I once heard a lecture by a former coach who said there were 3 basic components to overall health:

  1. sleep
  2. nutrition
  3. exercise

In that order. Basically because if you recover crappily, whatever you eat or do for exercise won’t matter. Makes a lot of sense.

Picture this: you, relaxing for a while before you get to bed, with no screens, no music, no mental stimulation, in the dark, lots of silence & emptying your mind of thoughts, then drawing some blackout curtains so the room is pitch dark, closing the door, & sleeping like a block of granite for about 9 hours uninterrupted.

Holy shit, doesn’t that sound like the fucking best? That sounds like the fucking best. I’m down with all of that. He said that’s what every night should be.  I love sleep. I could be really wonderful at it if I had the opportunity. If you let me, I’d curl up & sleep anywhere, at any time, for about 10 hours. But my sleep has been garbage for a long time. I’ve worked night shifts for the past 16 years & now I have a toddler. I go to bed around 1:30 or 2 a.m. after having stared at computer screens for many hours & rushing to make deadline. I can fall asleep very quickly & sleep through quite a lot, but my sleep is often interrupted & I wake up feeling like a sack of rancid giraffe assholes. Most mornings I’m up after just a few hours in a panic because I hear Malley trying to climb down the stairs by herself about 6 or 7 a.m. looking for her mother (who gets worse sleep than I do & has already been up for hours).  I make sure the kid doesn’t break her neck, stumble back into bed for another hour or so, wake up groggy & anxious. About 85% of the time I’m not sure what day it is. I have to triplecheck my phone. About 3 or 4 days of my working week I’ll take a brief coffee break by napping on a table in a cold, disused floor of the office building, & I wake up doing that thing where I think I’m falling.  I don’t remember the last time I woke up truly refreshed.

The same coach recommended people try supplementing with magnesium to help with sleep — specifically Natural Calm. It’s powdered magnesium citrate you dissolve in hot water & drink before bed. Supposed to make you relaxed, help you drift off, make your sleep deeper with better quality so you wake up great. Side effects, he said: it makes you have vivid, fucked-up dreams, & it helps you poop. These effects might or might not be pleasant. Magnesium citrate is the same stuff you chug to clear out your bowels before you get a colonoscopy. This dose is much milder than that, though.

Nik & I bought some. Her sleep is fucking atrocious, worse than mine. So I figured this might help both of us.


Poor testing conditions

For most of the week, I got shitty sleep whether I took Natural Calm or didn’t. Didn’t much matter, because I was almost always up after 4 or 5 hours with Malley looking for mom, screaming or crying or shoving me to wake me up. Sometimes I went back to bed after we located her. Sometimes I slept OK after that, sometimes not. It’s not ideal but this is how things are going to be for a while.

The first night I tried Natural Calm, I lay there waiting for it to kick in, mentally spiraling. It takes almost no effort for me to leap from any situation into disaster, & this did not seem to alleviate that.  Am I relaxed now? I don’t know if I’m relaxed. I can’t tell. Is this relaxed? How relaxed am I supposed to get? Do I pass out? Is that healthy? Why did I do this? Why do I do anything? What kind of person am I that I can’t even relax right? What if instead of a “mild laxative effect” I shit myself in my sleep? And it ruins the mattress & the sheets? We can’t afford to buy a new mattress right now. How is Nik going to look me in the eye after that? One day, each of us is going to shit ourselves in front of the other. We’ll get old. It’s only a matter of when. Eventually I dropped off.

One night I didn’t take the Natural Calm because Malley was awake all day, didn’t have an afternoon nap, then decided to crash hard at 4 p.m. & stay down for the night. She does that sometimes. I assumed this meant she’d be up in the wee hours sometime & I wanted to be prepared to help her through it. About quarter of 3, Malley got up & decided it was time to play. We spent around an hour and a half taking her princess figurines to Princess School, then we went back to bed.


I didn’t have any dreams that were more bizarre than the dreams I already have.1 At one point Nik suggested I try a stronger dose, so I did. I was up 4 hours later because Malley had a screaming fit for 20 minutes looking for Nik, who had gone out with the dogs. I was a wreck the rest of the day. I might need a stronger dose still. Maybe I’ll keep trying it. Maybe not. I don’t know.

The only effect on my pooping was on the first day. I shit more. Which I wasn’t worried about anyway. It’s always fine.

Theories so far: I don’t have any goddam clue if Natural Calm works for me or not. Nik likes it, says it works well to keep her relaxed at night, which I’m very glad about.  Me, over the last few days I’ve been more exhausted & actually less calm than I have been in weeks.2 I have bigger problems than a little magnesium can fix. I’m also not likely to string more than 5 hours of sleep together at a time for the foreseeable future.

I still think the sleep > nutrition > exercise rule makes sense, & I’m sure Natural Calm probably does help with relaxation. I just think I’m unable to get the benefits from it right now. Maybe when the kid’s away at college. Further updates as they happen, if they happen.

The week’s log

Tuesday 12/16

  • Deadlift: 5 x 135, 5 x 155, 5 x 185, 5 x 215, 5 x 250, 5+ x 285 (moderate 9), AMRAP @ 215 (easy 10)
  • Press: 10 x 45, 5 x 55, 5 x 70, 5 x 80, 5+ x 92 (moderate 7)
    Boring But Big: 5 x 3 @ 90%, or 97#

Notes: Left off the weightlifting belt for the deadlifts this week. Trying to work my way up to higher weights without relying on it. Worked just fine.

Wednesday 12/17

Strength/conditioning: Shankle Complex x 10

  • 3 clean pulls
  • 1 hang power clean
  • 2 jerks

2 sets each at 95, 105, 115, 125, 135 — 30-90 secs rest between sets


Deck of Cards for 13 min:
♥ = pushups (26)
♦ = front squat @ 95# (23)
♣ = kettlebell swing @ 60# (40)
♠ = bar dip (61)

Notes: First time trying the Shankle Complex. Named after the great Donny Shankle. A lot of fun, & became tough by the end, since I can’t clean & jerk very much & the rest time was short. Got royally fucked over on bar dips for the metcon as you can see.

Sunday 12/21

  • Squat: 5 x 95, 5 x 135, 5 x 155, 5 x 187, 5 x 215, 5+ x 245 (moderate 5), AMRAP @ 187 (easy 10)
  • Bench: 10 x 45, 5 x 65, 5 x 95, 5 x 110, 5 x 127, 5+ x 145 (moderate 8) Boring But Big: 5 x 3 @ 152

Notes: Normally I work out both Saturday and Sunday, but that hasn’t happened for the last couple of weeks, this time because Saturday was a shitshow sleepwise. Anyway, it happens. Not a very good squat session. Tired from the week & hungry, so I did the minimum. That’s fine. Again, it happens.

Interesting link you might find interesting

My feelings about Planet Fitness are complicated. On one hand I appreciate that it’s cheap for many people to get access to gym equipment. On the other, any gym that doesn’t let people deadlift & humiliates people if they grunt while lifting — a natural & often unavoidable consequence of picking up something heavy for some people, like, ahem, me — & perpetuates unhelpful & mean stereotypes that lifters are stupid meatheads, is some fucking lame-ass bullshit crap-palace. That said, I guess it’d probably be possible to get strong at a Planet Fitness if you use the right equipment3 & if you motivate yourself properly, have a good program you stick with consistently & lay off the free bagels & pizza. But they seem to be more interested in taking your money & keeping you unfit, as this article suggests.

  1. Most of my dreams involve transportation: trains, buses, cars, highways, streets. Walking, driving, running to catch a plane somewhere. I had one of those, a bus this time. I often have dreams about staircases, or about rooms with uncomfortably low ceilings like 3 feet off the ground so I need to crawl around.
  2. Example: On Saturday I saw my face in a sideways mirror & became irrationally worried my eyes don’t both point in the same direction, & even now I’m still not convinced something isn’t messed up there.
  3. I.e., the goddam weights