Back From Being Sick and Tired

      64 Comments on Back From Being Sick and Tired

Pardon the unexplained absence and the slow response to comments. I spent the last 10 days or so becoming reacquainted with what it feels like to be sick and tired.

Tired came first. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m prone to occasional bouts of insomnia. The good news is that I hadn’t experienced a serious case of it in a long time. Back in the summer, I finally went to see a sleep specialist. Among other things, he recommended I take a dose of melatonin about an hour before I intend to sleep. That seems to help. I’ve had a sleepness night here and there, but no consecutive nights of staring at the ceiling.

Until last week, that is. Since I’ve been dealing with this stuff my entire adult life, I know when it’s pointless to try to fall back to sleep after popping awake at 2:00 AM or so. I get a feeling like there’s an engine spinning somewhere in my body. Doesn’t matter how tired I am, if that engine is spinning, I’m not sleeping.

So on those nights, I accept reality, get out of bed, drink some coffee, and put in my programming hours for the day. I usually fall asleep after the sun comes up. Most of the time I’m able to sleep normally the next night, and I’m back on track.

But then there are those bouts of insomnia like last week’s … ugh. I go to bed exhausted after being awake most of the previous night. I fall asleep … then pop awake two hours later, with that damned engine spinning again.  Oh-no … it’s going to be one of those multi-night versions …

I’ve had occasions when the engine started spinning because an idea got ahold of me and refused to let go. I’m okay with that. It usually means a multi-day burst of creativity and productivity. One of the best programming ideas I ever had came to me while I was asleep. I woke up thinking, Wait a minute … could that actually work?!

I went on a multi-day programming jag, sleeping an hour or two here and there.  I’d snap awake thinking about the next bit of code and start programming again. The idea worked.  It solved a problem that had been nagging my company for months. It was worth being physically tired.

But sometimes (like last week), the engine seems to start spinning for no reason. No Big Idea.  No Big Worries keeping me awake.  If I lie awake in bed, I’m treated to what feels like a non-stop conveyor belt of unrelated and unimportant thoughts. I find myself wondering, Why the @#$% am I thinking about that at 3:00 AM? It’s like my brain has decided to empty the trash after months of hoarding, and I’m forced to witness the process.

So I get up and work. Or get up and watch TV. Anything beats lying there and watching the mental trash go by.  That’s what it was last week: a long stretch of being awake for no apparent reason, then a few hours of sleep. Another long stretch of being awake, then a little more sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

After five days of this nonsense, I decided I’d had enough and went for the less-than-ideal cure: I waited until 9:00 PM – at which point I’d been awake for 33 hours – and drank a bottle of red wine. That nearly always shuts down the random-thought conveyor belt. Then I’m able to sleep through the night. It’s not quality sleep, of course, but it gets me back on the normal-person schedule of sleeping at night and being awake during the day.

Unfortunately, I landed back in Normal Person Land just in time to get hit with a nasty chest and sinus infection for the first time in years. Dang, I almost forgot what that feels like.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I rarely get sick since adopting a good diet. Mentioned? Aw, let’s be honest: I like to brag about it. Some bug goes around, co-workers and acquaintances start dropping like flies, and the most I usually get is a sniffle for a day or two.

“Where’s Joe? He’s been out sick all week? What about Deborah? She’s out sick too?”

Well, that probably wouldn’t happen if they’d stop eating that nasty sugar and flour, he thought to himself, turning up his nose a bit.

Perhaps my immune system was weakened by several days of too little sleep. Or perhaps the universe decided to provide a lesson in humility by reminding me I’m not invincible. Whatever the reason, I ended up spending the next several days hacking and coughing and sneezing and dripping and generally feeling as if someone had stuffed a gallon of gooey stuff into my skull. I managed to put in my programming time working from home, but as soon as the workday was over, all I wanted to do was vegetate in front of the TV before bed.

I still don’t feel normal, but at least I had the energy to drive to the office today. I can tell I’m on the mend.

So that was my week. How was yours?

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64 thoughts on “Back From Being Sick and Tired

  1. Paula

    My Dear Tom,

    Has it occurred to you it might not be – umm, wise? – to have coffee at 2 a.m., esp. as your body might get programmed to expect same at such a crazy hour – that you might accidentally be perpetuating / reinforcing a less than optimal sleep cycle?

    Your friend (also addicted to coffee),


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yeah, it’s occurred to me. Might not be the best habit in the long run, but once I know I’m not going to sleep until morning, I have the coffee to be awake enough to get in my programming work for the day. Fortunately, popping awake at 2:00 AM has become a rare experience … at least until last week.

      1. Firebird7478

        My 12 year old nephew, who has ADD, drinks coffee before bed. It has the opposite effect on him. Rather than give him a caffeine boost, the caffeine tends to relax him. It’s not just him, it is standard treatment for anyone with ADD.

        1. chris c

          Oh yes, me too. I can drink coffee right up to bedtime and sleep like a baby. My ex couldn’t drink it after mid-afternoon.

          Long ago, back in the day, I took some amphetamine sulphate. Once the initial rush wore off I became very calm and focussed and likewise slept deeply. In fact the feeling of normality was so frightening I decided to never take it again. Well after a couple of years I did and exactly the same thing happened. Pretty conclusive.

          The low carb/keto diet has improved this no end, like so much else. That might be worth a try?

  2. Jeanne Shepard

    We had record snow and ice here in Seattle. Tired from shoveling snow, tired of running for the bus when I couldn’t get my car out of the parking lot, tired of lugging on 5 layers of clothing. I fantasize about summer.

      1. Firebird7478

        I have a friend who moved there from Philadelphia a few years ago. He thought he had escaped the snow. Spent the last few days cursing up a storm of his own.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          I wondered because I once had a road trip through Minnesota with another comedian who was from Seattle. We were on snowy roads in the middle of nowhere. I grew up in Illinois and had been driving on snowy roads my whole life, so no big deal for me, but every time the car slid a bit, he nearly jumped out of his skin. It was apparently a new experience for him.

  3. JP LeClair

    Man I thought I was reading a blog post that I wrote! Now I haven’t been sick but the sleepless nights after popping awake at 1 or 2am and the brain is just spinning with random stupid songs and other dumb thoughts is just annoying.

    My Dr suggested a Benadryl. Usually knocks me out but if I take it too early, I may still pop awake.

    It’s a pain. I hope you figure it out.

  4. Bob Niland

    Here are my standard sleep tips. Note that melatonin is lower on the list than blue-blockers (and I don’t use melatonin, and indeed have not needed to resort to any of the bottom three items).

    Separately, I haven’t had so much as a head cold since switching to grain-free enlightened-ancestral very-low-net-carb over seven years ago. Only seems unusual in retrospect, as humans are generally pretty poor at noticing when the unexpected doesn’t happen.☺ Some of that is doubtless mere luck, but I suspect a lot of it is due to microbiome optimization efforts.

    I’ve had any number of feelings like: oh, I’m going to have a sore throat, cold or fever tomorrow … and the next day … it’s gone. Is this the experience of a properly functioning immune system? Beats me, but I’ll take it.

    And to riff on your starship theme and microbiome topic from the Fat Head Kids Movie, here’s a blunt SciFi perspective I just coincidentally scribbled up today.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Looking over your list, I realized I haven’t been paying much attention to probiotics and such lately. That’s a good place to start.

  5. Dianne

    Kinda wondered if you were feeling puny, or if someone in your family had a problem. Glad to hear you’re on the mend. Insomnia can be miserable. I rarely suffer from it, thanks to melatonin (which wasn’t needed when I was younger), and when I do, my rosary usually puts me right to sleep. Not its intended purpose, but I don’t suppose the Lord minds, and concentrating on those meditations helps shut out the “unrelated and unimportant thoughts” skittering around in my mind like so many squeaking mice. Hope you’re completely over your bug soon — there’s been a mean one going around.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Does seem to be nasty bug going around. We’ve had a lot of employees succumb at the company where I work.

  6. Bret

    “Middle insomnia” is the name for this disorder according to the blogosphere, and I suffer it too about 20% of the time (it has gotten better lately…used to be more like 50%).

    I tend to wake up around 2 a.m. as well, and often fall back asleep hard about 45 minutes before my alarm goes off (just about the worst possible time to fall asleep).

    I’ve amateur searched remedies for this, and have found nothing but clichés (cut off screen time hours before bed, reduce coffee, eliminate alcohol, etc). Tried them all and none of them made a noticeable difference.

    My wife believes the condition is stress-related, and I think she is probably right. Your story reinforces that suspicion. Glad to know there are others out there.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Weird thing is, if it’s stress-related in my case, I’m unaware of the stress. I’m not thinking about anything stressful when it happens.

      1. Bret

        My middle insomnia has been flaring lately. I did an experiment that seems promising:
        – Cut off coffee (and all other caffeine) for 10 straight days. Historically 2 cups/day. Love my coffee.
        – After 7 days, started sleeping like a baby.
        – Thinking “I’ve broken the cycle,” I had one 8-oz cup on the morning of the 11th day. Insomnia that very night.
        – Kept drinking 1 cup per day over the next 5 days. Insomnia for 4 of the nights. The 5th night’s sleep was adequate in quantity, but broken and patchy as I slept off cumulative exhaustion starting at 6 pm.

        Coincidence? Could be. But it’s a little too coincidental. I’m going hard abstinence on caffeine (currently on day 3). Figure I should know for sure after two weeks.

        I suspect the sleep problem is heavily connected to digestive disruption. Coffee seems to wreck my digestive homeostasis (nothing obscene but not ideal). Never realized that until I cut it off for those 10 days…I just thought my condition was “normal for me” and never considered coffee as a culprit.

        Anyway, just thought I’d share FWIW. I’ll report back with the results after two weeks. I’m actually excited to break my mild addiction to this drug, which I was in denial over before. I’ve loved my coffee over the years, but it’s lost its appeal now.

          1. Bret

            I’ve tried as well, at least twice. Failed miserably. Coffee is ubiquitous, and the social contagion is likely the most tempting element. I’ll certainly feel its absence, perhaps even months from now.

            But this insomnia has got to go. I’ve put up with it for 10 years, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life under this torture. I’m willing to go to even this extreme.

            With that said, if I don’t have consistent improvement 4-6 weeks from now, then the culprit is likely not the coffee. But I doubt this will be the case after my observations over the past 2 1/2 weeks.

  7. Lori Miller

    Pre-low carb, I’d actually feel better in a way when I was sick, I think because my blood sugar was higher and more even. (I had symptoms of hypoglycemia from childhood.)

    Maybe you were restless because your blood sugar was cranked up, which was because you were fighting off an infection. Whatever the case, I’m glad you’re doing better.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Didn’t occur to me that the cold may have been coming on when the insomnia started, since I wasn’t feeling it at the time, but that’s an interesting thought.

      1. chris c

        Yes that was my fist thought. Like Bob Niland above I have been remarkably free of infections including especially colds and flu and at worst I usually feel “a bit off” for a few days, then I feel like I just had a cold for a few more days, without actually having the cold in between. Maybe your immune system was fighting and the insomnia was a part of that.

        In Other Immune System news, I cut my thumb quite badly, first injury for years, and was amazed how it didn’t get infected. In my previous high carb life it would have needed antibiotics or at least ointment. Actually after a few days it did become slightly infected and I could watch my immune system fighting back in waves, the infection/inflammation would increase and then get knocked down again. Should have checked my blood glucose but my glucometer battery was flat. After a fortnight it’s almost completely healed. The wine glass was terminal though.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          I’ve noticed that almost anything involving inflammation seems reduced since giving up the grains and seed oils.

  8. SelmaM

    Sorry about the sleep deprivation and the cold. Here in Europe this year’s cold virus has been hard. I was down from Boxing Day to the second day of the new year. And this year it’s quite common with complications like bronchitis and pneumonia.
    But, what I wanted to say was that I suppress the nighttime engine with audio books. There are several players for iPhone/android with the ability to set bookmarks and a timed fade to silence. I have a couple of low rise sports earplugs that don’t pinch my ears when my head is resting on the pillow, and then I let the audiobook occupy “the engine” until I go to sleep.
    To me, this works best when the book is ¾ interesting – enough to occupy the engine, but not enough to keep me awake. I mostly manage to sleep in less than 20 min with this. After reawakening too, most times.

  9. Gerard Pinzone

    Your melatonin is probably being suppressed due to blue light. Two solutions:

    If your only source of light is the computer screen, install f.lux:

    If you use a Mac, there’s probably something similar. Same for Android phones.

    If you want to block ALL sources of light including TVs, phones, tablets, etc. and don’t want to mess with color temperature settings or apps, wear blue-blockers at night:

    There was a study that used those exact glasses that showed great results, but I can’t find it. I’ve tried this and it works. My son is now wearing those glasses and his sleep schedule is awesome and insomnia is cured.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I may have to try those. My glasses have a blue-blocker coating, but I’m not sure how effective it is.

  10. JoDi

    Ugh! I’m in the middle of that right now. It’s been so long since I was sick that I had forgotten how unpleasant it is to try and eat when you can’t breathe through your nose! Not that I feel much like eating anyway. 🙁

    Glas you are feeling better!

  11. KidPsych

    That sounds like hell to me, Tom. I’m sorry you’re going through that. Three weeks ago, I was struck by a car while walking home. This will likely resonate with you: It was a college professor who apparently was not educated in how to make a left hand turn. She basically cut her left turn short, so rather than being in front of me, she hit me from the side. I was lucky in a lot of ways. I managed to turn quickly and block my torso with hands, so damage was mostly located in hand and shoulder (MRI in shoulder is big fun, let me tell you).

    Anyhoo, this impacted my sleep. Somewhere during evolution, my genes decided that being really alert after an accident or attack is a good idea (plus turning over with a damaged shoulder is hard). I suspect with you, as it has been with me, anxiety plays a deep role. For the first weeks after, I would wake up at 4 with no way to go back to sleep. (Yours sounds much worse by the way. For me, 4 is too early.)

    Sadly, the damage has taken away one of my favorite stress relievers – weight lifting. Which means that I’ve had to shift (as my bruised leg got better) to stationary bike. I’ve taken down my stress quite a bit by cycling in the evening – takes down my adrenals. I’ve supplemented with GABA too. I’m not a medical provider, so I can’t provide medical advice to anyone, but I think this has worked for me. There might be options that more significantly affect GABA for you, which would have to be discussed with a provider. If you were a client, I’d say, if you’re using booze to self-soothe, this might be a time to discuss short-acting anxiety reducing meds with your doc.

    The good news is I’ve slept well the last week and found myself back in a better rhythm. PTSD symptoms are alleviating (I’ve been a tad sensitive to cars when I walk now), and my mind is clearing. I wish you luck.

  12. Paul

    I hear you.
    lack of sleep is an immune system killer. Every time I have been sick in the last couple years I can trace it back to a night of too little sleep and work stress a few days earlier. Great diet, supplements and exercise are important but sleep trumps all.

  13. Alain

    Indeed the immune system is weakened by lack of sleep.

    To fall asleep you need to stop thinking about your problems. You need to imagine yourself doing other things like walking on a beach, hiking, gardening, etc . You can also imagine a story.

    It should work.

  14. Tom Welsh

    I’m very sorry to hear about your sleeping problem, Tom. Sorry enough to venture a suggestion, although I understand that you know far more about nutrition than I ever will. (Not to mention knowing more about yourself!)

    Vitamin C, 6-20 grams daily.

    This is Linus Pauling’s recipe, and in a field of which I know almost nothing, I am happy to take a double Nobel Prize winner as my guide. (Especially as he had such a kind face).

    As you know, Pauling established that almost all animals generate Vitamin C in their liver – the equivalent, adjusted for body mass, of about 6 grams per day for a human.

    That is 100 times the RDA, which is enough to avoid scurvy.

    Vitamin C aficionados recommend 6 grams a day in one or two doses. Pauling suggested a much higher dose to be taken immediately the first signs of a cold are detected. (Wait a day, and you will have to wait it out for a week or whatever, although the symptoms may be ameliorated).

    Maybe 10 or 20 grams a day – depending on where your “loose bowel” limit turns out to be. (It may be best to stay home while experimenting with that limit… 8-] )

    Ascorbic acid powder is cheap and practical. For large doses, taken maybe 3-4 times a day to improve absorption.

    The experts also reckon that it doesn’t work its wonders immediately, but after a year or two of 6 grams a day you should see benefits.

    Apologies if you know all that backwards!

  15. Tom Welsh

    One other idea. Since reading Tony Edwards’ “The Good News about Booze” (highly recommended) a few years ago, we have been splitting a bottle of wine (mostly red) between two of us every evening. It’s very civilised, goes nicely with meat and cheese, and I feel that my quarter-bottle helps me to sleep without making me drunk. Works for the French and Italians!

    According to Edwards, all the research shows that alcohol – far from being harmful as everyone says – is actually beneficial for health in quantities up to nearly a bottle of wine a day. (The health effects vary from disease to disease, but half a bottle of wine a day per person looks very safe and, according to Edwards, has far greater helth benefits than any known medication).

    Any alcoholic drink is good, but red wine may be best because of resveratrol, etc. Drinks containing carbohydrate are exceptions and should be avoided – anything sweet, beer, etc.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      It pretty much has to be wine to induce sleep for me. Much as I enjoy a good Guinness, beer tends to keep me awake.

  16. Firebird7478

    Melatonin is too much for me, even at the smallest of doses. I’ve bought the smallest pills, 2 mg and cut them in half. 1 mg is a lot for me.

    Dr. Daniel Amen recommends a cocktail of 50-100 mg of 5-HTP Trypthophan (spread throughout the day but I take it before bed) and 100-200 mg of GABA (an amino acid) before bed. I train early in the morning so the night before, I take the 5-HTP but not the GABA (The lowest dosage I can find is 250 mg). That dosage gives me a drowsy hangover. But when I do take it, I sleep through the night. Without it, I usually wake up between 2-4 AM and go to the bathroom. Even with the 5-HTP, I will wake up, BUT I readily fall back asleep. Before that, if I woke up, my mind would start to race and I’d toss the rest of the night.

    I’ve posted this before, but there is evidence that before the age of the street lamp, humans had what are known as “Two Sleeps”. The sleep pattern was broken into two 4 hour segments. People would wake up for an hour or two — pray, meditate, have sex, snack, simple chores, visit friends, then go back to bed for another 4 hours.

    I’ve tried staying up after waking up but cannot do it. I like my bed too much. I’d rather toss than get up and watch TV or read a book.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I like the idea of the two sleeps, but of course it doesn’t fit well with the workaday world.

      1. chris c

        I’ve taken to doing that since I am retired. Have my main meal and a glass (or two) of wine, crash out for a bit, then get up again and do blogs, Twitter, TV and read scientific literature etc. and go back to bed again later. Sometimes I have a second meal but more usually a snack which tides me over until breakfast which isn’t much more than a snack either. Not quite OMAD but close.

    2. Bret

      Firebird, Mark Sisson wrote similar things on the topic several years ago.

      I’m no scientist, but it makes sense that a common experience like this may be completely natural, rather than a disorder. If people can take naps during the day, it doesn’t seem a stretch that their nighttime sleep would be in shorter spells too.

      I wonder if Weston Price made any observations on the various tribes’ sleep habits during his travels.

      1. Firebird7478

        I remember years ago when “60 Minutes” was worth watching they showed a study on sleep. They put several men into a room that cut them off from the outside world. No sunlight or artificial stimulation. After a short time, they noticed changes in sleeping patterns. The men had no access to the time of day, either, and would routinely wake up in the middle of the night, do some activity for an hour or two, then return to sleep.

        Two sleeps has shown up in literature (Dickens, Cervantes) and in medical records (A 15th Century French doctor recommended to his young female patient that her and her husband, who were trying to conceive, try between the “first and second sleep” because by the time the first sleep is over, the stresses of the day are gone. The patient took his advice and became pregnant shortly after).

        It’s left me with the notion that insomnia is a somewhat illness that doesn’t really exist.

        1. chris c

          Then of course there are siestas. I think of it as a late siesta.

          Then there are Power Naps, but I don’t succumb to them since going low carb. Memories of visiting my aunts who insisted on plying me with cake, then a hour later “Why’s he fallen asleep?”

          1. Firebird7478

            Reminds me of The Three Stooges in Mexico looking for Esther.

            “Did you see Esther?

            “Siesta? Gracias!”

            The Mexican sits down in a chair and takes a nap.

  17. Judy B

    Sorry to hear you succombed, but glad you are recovering! (I had a similar virus which is taking its own sweet time to disappear. I usually do not get sick, either…)

  18. Beatrix Willius

    My usual cure for insomnia is a combination of melatonine and tryptophane. It’s very odd that I have to buy melatonine either in Austria or the US. No melatonine in Germany.

    I have histamine intolerance. Don’t have many symptoms except trouble falling asleep. Warmed up meals are the worst. It’s like being hyper. It doesn’t feel weird until I go to bed and then my heart is just doing boom, boom, boom.

  19. Kathy in OK

    I knew you had to have something going on……you won’t just abandon us. Sorry to hear you were under (way under) the weather.

    It seems to me that those of us who rarely get sick get really sick when we do. Is the universe just trying to balance things out? Is it payback for being so smug about never getting sick?

    My family/friends/acquaintances who seem to be sick all the time just carry on like being sick is normal. What’s up with that?

    Like most people, I have my “go to” remedy for whenever I “feel something coming on”. I take Berberine (which I think is sort of an antibiotic supplement) and oregano oil gel caps. That oregano oil is some strong stuff. You can buy the essential oil, but it’s like acid going down even in water. The gel caps say one a day for no more than ten days. It seems to work for me, or maybe I wasn’t getting sick after all. Maybe the placebo effect? Anyway, I prefer to feel well, but that’s just me.

    Glad you’re on the mend. We miss you when you’re away.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’ve taken oil of oregano before. Very strong stuff indeed. I can uusually knock out a cold with vitamins C and D and some zinc, but I guess the insomnia weakened my immuse system too much.

  20. Jane Mortimer

    I can highly recommend “The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night” by Dr Guy Meadows. It is a very different approach to the usual and is drug-free. It has a 5-week plan but I read the book over two days and was instantly able to sleep well the night I finished reading it! Chapter 5 is my ‘go-to’ chapter when I occasionally have a problem falling asleep – it never fails to work. I first bought the Kindle version as I wanted some instant help, but have just purchased the hard copy so I can lend it to friends and family. Available on Amazon.

  21. Laura

    I’m a little late to the party so don’t know if anyone will see this, but…Sleep With Me podcast! A pleasant guy rambles on about nonsense for an hour, lol, and it knocks me out cold in about ten minutes. I’m a long-time insomnia sufferer (about 15 years) and NONE of the standard recommendations ever helped. I still sometimes wake up around 2 or 3 am, but I put the podcast on again and go right back to sleep. It sounds crazy but it’s working for me.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Pleasant guy rambles on about nonsense for an hour … could you just listen to a PBS station?

  22. Jane Mortimer

    As a follow-up to my book recommendation three posts ago (“The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night”) I just discovered that Dr Meadows also has a website (, which has useful information and tips, plus an online course and info on live workshops.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I already ordered the book based on your recommendation. Thanks again for mentioning it.

  23. Galina Lebedev

    Actually, getting not enough of sleep is as bad for immune system as eating refined carbs. Get better soon. Tom, may be it is worth to try a glycine supplement, or even better a 48 hour bone broth ( a pressure cooker allows to shorten cooking time to 2.5 hours after the right pressure gets established). Many people report feeling of unususal bliss and calmness after drinking such broth. I do.

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