I wonder what life is like for those who love and live with insomniacs? I assume it’s mostly hearing complaints of how tired the other person is, and detailed accounts of how they slept from night to night. There is also the inevitable waking up from the other person’s tossing and turning, and of course occasionally being punched awake because it is just SO UNFAIR that you get to sleep comfortably and easily while the other person has been struggling with only a couple hours of sleep per night for a week now!
Insomnia is an insidious ailment. If you don’t have it, then you definitely don’t understand how it feels. It can be minimized so easily, which is incredibly frustrating. “Oh, you have insomnia? Yeah, me too, One time it took me forever to fall asleep!” or “Yeah, I get it man, last night I stayed up late with friends and only got 4 hours of sleep.”
REALLY? I have cycles where now and again I get to go about 2-3 weeks without sleeping more than 2-4 hours per night, and most of those hours are interspersed with waking up and not being able to fall back asleep. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, it takes me a long time to fall asleep. I try to circumvent this by knowing and using my optimal sleeping conditions (dark, silent, cold: I call it my Crypt), and going to bed a little early, and not drinking caffeine after 12 pm, and even then sometimes my brain just screws me over and won’t shut up for no reason!
I am careful about what medications I take, in case they have side effects involving messing with sleep patterns. I have to start trying to relax and not think too much long before bedtime. If I have an argument with Fiance, BAM, NO SLEEP. If I am anxious, nervous, excited about something, or upset, then I know I have an uphill battle to fall asleep that night. Doesn’t matter if it is excitement over something good or anxiety about something negative. I never sleep the night before the first day of school or a new job. Ever. When I’m traveling, sometimes just being in a weird bed in a different country keeps me from sleeping.
Insomnia is terrible. It is a sneaky bastard of a disease, that people who don’t have it do not understand or really sympathize with. If I had a broken leg or a really bad cold, those are things that people can see and understand and empathize with. But simply being “tired” is just not seen as an illness. It’s not seen as a "disease" at all to most people.
I go through cycles. Sometimes I sleep fine, sometimes I have a longer-than-normal falling asleep period, and sometimes I just plain don’t sleep through the night. It’s incredibly frustrating, and there isn’t THAT much you can do for it.
There are medications like Ambien. I LOVE AMBIEN. I take it when I get to a point where I KNOW I am in a bad cycle, and I just need to get some sleep, for my health and well being. But because I have a high tolerance for meds, I can only take Ambien occasionally. If I take it too often, it will not work the second or third time. Sometimes I try Zzzquil or Nyquil. Sometimes I try over the counter sleep aids or other remedies. Ambien for sure works the best to actually put me to sleep, but I just don’t have the option of taking it every night, and sometimes I don’t know until it is too late that I am having a bad night, and then it’s simply too late at night to take an Ambien, as I wouldn’t get up for work (I need to have a full 8 hours of time between when the ambien kicks in and when I wake up in the morning in order not to feel drugged or groggy the next day).
There are suggestions like not looking at phone/computer/TV screens in the last hour before bed, as this will help your brain be less stimulated. There are a lot of suggestions, but outside of Ambien, few have actually worked for me. Sometimes I fall asleep well simply because of exhaustion, so that can work, too.
The worst is the end of a bad cycle. Usually I can take an Ambien or something and finally have a really good night of sleep, which helps to end the cycle of bad nights, putting me back on a good path for awhile. But now and then, that won’t work, and I just end up having to let my body basically get to the point of exhaustion, then I get some sleep and am able to bounce back.
Here’s my truth: I have gotten physically sick from having a compromised immune system from lack of sleep. I have literally gotten colds, or bronchitis, or really bad headaches simply from lack of sleep. I've had regular illnesses that have nothing to do with sleep be exacerbated by lack of adequate rest.
My quest for sleep is one of the most important things in my life. I happily go out of my way to do things or avoid things that may mess with my ability to sleep that night. I make sure to always take a couple of ambien with me when I travel...just in case. I am careful not to eat or drink anything with too much sugar later in the day. I stop with coffee by midday. I start to psyche myself into sleep. I have routines that I religiously stick to, as they seem to help.
One way that I try to help turn my brain off is counting. At night, in the dark, I get into my comfiest position and I count my breaths. I try to breathe in and out deeply and count them, trying to focus on one at a time. Sometimes I literally get up to 500 before I give up on counting.
I know this seems trivial, trying to raise awareness in a small way about the trials and tribulations of an insomniac. But I have to tell you: my search for a good night's sleep is often at the top of my mind on a regular basis. No matter how tired I am during the day, I try never to nap, as napping screws up my chances of a regular sleep cycle that night.
I crave sleep like some people crave chocolate cake.
Sleep, I love you, won't you come back to me?