis & Meditation
by Surf City Apps

If you’re not familiar with self-hypnosis, please be assured that it is nothing like what’s shown in horror or suspense films. No matter how skilled the therapist, meditation leader, or professional hypnotist, hypnosis meditations cannot make you do anything you do not wish to. I regularly use Surf City’s Migraine Relief and Chronic Pain Relief (reviewed here), and having successfully used them, I was happy to try Sleep Well.

Surf City Apps produces professionally scripted hypnosis-meditation apps with professional background audio. Each script is read by a certified clinical hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy instructor; the same person narrates the Migraine Relief, Chronic Pain Relief, and Sleep Well Insomnia Relief meditations: I find her voice and delivery calming and relaxing. The meditations in these apps are not hidden by music, are clearly audible at any volume, and the free versions contain the exact same narration as the paid (Pro) version. That means you can listen to the free version of Sleep Well Insomnia Relief and hear absolutely everything that is said in the paid version.

Surf City’s Sleep Well self-hypnosis meditation for the relief of insomnia has over 4.4 out of 5 stars with almost 660 user reviews on the App Store, and 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 1,800 user reviews on Google Play. I especially like playing Sleep Well with Relax Melodies, since it features various sounds and melodies in “background support” mode, so you can choose your own background — setting the Background in Sleep Well to “None” — to play behind the self-hypnosis meditation.

The controls are identical in all versions of the Surf City apps and are very easy to use. The settings are relatively self-explanatory, though some brief descriptions are sometimes included, as in the definition of what Hypnotic Booster does. Since you can listen to the entire self-hypnosis narration free, I advise you to listen to Seep Well Insomnia Relief as long as you want. These are only a few differences between the free and the paid versions of this app, and none of those differences concerns the actual content of the self-hypnosis meditation itself.

The Differences Between the Free and Pro App
There are ads in the free version as well as limitations to the app controls. The Pro (paid) version (one-time fee of $3.99) allows you to turn off the audio instructions (which help you relax your body but do not specifically have anything to do with relieving insomnia) at the beginning of the narration, to disable Awaken at End (allowing you to stay asleep if you are using it at night and happen to fall asleep), and to repeat the narration 1-3 times or to loop it so it continues to play until you shut the app down. These controls alone are certainly worth the money if you want to play the narration all night long. The paid version also includes a variety of background sounds (including Brook, Beach, or Rain), and lets you continue listening to your background sound of choice after the meditation narration ends by delaying the ending of the app’s shut-off. You can choose from 5, 10, 20, or 30 minute delays, or hourly delays from 1-8 hours.

Self-Hypnosis Meditation Playlists
For iOS devices, Sleep Well Insomnia Relief is also available as an MP3 so that you can add it to playlists. If you have the Pro versions of any Surf City apps, you can Loop them so that they play all night long, although you can only play one meditation at a time. On iOS devices, at least, several of their apps are also available as MP3 versions so you can make playlists. That way you can queue up two or more different versions and alternate them all night long. I have a self-hypnosis meditation playlist which includes Migraine Relief, Chronic Pain Relief, and Sleep Well Insomnia Relief for when a migraine attack since the aura before the pain, along with the ensuing pain itself, both exacerbate my insomnia. I also have a playlist combining the self-hypnosis meditations of End Anxiety and Sleep Well for when outside — or internal — stress is making it difficult for me to sleep. Instructions on making playlists from their MP3 versions are in my review on the other Surf City apps.

Sleep Well Insomnia Relief
Self-Hypnosis & Meditation
by Surf City Apps

Sleep Well Insomnia Relief begins with an explanation of the different types of insomnia and its common causes (lack of exercise, alcohol consumption, fluctuating blood sugar levels) so that you can make lifestyle changes if necessary. An explanation of how self-hypnosis works is followed by an explanation of the app’s features (Background — music or nature sounds — Sleep Booster, and Awake at End) are explained in detail, including where you can change the settings (in Settings). To avoid interruptions, you are instructed to put your phone in Do Not Disturb Mode to silence any phone or text alerts. You can disable all of these audio instructions in the paid version of the app.

After guiding your through some imagery and breathing exercises to induce relaxation, the Sleep Well Insomnia Relief self-hypnosis meditation guides you through one of two relaxation exercises: Tension Relief or Relaxing Color. The first, Tension Relief,  talks you through a body scan in which you observe, without judgment, the various parts of your body, noting to yourself how your body feels. Starting with your feet, you are instructed to observe, wiggle (if applicable), tense, and then release the tightened muscles in various parts of your body so that you can become more aware of what relaxed muscles feel like. The Relaxing Color exercise guides you through a similar body scan but uses a “relaxing color” of your choice to metaphorically fill and ease your muscles into relaxation. Both of these relaxation exercises are available in the free version of the app.

You are then given some suggestions for becoming more aware of any good things in your life and for feeling more gratitude about them. This is where the self-hypnosis narration becomes a guided meditation to encourage mindfulness. After this, you are then instructed to picture yourself in a hammock, a rocking chair, or a gently moving train, where you are to observe the gentle swaying as your body follows the narrator’s voice into deeper relaxation, rest, and sleep.

*Please note that because all Surf City apps are self-hypnosis meditations which may make you fall asleep, you should never listen to these while driving or operating dangerous machinery.*

Download Sleep Well Insomnia Relief from Surf City Apps, from the App store for all iOS devices, from Amazon for Kindles, and from GooglePlay for Android devices. You can check out all Surf City’s free apps on its website. Their apps have been downloaded over 5 million times and average 4+ stars out of 5 for Sleep Well Insomnia Relief. In addition to in-app Support — under Interact > Feedback and Support, where you can read FAQs or send them a message — Surf City is on Twitter and Facebook: they are very responsive to customer questions on their social media accounts.

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Filed under Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia, chronic pain, Chronic Pain Treatment, healing, health, Health and Wellness, hemiplegic migraines, Infratonic 9, Infratonic Sound Devices, Insomnia, migraine, migraine self-care, Migraine Treatment, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines, Neruopathic Facial Pain, Neuropathic Facial Pain, trigeminal neuralgia, trigeminal neuropathy

A Great Free App for Insomnia Relief and Meditation

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Whether caused by good or bad life events, insomnia can hit anyone at any time and is due to multiple causes (discussed more fully here). Short term or “acute” insomnia can be caused by common illnesses, while chronic illness, disease, and disorders can cause acute insomnia to become chronic. Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications, along with some herbal remedies, can bring on this sleep disorder, though not for everyone. Trauma, at any time in life, can cause long-term negative effects including insomnia, as can blue light from our digital devices. Even the brain seems to have its own wake and sleep cycles, which can get stuck on “wake,” preventing sleep. Though Sleep with Me Podcast is the best free app for insomnia relief that I’ve ever found, Relax Melodies is another free app that significantly helps reduce insomnia.

Lapierre and Bérubé. Photo © Ipnos

Relax Melodies was made by Simon Alex Bérubé and Philippe Lapierre after the latter was troubled with chronic insomnia triggered by tinnitus. Lapierre tried different sound-apps to mask the ringing in his ears, but found the sound choices limited. With another software engineer, his friend Bérubé, the two developed an app that includes 52 free sounds and melodies (the paid version has 122 sounds and melodies). Some of the soothing sounds in the Relax Melodies include white noise, rain, flute, campfire, windchimes, humming, cat purring, city ambience, monk chant, tribal drums, forest, and city day (nice bird sounds). The Discover tab allows you to listen to some of the most popular combinations of sounds and melodies created by app users as well as by its staff. Some of these have a few too many sounds for my liking, but most of them are absolutely wonderful.

The app also allows you to create your own melodies: simply tap on one, two, or three of the icons to hear how they sound together. There is no limit to the sounds you can combine., but if you combine add too many, you may have nothing but noise, which may not help if you’re trying to sleep or playing it behind either of the best free apps for migraine and chronic pain relief. If you don’t like a sound once you’ve added it, simply tap it again to remove from the currently playing melody. When you make your own melody, each sound has its own volume control (under Mixer at the bottom) so that you can customize each aspect of your own melody. After you’re finished, click Save Mix at the bottom: you’ll be prompted to name and save your custom melody, called a “Mix.” Any melodies that you mix into your own combination will be stored in your Profile (where you can also edit the name of the custom melody if you made a typo).

Tapping Clear at the bottom while you’re mixing sounds and melodies shuts them all off and de-selects them as well so you can create a new melody. Once you have a custom melody, you can click on the three dots under it in your profile to share it, in a message, email, or on social media; or Submit your Mix to have it considered for inclusion in Relax Melodies’ Discover feature (the submitted mixes are not automatically accepted and included in other users’ app: submitted melodies are evaluated and rated by the staff).

The Brainwave melodies include Isochronic tones (no headphones required) and Binaural Beats (headphones required), and all of these range from range from 2.5 Hz (Dreamless Sleep) to 20 Hz (Focus). Each of the brainwaves is explained under the app’s Learn More.

One of my favorite things about Relax Melodies is its background sound support: you can play it while using other apps and that includes Sleep with Me Podcast and the Migraine and Headache Relief or Chronic Pain Relief self-hypnosis-meditation apps. I love having the Relax Melodies grandfather clock or rain playing behind these pain relief tapes, especially when I have a migraine attack and play them all day long at a low volume. And the app’s sounds are just as comforting when painsomnia — insomnia caused by both acute and chronic pain — keeps me awake in the long dark night.

Free vs. Paid Version of Relax Melodies
The app’s free version includes its most important features for combatting insomnia. Relax Melodies may not take your away your insomnia permanently, but it does significantly reduce insomnia for most of its listeners. Even when I’m in pain from a migraine attack, they help me drift off to sleep, if only for 10-15 minutes at a time. Combined with Drew Ackerman’s Sleep with Me Podcast, I’m bound to feel some relief for my nagging chronic insomnia, even when its caused by a migraine attack.

The paid version, which is $4.99 for a one-month access to all features, or $27.99 for a lifetime license, features additional sounds, guided meditations, and guided movement meditations designed to get you ready for bed or to help you reduce stress and body tension. These are some of the paid features:

• Sleep Moves has moving meditations designed to relax you before your nightly sleep.

• Guided Meditations include Sleep (to help you fall asleep), De-Stress (to reduce stress and anxiety), Life Coach (to reduce stress, improve your relationships, and improve focus), and Reduce (to reduce tinnitus), and more, with additional guided meditations on napping and dreaming.

• Breathe has both daytime and nighttime Sound Breathing: counted inhale/exhale to specific sounds, like water or Om. for daytime, and the yogic breathing techniques like De-Stress, where you inhale, hold, and exhale breath to the count of 4-7-8, respectively, while the app plays a different sound for each section, providing both visual and sound clues on-screen. The 4-7-8 Breath is recommended for stress relief by many leading health authorities, including Dr. Andrew Weil and Healthline.

You can join over 30 million other users by downloading the popular Relax Melodies app, available in 10 languages, with a 4.5 out of 5* rating (with 700,000 reviews), from Ipnos after selecting your type of smartphone, from Amazon for Kindle, from the App Store for iOS devices, and from Google Play for Android devices.

Relax Melodies is on Twitter, though the account seems to be relatively inactive, and Facebook, where the posts are more current and where they are quite responsive (replies within 24 hours), if you have any questions.

Sleep well, my Lovelies.

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Sleep with Me Podcast: The Best Free App for Insomnia Relief

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We’ve all experienced insomnia at some time in our lives. Whether caused by excitement over good life events or by anxiety over bad ones, this sleep disorder can hit children, teens, adults, and the elderly. Our racing thoughts about an impending wedding (or divorce), vacation, cross-country move, new job (or the loss of one), or approaching exams can keep us awake long after we’ve gone to bed or keep us from falling back asleep after we wake in the night. Many life events can trigger short-term or “acute” insomnia, as can common illnesses or other disorders and diseases. Colds and sinus infections can cause insomnia; migraine, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and Parkinson’s are all known to cause short bouts or extended periods of sleeplessness. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can bring on this sleep disorder, though not necessarily for everyone: antihistamines, decongestants, anti-smoking aids, SSRIs for depression, and drugs to treat or control ADHD have all been known to trigger insomnia. Herbal remedies such as St. John’s Wort or ginseng can, for some users, interrupt or prevent sleep.

In both men and women, trauma, whether physical or emotional, can have lifetime negative health effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and insomnia, while childhood trauma, including divorce or sexual abuse, contribute to insomnia in childhood and adulthood. Even the blue light in our computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and flat-screen televisions has been found to cause insomnia when the devices are used too close to bedtime (or in the middle of the night upon awakening) because, though any light can suppress the hormone melatonin, involved in circadian rhythms of waking and sleeping, blue light suppresses melatonin more powerfully.

Apparently, the brain has its own, mutually exclusive, wake and sleep cycles: when one cycle is “on,” the other is “off.” Researchers are trying to determine whether insomnia may be due to the brain itself not being able to “stop being awake.” Since both the quantity and quality of sleep affects our health, and since insomnia can lead to “decreased quality of life, increased rates of depression, and even increased risk of heart disease,” insomnia, especially when it becomes chronic, should not be dismissed. Chronic insomnia, medically defined as an inability to fall or stay asleep for at least three nights a week for three months or longer, is not just extremely unpleasant: it’s dangerous to our mental and physical well-being.

As a survivor of childhood trauma, including sexual abuse and rape, I’ve suffered from insomnia from the time I was three years old. The insomnia worsened a few years ago, however, when I was taken off a class of drugs I’d been taking for complex PTSD and panic disorder: benzodiazepines, which had been deemed potentially dangerous for anyone over age 50. While withdrawing from the medication, I was literally not sleeping at all, day or night. In the past, prescription sleeping pills had worsened my insomnia, and my usual herbal sleep aid, valerian, wasn’t helping, even when I doubled and then tripled the dose. Desperate and fearing for my mental and physical health, I turned to the Internet, where, to my absolute astonishment, I found relief for my insomnia, the strangest relief I ever could have imagined: Drew Ackerman’s Sleep with Me Podcast.

Drew Ackerman, a life-time insomniac, has dedicated himself to helping fellow insomniacs fall asleep by telling “ingeniously boring bedtime stories,” causing plenty of adults, kids, and pets to fall asleep. Of course, that means you may not ever hear an entire story, but because Drew is a writer, and a good one, he makes each episode, as disjointed and haywire as it might seem, feel complete. That way, if you really can’t fall asleep some night, as happens to me during a migraine, for instance, Drew is there “to keep you company in the deep, dark night,” as he often assures you in the episode introductions.

Drew Ackerman, creator of Sleep with Me Podcast. Photo © Natalie Jennings.

Each Sleep with Me Podcast episode begins with an introduction, where Drew explains that you don’t really have to listen to him and that it’s perfectly all right if you fall asleep while he’s talking, and then he usually wanders off onto some tangent or other topic, just so you begin to wonder what he’s talking about… if you’re still awake. After 7-15 minutes of an introduction that is often as entertaining as the story which follows, Drew, performing as “Scooter,” tells a bedtime story, which lasts about 45 minutes, making each podcast episode approximately an hour long. “Your goal is not to get your listeners to stay with you to the finish,” Drew told The New York Times: “[Your goal] is to lose them [to sleep] along the way.” It’s this combination of slow, lulling delivery, seemingly pointless introductions, and rambling stories that make Sleep with Me Podcast such a success with its listeners, who download episodes about 3 million times each month.

Drew Ackerman. Photo © Chris Duffey

Most of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes feature original stories written or improvised by Drew. To stay creatively motivated, Drew writes and tells various types of stories, some of which are developed into multi-episode series, like After the Glass Slipper, about Cinderella’s stepmother Agatha after Cinderella’s marriage to Prince Charming; Big Farm in the Sky PI, about a private investigator, Simon, working to solve mysteries in the afterlife; and SuperDull, about a group of superheroes sitting around waiting for their chance to save the earth whenever its greatest hour of need arrives.* (Links to the episodes mentioned here appear at the end of the article, for your reading ease.) Though some of the original series are comprised of multiple episodes, each episode of any series is independent: you don’t have to know any of the previous sections of a story to understand — and be put to sleep — by any current episode. And really, since the point of this wildly popular podcast is to make you fall asleep, it probably helps if you don’t know what happened to any of the characters in previous episodes.

Some episodes of “the podcast that puts you to sleep” are stand-alone stories, improvised stories based the social media trends, or re-caps of movies or television shows. During an episode of Sleep with Me Podcast, Drew has been known to open games and try to figure out how to play them without reading the instructions,* give you the entire chronicle of seltzer / sparkling water,* and tell you all about the history, the rides, and the food of the New York State Fair.*

In his Real Time Recipes,* which are among my favorites, Drew metaphorically walks you through grocery-shopping for all the items necessary to make the meal, and then talks you through preparing the meal. In his on-location* episodes, Drew talks while he’s actually walking around some public place (he has permission to record there). Initially, when I listened to these, the ambient sounds, though faint, prevented me from sleeping. Then I noticed I was waking up after having been asleep for a few hours despite any faint ambient noise. Now I love the on-location episodes, if only because Drew doesn’t perform these as Scooter: he simply tells us what’s going on as he roams around. Guided Meditations* are some of the most sleep-inducing episodes, if only because Drew slows his sleepy delivery even more than usual, and these are among the most popular episodes.

Photo © Drew Ackerman

Drew sometimes reveals some personal details about his life that were painful or especially exciting for him, and these episodes are some of the most endearing. You might think that listening to someone talk about his personal life and some of its painful events would keep you awake, but, because Drew’s delivery makes you fall asleep, I’ve often had to listen to these episodes several times to hear the personal information (and Drew sometimes hides these tidbits in stories that don’t seem to be autobiographical.)* And in case the changing seasons or the holidays give you insomnia, Drew has plenty of Halloween* and Christmas* episodes, too.

Some of the Drew’s bedtime stories are suitable-for-all-ages recaps of television dramas*. Though the shows themselves might deal with adult topics or include violent scenes, Drew soothes them all into all-age-appropriate bedtime tales. Of all the television series that have been recapped on Sleep with Me, I have only seen Game of Thrones, though I’ve happily been “bored” to sweet dreams by all of Drew’s recap-podcasts, including any episode of Game of Thrones / Game of Drones,* Breaking Bad, Star Trek: The Next Generation,* and Dr. Who.*

Drew has many stellar stand-alone episodes* that make me sleep better than any prescription or natural sleep aid ever did. I wish I could tell you what happened to the residents of the Lost Village when they discovered that the geography around their village had changed overnight,* or how to assemble a wall-bed,* but I’ve never managed to stay awake through either episode. And Sleep with Me Podcast retrospectives* cover the content of hundreds of previous episodes, if Drew can remember what they were about.

The DreamQuilt, from SWM listeners, which inspired Drew’s story, “The Bear with a Comet on His Belly.” Photo © Drew Ackerman

One of my absolute favorite stories is the three-part The Bear with the Comet on His Belly* which was inspired by Drew’s listeners thanking him for “curing” their chronic insomnia by making him a quilt featuring images from his original stories: the DreamQuilt, Drew calls it.

Even when a Sleep with Me story is fascinating, I can’t stay awake long enough to hear it all, and that’s one of Drew’s gifts: writing engaging stories and delivering them with a “droning” — in the best sense of the word — delivery by “Scooter” so you drift off into dreams. The first time I ever listened to a Sleep with Me Podcast episode, I didn’t even know there was a story at the end. While listening to the introduction, I found myself thinking, “How on earth am I supposed to fall asleep to something that is so interesting?” When I awoke, hours later, and realized that I had, in fact, fallen asleep, I played the episode again. I fell asleep even more quickly the second time. The next night, I put the episode on and also queued it to play a second time — and I slept longer before awaking in the night. I began queueing up 7-10 episodes at a time, so they’d play all night long. Since I live in an isolated area where the Wi-Fi connection is unreliable at best, the podcast shuts off each time my Internet connection goes down, waking me up. Now, I’ve downloaded many of my favorite episodes, rather than streaming them, so that I can queue them up to play all night long without interruption.

Sleep with Me Podcast currently has over 755 episodes, all free, partly because of advertising (only in the first minutes of each episode) but mostly because of the financial support of the show’s patrons, whom Drew calls “rebels with a cause” because we pay for a free show so that others won’t have to. I’ve been one of those “rebel” patrons for five years now, ever since I realized that, listening to SWM all night long, I was sleeping better than I ever had in my life. Patrons get ad-free versions of the shows.

You can listen to any of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on the SWM website or subscribe for your device: Apple Podcasts, GooglePodcasts, RadioPublic (listen on site or send to iOS or Android devices), and Spotify. You can also listen to all the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on its YouTube Channel. (Note: Because of the limitations of podcast apps, you may not be able to scroll back far enough to find some of the earlier episodes on your phone or tablet.

You can reach Drew — aka Scooter — on Twitter, where he is very responsive, and you can reach his equally responsive account managers, all volunteers, on Facebook.

Sweet dreams, my Lovelies.

Episodes mentioned in this article
(please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all 750+ episodes)

*Multi-episode series
• After the Glass Slipper: A Lesson in Opportunity to be like Cinderella s2e4
• Big Farm in the Sky PI: The Dog That Chased the Moon 553
• SuperDull: The Siren and the Professor 508

*Unboxing
• Fairytale Gloom Game Unboxing655
• Tokaido Unboxing 747

*Seltzer / Sparkling Water History
• Mars, Moranis, Curry Seltzer: Pitching Roman 689

*New York State Fair
• As Fair as a State Fair 692
• Fun Food and Fun Houses at the Great New York State Fair 695

*Real Time Recipes
• Under Pressure [Corned Beef] 652
• Salad 537
• Stuffing and Mashed Potatoes 474

*On-Location
• Kayak Cruze 588
• Lake Ontario: Can I Call You Teri 570
• Dusk featuring Slurp and DJ Echo Bass 540
• Faux Cousteau Visits Sea Life Orlando 522
Quasi-On-Location
(recorded shortly after visits, not during them)
• On Summer’s Horseback 594
• La Brea Tar Pits (534

*Guided Meditations
• Comforting Chair 576
• Sand’s Day at the Beach 564
• Bird Bath 395

*Autobiographical
• Things I Might Have Wrote as a Kid 591
• My Life with HBO 567
• Spruce Museum (introduction) 525
• Video Games and Me 501

*Christmas
• Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers 473
• The Christmas Tree that Took a Walk 468

*Halloween
• Costume Nostalgia 609
• Lulling Analysis of The Great Pumpkin 456

*Recaps

*Game of Thrones
• The Wolf and the Dragon” 584
• 7-Hour All Night Game of Thrones Season 7

*Star Trek: The Next Generation
• Elementary, Dear Data 557
• 10-Hour All Night All Night Star Trek: TNG Volumes 3 & 4

*Dr. Who
• Dickens and Dr. Who 625

*Stand-Alones
*Lost Village 442
*• Realtime Wall-Bed Assembly 433
*• Lulling Retrospective of the First 500 Shows 502

*The Bear with the Comet on His Belly
• Bear with a Comet on his Belly, Inspired by the Dreamquilt [Part 1] 414
• Sleeping Rude Gods [Part 2] 417
• The Local Borefriend [Finale] 418

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Homemade Maple Granola

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For the past 13 months, my migraine attacks have been so frequent and so long-lasting, that I am beginning to fear they have become chronic. When this seemingly never-ending round began in April 2017, I thought it was due to stress from my car’s dying on the road and being irreparable. Though I got another car within 10 days, the migraine didn’t stop. “Reduce your stress,” said my doctor at every single now-monthly visit, until I was virtually living like a hermit with no apparent reduction in migraine pain or frequency. Several months ago, I began going through every single item in my kitchen, vowing to eliminate any food additives or artificial sweeteners that might be lurking in my meals. I went through my cookbooks and vowed to make everything from scratch. Everything. From scratch. So I would know every single ingredient that was going into my body. Unfortunately, every time I thought I’d found the offending trigger, and had a half-day’s respite, the migraine would return with furious anger.

In the meantime, however, I found lots of ways to enjoy food prepared as simply as possible, with very few sauces or condiments (unless I make them myself). One of my most exciting discoveries was that I could make my own granola. I love it over yogurt, as muesli (I eat mine with cold water, a hold-over from my years as a vegetarian and/or vegan back in the days when such conveniences as soy-milk were unheard of), or straight from my hand into my mouth. Most of the commercial brands are high-fat or, if low-fat, covered with honey. (I’m allergic to bees, and the last time I had some honey in baked goods, I ended up in the ER.)

I’m a big fan of Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen fame, and earlier this year, I treated myself to both her cookbooks. It was in her 2012 The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that I found her recipe for Big Cluster Maple Granola (pp. 26-27), which you can also find online at Serious Eats.

Deb’s version is very fine, although the egg whites she uses for “clustering” made me a big nervous. I used her recipe as is the first time, and then, when it didn’t cluster despite the addition of the egg whites, I went off on my own and tinkered away, burning quite a few batches in the process.

I’ve finally mastered my own low-fat, vegan granola, and I cannot keep it in the house. And that was before I finally pronounced the recipe an actual success, wrote it down on the pages of Deb’s cookbook, and offered my guy a taste. I may have to start making more than one batch a week of this very fine granola.


Ingredients *
4 C old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked (I use a generic brand)
1 C pumpkin seeds (kernels, shelled, no salt)
1 C flax seeds (whole)
⅔ – 1 C maple syrup (I started with the ⅔,  and finally settled on 1 C because of the extra ingredients
2 T olive oil (extra virgin, and be sure to taste it first: you want a slightly sweet taste, not a bitter one)
1 t Vietnamese cinnamon, ground (any kind of cinnamon will do, but Vietnamese has the best taste)
½ t sea salt (coarse or fine: both work)

Dried Fruit
½ C each dried blueberries, dried cherries, dried cranberries (or any mixture you wish)

Pre-heat oven to 300º F.

Combine all ingredients except the dried fruit in a large bowl and stir well until all the dry ingredients seem evenly coated with the liquid ingredients. Spread it on a large cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. (This will work fine without parchment paper, but if you don’t have any parchment baking paper, do not use waxed paper instead: it will smoke — if it doesn’t catch fire — and will taint the granola.)


Bake for 20 minutes. **

Using a large spatula, carefully turn over the granola in sections: it browns on the underside and on the very edges. Rotate the pan to ensure even toasting.

Bake 15-20 minutes more.

If it looks like it needs a bit more browning, rotate the pan, turn the oven off, and “bake” for 5-7 more minutes, checking the granola every minute. It goes from it could be just a little browner to burnt, blackened, and ruined faster than you can imagine, so keep an eye on it.

When it looks light to medium brown, remove from oven. Set aside while you pour dried fruit into a heat-proof bowl. Mix the fruit slightly.

You do not have to wait for the granola to cool completely before mixing it with the dried fruit. In fact, I prefer mixing the warm-to-hot granola in with the dried fruit and letting the two parts mingle their flavors. You do what you prefer.

Lifting the ends of the parchment paper by both sides, slowly lift all the granola off the cookie sheet and pour it directly into the bowl of dried fruit. If you’re not using parchment sheet, you may have to spoon the granola into the bowl: the small seeds and toasty oatmeal scatter easily.

With a large mixing spoon, carefully stir until the dried fruit seems evenly distributed among the granola.

Serving Suggestions
Eat straight from the bowl (I mean, from the storage jar), serve mixed with yogurt, sprinkled over ice cream, or with milk (soy milk, almond milk, cold water, juice) as muesli for breakfast.

Storage
Store in an air-tight storage jar. Deb Perelman says hers lasts up to 2 weeks on the counter in the air-tight jars, but I’ve never had any granola left after a week.

And if you have any questions or suggestions, please do let me know.

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* I use Gerbs seeds and dried fruit because, although the dried fruit has a bit of sugar, it’s not very sweet, and all their products are non-GMO, vegan, and kosher. I get everything else at the grocery, and I use generic when I can find it.


** I’m high-altitude, about 8500 feet in the Rockies, so you may have to adjust your own baking time. Perelman’s original recommendation is 45-55 minutes at 300º F, turning/rotating etc. about half-way through.

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Filed under chronic pain, hemiplegic migraines, Insomnia, migraine, migraine self-care, Migraine Treatment, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines, Recipes