The Whole30® vs. Insomnia

The Whole30® program, as described on the program’s website, is a “short-term nutrition reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.” To complete the program, you must give up the following for 30 consecutive days: sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, grains, legumes (with exceptions), milk (animal-derived) products (with exceptions), carrageenan, MSG, sulfites, baked goods and junk food.

Sound hard? Try attempting this thing as someone who hates cooking even more than she loves Coke Zero (forbidden during the Whole30). No more microwavable rice. No more canned veggies. No more ready-made protein shakes for breakfast. And so on. Now it was just going to be meat, eggs, produce and nuts in their natural forms for a month. I was going to have to prep everything myself. And the prep was going to take more than my standard one to three minutes per meal. What a revolting scenario.

Apart from when I’m cleaning (which I don’t mind), I detest spending any more time in the kitchen than what’s needed to bring something to or from the microwave, fridge or cupboard. I find cooking frustratingly boring, and I’m explosively impatient even when I’m not hungry. So, when I say I approached the Whole30 out of abject desperation as an extreme insomniac, you can take me at my word. I mean, I was willing to cook – that’s how bad things were for me.

I was hoping that this revolutionary cleanse might reset my circadian rhythm while resetting my nutrition. In more than 10 years of battling insomnia, I had yet to find anything that could help me to fall asleep (healthfully) in under five hours on a regular basis. In addition to undergoing two multi-day sleep studies, I had tried melatonin, magnesium citrate, a couple prescriptions, guided relaxation, chamomile tea, lavender oil, fasting from caffeine/stimulants, establishing a sleeping schedule, exercising more, and other oddball remedies. (I didn’t try underground bare-knuckled boxing though; I may yet.) When I heard about the Whole30 from my health-conscious sister, it was taking me around six hours to fall asleep each night (and it showed), so anything was worth a shot.

Did it work? Yes and no. Like all things before it, the Whole30 showed a very exciting improvement in the beginning – as early into the plan as Day Three, no less. It was taking me less than 30 minutes to fall asleep, and it was wonderful. And people kept telling me how much better (a euphemism for “less haggardly”) I looked. But, sadly, the relentless dictatorship of insomnia reclaimed my brain within two weeks of losing it to the Whole30, thrusting me back into the status wide-eyed-awake quo. So, now I was back to where I had started. Except I was painfully mourning the loss of Coke Zero every day on top of lying awake at night. Savage. Just savage.

The Whole30 did make me feel better overall, for sure. The best way I could describe it was that I felt cleaner inside while I was following the plan – so much so, in fact, that I had every intention of keeping it up beyond the 30 days. The problem is, however, I haven’t mastered self-deprivation. In fact, efforts to train myself to deprive myself of something invariably lead to backlash in the form of overindulgence. (Defiance is among my character defects, not the least bit lonely.) So, until there’s a friends-with-benefits version of Whole30 that lets you have Coke Zero while being pure in every other mandatory way, I’m resigned (somewhat shamelessly) to the squalor in my innards. I still can’t sleep, but at least I have the tranquility of knowing that I’ll get to start my groggy, miserable day with a tasty beverage.