I’m going to be bold for a minute, and state that I may be pulling out of my insomniac stage. I’m afraid to utter these words, lest that elusive thing called Sleep decides to leave me again, but considering I have been sleeping well into the late mornings, and then long naps in the afternoons, and then sleeping again at night, it might be a fair assessment.
When my insomnia started last year, I tried everything to trick my body into sleeping. Because that’s what it eventually turned into…finding a way to trick my body. And I mean EVERYTHING:
- Lemon balm
- Warm baths at night
- Light stretching before bed
- No reading, eating, or watching Netflix in bed
- No bluelights in the bedroom at all
- No caffeine
- No alcohol
- As much red wine as needed until I passed out
- No food after 5pm
- A light snack right before bed
- Eat cheese with crackers before bed
- Eat ½ a banana before bed
- No sugar
- No evening workouts
- Melatonin (up to 25mg, with no result)
- Sleepy time tea
- Journaling to “release the day” from my brain
- Lavender oil in my baths
- Lavender oil on my pulse points
- Gentle music to signal relaxation
- Relaxation guided meditations
- Waking up very early and not taking any naps
- Chinese herbs
- Turning the AC down low
- Reading on the couch, THEN moving to the bed
- Dimming/turning off the lights as the sun goes down
- Getting plenty of Vitamin D during the day because your body needs it for melatonin blah blah blah something science related
- Sleeping with a sleep mask
- Sleeping with a sound machine
- Having regular hours for sleeping and rising
I scoured the internet for tips, and tried all of them. As you know, none worked. Not one single suggestion. My roommate was frequently gone during the week for work, and I would say goodnight to him around 11pm, then go up to my room and read. The clock would tick past 1am, 2am, 3am, and then at 4:45am I would hear the front door open and close as he left for his early morning flights. I was still wide-awake and had switched from the book to Netflix. Eventually I would need a change of scenery and move downstairs to the couch, staring listlessly from the TV to the busy street outside.
One of the most annoying things people will say to insomniacs is “Well, with all that extra time, think of everything you can get accomplished!” No. Shut up. It doesn’t work like that. You know what it feels like to lose out on a night of sleep and then be expected to operate at full creative capacity the next day? It’s pretty damn hard. Your brain is foggy, your decision making hampered, and your emotions teetering on a needle point. Now, instead of going home and going to bed, imagine that night you come home exhausted, but again you don’t sleep. So the next day, those previous conditions are compounded, and you are more tired than you thought was possible. Now, imagine that is your life every day. I was a zombie. You could see it in my eyes. They were dull and vacant. My brain was thick with haze, and I couldn’t manage to make basic choices like what to eat for dinner. I cried daily, because I had lost all sense of reason and coping mechanisms.
But the worst part was just lying there, on the couch, staring outside at a beautiful day I couldn’t participate in. Getting messages from my friends – invites to concerts, parties, wineries…things I no longer was capable of. Being so exhausted I wanted to die, yet knowing sleep would never come. The absolute worst part was wondering if this would be my life forever.
Once that happens, Depression pops up and realizes he has a nice warm spot to build his home. And so there I was, battling the big three: Insomnia, Anxiety, and Depression. And crying daily as I watched them slowly lay claim to what used to be, my life draining out of me in silvery wisps like Dumbledore filling his Pensieve with his thoughts.
In the afternoons, waves of exhaustion would roll over me with such intensity that I would turn over on the couch and eagerly expect a nap. This never came, of course. But I never stopped trying. I would lie there, exhausted and wide awake, listening to the noises outside. Sleep still far off in the distance, neither looking my way or bothering to acknowledge my pleas for help. This was how I lived from September 2013 to May of this year.
I hear some of you say, “But you MUST have slept some! Otherwise you’d be dead.” True. Some nights I slept for 2, even 3 hours! But mostly it was just passing the night, hovering over that dim veil of consciousness where you’re drifting off, but still awake enough to notice everything going on around you.
All that to say, things are happening. Exciting things! I guess the new medication Dr. Mathias has me on is working. My circadian rhythms are still totally effed, but that is the least of my priorities right now. I’M SLEEPING NOW, B*TCHES!!!!!!
There are two main reasons I write this post:
- A major red flag to my health was the fact that despite everything I tried for sleep, nothing worked. I should have been more aggressive in my search at that point. IF YOU AREN’T SLEEPING, GO TO A DOCTOR. GO TO A DOCTOR. GO TO A DOCTOR. I cannot stress this enough. And don’t stop until someone figures out why.
- In the end, the most important thing is to find what works for you and your body. Because no matter what everyone else says, you know your body best. After much experimentation, I have found a “process” that would make sleep experts cringe. I take a relaxing bath with lavender oil, because I like the smell, and I like to be clean when I get into my sheets. Then I do some yoga stretches. Then I’ll get into my bed, not because “it’s time to sleep” (remember, I have to trick my body) but because I want to be comfortable. Then I’ll read for a bit. Maybe 30-40 minutes. Then I will put the book away, pop a Xanax or 2 (the quantity varies nightly as I don’t know how bad my anxiety will be) and watch 30 Rock on Netflix, with my bedside light on, until I fall asleep. I don’t know why, but this is the only way I can coax my body into sleeping.
Reading doesn’t work – it makes me really anxious to read before sleeping. Who knows why. Also, leaving the light on is a way for me to surrender to the insomnia. “Ok. I’m not going to sleep, so might as well just leave the light on and watch TV.” And I choose 30 Rock because it’s so damn funny it takes my mind off of myself. Also, because I’ve seen all the episodes, I don’t have any anxiety about falling asleep and missing something good. Sounds trivial, but every bit of anxiety is just another pebble on the pile that needs to be removed. So that gives me the “freedom” to fall asleep, if that makes any sense.
For some reason, that bizarre formula leads up to me getting some shut eye. A week ago, I still wasn’t falling asleep until 4 or 5am, but recently I managed to fall asleep as early as 2:30am! And that was after sleeping until 12pm the previous day, waking up for breakfast, then going back to bed from 1-8pm. I have no idea what is going on, but it’s like Christmas every day, and I’m letting my poor body lap up as much of this sweet sleep as it wants. Who knows…maybe one day soon, my circadian rhythms will click back into place too and the night will become a thing of peace and refuge instead of this place riddled with anxiety and exhaustion. It looks like I’m headed that way, and I’m so thrilled.
As far as surrender goes, this has been one of my most difficult tests. Since I don’t fall asleep until well after 4am, I don’t wake up until 12 or 1pm if I have a good night. That is really late, but it’s still 8 hours or less based on when I sleep. I am not a morning person, but I do love the mornings and being able to wake up and get stuff done. And I have this nagging belief that people who wake up late are lazy/unproductive/losers, etc. Conditioning from words my father would say to me as a child, and then society as I grew up and went out into the world. So I fought it for ages. Would try to force myself into bed no later than midnight, and set my alarm for 9am. And it was just all so pointless, because my body always had other ideas in mind. Thanks to Dr. Mathias letting me know about the hyper activity going on in my bowel from 11pm-3am, there really is just no point trying to sleep during that time. So I wait it out. All those months of being so frustrated that pills and home remedies won’t work finally make sense. My surrender has been that I know I have no chance of sleeping until after 3am so I might as well just let any preconceived time frames, and beliefs about rising late, go. If I sleep into the afternoon, then so be it. This is a huge surrender point for me. Sure, sometimes I still feel like a loser when I wake up and the clock says 1:30pm. But then I remember why. I slept. Yeahhhhhhh I SLEPT! Then I high five a million angels.