Worth Your Weight

August 23, 2008

More concerned about z’s than lbs

Filed under: HAES — worthyourweight @ 12:04 am

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.

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16 Comments

  1. Although it seems I have grown out of my insomniac days, I have some tricks I used to use to help me get to sleep.

    One was to feel everything around me, just really feel the sheets, blankets, mattress, pillow, but don’t move. It’s odd because concentrating on nothing but feeling allowed my brain to shut up long enough that even when I felt I was fully aware of everything there were times I would be startled out of the first stages of sleep to find that I hadn’t been fully aware after all.

    Similarly, I have found picturing an object in my head and just really trying to see that object, or listening to a song in my head really helps. I know that once I can hear all the background music perfectly and the voice sounds real that I’m definitely not fully awake.

    Like you said, I have found not looking at the clock is HUGE. Whenever I did look at the clock all night even the sleep I got was terribly fitful and I would keep dreaming about not getting any sleep.

    Naps might keep you up at night, but I did find that it was so much easier to sleep in the day that it made more sense for me to nap and risk it keeping me up even later, because even on very little sleep I would end up most of the night, if I could nap it was great!

    I don’t think I have as much experience with insomnia as you, and somehow it resolved itself (I really don’t know what happened, but I slowly went from never being able to sleep (I’m very twitchy physically in bed on top of a racing mind) to being able to sleep quite easily on most nights) but hopefully if you haven’t tried those things I’ve mentioned, that maybe they can help you.. or someone else reading this.

    Comment by gnomeprincess — August 23, 2008 @ 8:20 am

  2. i have been awful at falling asleep since i was an infant, you can ask my mother. i’ve found that it is the worst when i have to get up earlier than usual the next day to do something important. nights before the first day of school i would maybe sleep for an hour, if that.

    my mind doesn’t want to let go of its awareness and control of my body. when i took tylenol pm/simply sleep/benadryll/whatever, i could feel my body getting physically exhausted and my mind getting loopy, and my mind would FIGHT it. i would lay there and sob because i wanted to sleep and some part of my brain just wouldn’t let that happen.

    i don’t know what triggered it, but within the past few months, it’s been lessening. after taking a dose of simply sleep daily (dose and a half if i had a big important thing the next day), i just stopped. and i was okay.

    my husband has been a big help. he scritches my head and tells me that i deserve to sleep, that i have accomplished a whole lot in the day, and to let go all of the crap that’s in my brain. and usually it works.

    so… i’m right there with you. *hug*

    Comment by maggiemunkeee — August 23, 2008 @ 11:10 am

  3. I’ve been an insomniac since at least the age of 9. Thankfully it comes and goes, so most nights I sleep well.

    Anyways, 2 things that help me are valerian root (best stuff ever!!!) and counting backwards from 100. I usually can’t make it past 50 when I do that.

    Comment by Ashley — August 23, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  4. gnomeprincess,
    You are so right about naps being easier! Whenever I’m not “supposed” to sleep — like in the middle of the day — I fall asleep easily and sleep soundly. It’s messed up LOL

    maggiemunkeee,
    Right there with you! I never slept before the first day of school. I can’t believe how similar my experiences are with you who have commented. I totally know what you mean about body exhausted/mind won’t let go. And sobbing about it? Yeah, I’ve been there. Man, it’s beyond frustrating. It feels apocalyptic or something.

    Ashley,
    Thank you and the others for the great tips! I might give valerian a try. I wanted to years ago, but got scared off by the potential side effects.

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 23, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  5. I have been an insomniac since I started my first menstrual period…so I know it has something to do with my hormones (d*mn hormones!). One thing I have noticed though that works 98% of the time when I can’t sleep…change the sheets and make sure they are high quality sheets. Sounds crazy…but even if the sheets have been on the bed one night…if I change the sheets to fresh ones I can sleep much better.

    And make sure they are either the jerzey ones (the ones that feel like a tshirt) or just save up and spend the money on 100% 300+ thread count ones. They are hella expensive…but I sleep a ton better on those than the cheapos at Walmart or somewhere. What I do is just buy one or two fitted bottom sheets and just use whatever for a flat/top sheet.

    Another thing…I have to have my bedroom cold…but my bed warm. So, during the winter the heat gets turned down and during the summer the air gets turned down…and the electric blanket is on my bed at ALL times. I need the cold on my face but the warm on my body to sleep well…I also need a loud fan (a high velocity fan works well) for some white noise. The machines don’t work for me…I have to have a fan not just for the noise but air flow or I feel like I can’t breathe. I have a small one that I can also carry with me on over night trips.

    Comment by Sandy — August 23, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

  6. Sandy,
    I agree with you on the white noise machines. Although I haven’t found a replacement yet, there are times the particular sound coming from mine drives me up the wall.

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 23, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

  7. “It’s OK if you only get two hours of sleep that day!”

    This was the thing that most helped me with insomnia. Knowing that it was no big deal if I fell asleep or not, that I could still function the next day just fine…this allowed me to lull myself into relaxing by telling myself, “It’s fine if I don’t fall asleep. I’m just going to lay here and rest for a while.” Which, of course, resulted in me falling asleep. Magic.

    Comment by peggynature — August 23, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  8. Yes! I probably need to do this more and worry less.

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 23, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

  9. A few tips I’ve found…

    If you live fairly far from the equator you will have significant changes in natural light/dark patterns. I’m near Seattle, and sunset varies from 4:30pm in December to 9:30pm in June. This summer I’ve been taking melatonin a few hours before bed to tell my body “no, it really is night time”. A sleep mask can help in summer too.

    Put the clocks so you can’t see them. I can reach over, grab my alarm and hit the button to turn on its dial light so I can read it. But I have to /do/ that.

    Pay attention to what is stimulating / calming for you. Random TV tends to annoy me, especially the commercials. “Pachabel by the Sea” is our current sleep CD. A warm bath with lavender bubble bath & candles is relaxing.

    Being physically tired helps. I’ve been using transit to get to work lately, and of course it’s not door-to-door like my car is. Walking that extra mile or so does wonders for helping me sleep.

    Comment by JenK — August 23, 2008 @ 10:33 pm

  10. Thanks, JenK!

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 24, 2008 @ 10:03 pm

  11. I’ve been an insomniac since childhood. Currently, my docs have me taking meds at night to sleep–I have to sleep, I have bipolar disorder and no sleep=manic episode onset (which is not good).

    In addition to the meds, I have to practice some good sleep hygiene. Routine is important. Docs want me to be in a darkened room for an hour before bed, so if tv’s on–no other lights. The lack of light signals to the brain that bedtime’s getting close.

    Also–what you said about “resetting your brain”–that was so helpful to me! Gone are the days of literally lying in bed for hours awake. I can’t sleep after half an hour, I get up again.

    I’d also recommend that if someone is having a lot of sleep problems and these suggestions don’t help much–that they seek medical advice. Something more serious could be going on causing the insomnia.

    Comment by bren — August 25, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

  12. Excellent points, bren!

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 25, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

  13. @Bren,

    We do the light thing too. Mainly to help get the little ones to sleep, but we have always had lower lights on at night before bed. I have 3 lamps in our living room, one with a really low wattage, the other two are to boost light levels when I need it and are almost never on actually. It actually does help as we always end up falling asleep on the couch well before bedtime! LOL

    One thing people have to think about too…there are a lot of “normal” noises in the house that studies have shown can keep you from getting decent sleep or wake you up…like the refrigerator compressor or the air conditioning coming on. White noise is good to drown it out or even ear plugs…I am in the middle myself…I can’t have too much noise, but I can’t have NO noise either…

    Comment by Sandy — August 25, 2008 @ 6:52 pm

  14. “One thing people have to think about too…there are a lot of ‘normal’ noises in the house that studies have shown can keep you from getting decent sleep or wake you up…like the refrigerator compressor or the air conditioning coming on.”

    This is so true, at least for the sleep-challenged.

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 25, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

  15. Glad I found your BLOG. Stop by mine sometime.

    http://spadinofamily.wordpress.com/

    Comment by spadinofamily — August 29, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

  16. Thanks! I’ll check it out ^_^

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 29, 2008 @ 4:41 pm


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