A sleepless sleepless night

Last night I didn’t sleep a wink. Not for a single solitary moment.

That was the first time that had happened to me in my life. Yes, like most people I’ve had the odd night where I’ve had difficulty getting to sleep because of illness or just too many things on my mind, but eventually I know I will fall asleep. Even on long haul night flights I can usually sleep for a few hours, but I’ve never experienced being unable to sleep even one minute for the whole night.

I went to bed about 2 am which I guess would be late for most people but pretty much the norm for me when I am writing or editing photos. Usually by that time I am quite tired so will rarely take more than a couple of minutes to drop off to sleep. But last night when my head hit the pillow, I realised something wasn’t quite right. I felt hyped up – sort of like I would expect to feel if I had downed a couple of espressos before bedtime – and my stomach was feeling unsettled too.

After half an hour I got up and took half a Travelan tablet because that usually fixes an unsettled stomach very quickly. But on this occasion it did nothing.

I tried listening to my iPod for a while because that usually sends me to sleep if my mind is on other things. But on this occasion it didn’t work.

I tried turning on the air-conditioner because often the hum of that will send me to sleep, but that didn’t work either.

So at about 3.30 am I got up and went back to my office and did some more work for about an hour.

At about 4.30 am I decided I must surely be ready for sleep now, so went back to bed. But I still couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned for a while, tried counting sheep, but couldn’t fall asleep. It was a strange sensation - my body clock seemed stuck on daytime. My stomach was still feeling unsettled, so I started thinking about what I had eaten during the day. Breakfast had been the same as usual, a toasted cheese and tomato Panini for lunch – nothing unusual there – and for dinner an item off the menu at my local Italian restaurant that I had eaten a dozen times before. Coffee mid- morning and mid-afternoon, a glass of Sangria in the evening – nothing out of the ordinary at all.

Then it struck me. I had done one thing that was different to my normal routine. Normally I will make a fruit smoothie before or after lunch, but I’d been running a lot of errands yesterday so didn’t make it until a few hours after dinner. And I’d added an extra ingredient that I’d never consumed before.

When I went to the fridge to get the yoghurt and wheat germ that I always add to my smoothies, I spotted a small jar of chia seeds on the shelf that I'd bought some time ago but never got around to trying. I read the label and it suggested adding a tablespoonful of the seeds to smoothies. I’d heard of chia seeds being described as one of nature’s superfoods, so thought I would try some in my smoothie. I wasn’t sure how they would taste, so I only added about a teaspoonful.

Could I be suffering from some sort of reaction to the chia seeds, despite the small quantity that I had consumed?

I got up and went back to my office and googled “Will chia seeds keep you awake” and lo and behold there was a page of results littered with the words “chia” and “awake” in a bold font. One search summary simply said “Do not take Chia after 2 PM as it will keep you awake at night”.

So despite having taken only a teaspoonful of chia seeds, it seems that was the cause of my sleeplessness. And probably because I had never taken them before, my stomach was reacting to them because I had taken them dry (many of the links I started reading recommended that they be soaked in water and made into a gel before adding to smoothies because they absorb large amounts of water and can therefore cause dehydration in the body if taken dry).

Many of the sites to which the search results linked told stories of Aztec and Mayan warriors marching through jungles for 24 hours on nothing more than a handful of chia seeds and some water. Health food sites raved about how rich they were in anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, and loaded with vitamin B-17 and phytonutrients. Other sites described them as better than coffee for providing an energy kick to enable people to work through the night without the side-effects of caffeine.

One health food site maintained that chia seeds “will let you fall asleep when you want to without disrupting your biorhythms” but that was a solitary site amongst hundreds of others saying the opposite. (I later noticed that the same site said “chia’s high levels of vitamins and nutrition won’t just help keep you awake, but they’ll give you the energy to operate at the very top of your game both in a physical and mental sense” – which seemed to contradict the earlier claim that they wouldn’t keep you awake).

So I came to the conclusion that it must have been the chia seeds that were keeping me awake – despite the relatively small dose that I took (perhaps being the first time I had consumed them, they had a greater effect on my body).

By this time I had been on the Web for more than an hour, and it was already dawn. I still didn’t feel sleepy so decided to have a shower and breakfast. At around 8 am I headed out to run a few errands and came home just before 10 am. I went into my office, turned on the computer, and started answering emails, but then realised I was nodding off in front of the computer. So just after 10 am I went back to bed, put my head on the pillow, and in less than five seconds I was fast asleep.

Despite being an advocate of natural foods with a strong interest in medicinal plants, I have always been a skeptic when it comes to many of the claims that health food purveyors make about their products (especially those that claim to cure cancer or make you look 30 years younger) but I seem to have stumbled across a product here that was definitely living up to its claim that it would “feed the body with a steady supply of energy that can last for hours”.

Unfortunately it supplied me with a steady supply of energy at a time when I didn’t want it, but having been subjected to its effects without realising what was causing them, I had unknowingly undertaken a sort of blind trial without being influenced by the claims for the product.

Sometimes when you consume a product that claims to give you more energy, and you subsequently feel energised, you are never sure whether the product is really working or whether it is a psychological reaction to the marketing claims. In my case I experienced the feeling of having more energy without realising what was producing that feeling. So it does seem that the claims being made by promoters of chia seeds are real.

Today I am feeling completely washed out because my body clock got thrown so much out of kilter by taking the chia seeds late at night (I feel like I have jet lag right now) but assuming I can get to sleep tonight, tomorrow I will try some chia seeds with my breakfast and see if they give me an energy boost in the morning.

The ‘offending’ chia seeds. I note the bottle says this is a 7-day supply. Based on the reaction I had to one teaspoonful, I don’t think it would be wise for me to try consuming the contents of this bottle within a week – I think I would be jumping out of my skin.

Aerial view of Mt Fuji

Orchid book back in stock again