We all know how important sleep is for health. That’s one of many reasons that insomnia can be so maddening. I know I need sleep to function well and repair my body. Being well aware of how essential restorative sleep is compounds my sleeping problem. It makes me worry about it over and above the fatigue and other consequences of not getting enough sleep.
If you’re like me and struggle with long-term insomnia (and I’m guessing a good chunk of us in the Fatosphere do; after all, many conditions we share like depression and fibromyalgia either can cause sleep disorders or can be caused by sleep dysfunction), then I’m sure you are well aware of the recommendations for good sleep hygiene. If not, they include:
–cut out nicotine
–cut out caffeine
–exercise, but not 2 hours before bedtime
–use your bed for sleep and sex only
–try to find some way of relaxing that works for you; have a wind-down bedtime ritual
–reduce light in your bedroom with blackout curtains and/or a sleep mask; reduce noise with earplugs or drown it out with a white noise machine
–keep your bedroom at a good temperature: not too hot, not too cold
I wanted to share some things I’ve discovered in my six years — and counting — of grappling with insomnia. (I could almost cry even reflecting on this and realizing that I’ve only slept six hours straight twice in the past six years. And I was used to sleeping eight hours straight. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to sleep.) Of course, this post is not a substitute for medical advice. Please see your doctor if you are experiencing insomnia. Like I said, these are just my tips after a lot of trial and error, stuff not usually included in “sleep hygiene” advice.
Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids like Sominex and Unisom. I was warned that using them could mimic fibromyalgia. I’ve never been able to corroborate that, but I know that eventually they made my sleep even worse than it was. I also became psychologically dependent on them. It was a real brothertrucker getting myself off of them.
I was eventually prescribed a sleep aid, but I experienced five different side effects after taking it for a short time. So now I’m not on any medication to help me sleep. I sometimes use Bach’s Rescue Sleep to quiet myself down if I’m revved up and it’s bedtime. It’s made from flower essences and is meant to calm. And — ugh — I hate to admit it, but I do keep a box of Unisom on hand for the really bad nights. As a last resort. But I try not to use any because it was really hard to get off of when I was taking two to three a night.
Keep a notebook and pen within reach of your bed. Rather than running through my to-do list for the next day and fretting myself into a tizzy, I can write it down and let it go.
It’s OK if you only get two hours of sleep that day! This was a hard lesson for me to learn, especially since insomniacs aren’t supposed to nap. It would have been easier for me to be carefree about how little sleep I was getting if I knew I could take a nap if I needed it. Well, I finally had no choice one day but to function on two hours of sleep. But that was the turning point. Knowing I could if I had to lessened the stranglehold of fear and worry about “can’t get to sleep/must get some sleep/only have three more hours until I have to be up.” I could stop eyeballing the clock (a huge “don’t” for the sleep-challenged) and relax enough to actually fall asleep. Don’t be afraid to have to start your day on two hours of sleep. If you worry about it, it’s like those gag toy finger cuffs: the more you struggle, the tighter they get.
Hit the reset button on your brain. After I’ve been tossing and turning for a while, I’ll get up and read or watch TV for a half hour or an hour. Nothing stimulating, though. Oftentimes that — or even just a walk to the kitchen/bathroom for a drink of water — seems to be enough to get me out of that repetitive groove of fighting for sleep. It may seem strange to sacrifice an hour of sleep in order to get sleep (because insomniacs are supposed to go to bed and get up at the same times every day, establish a pattern), but it’s worked for me because I can spend hours upon hours just trying to get to sleep.
Maybe good sleep is a topic that can only be dear to an insomniac’s heart. But I think we, as a society, should be spending at least a third of the concern currently wasted on weight loss and maintenance on improving everyone’s sleep. To me, it’s clear that z’s are far more integral to health.