Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Insomnia Trifecta: How I Cope


I wake up early. Like, really early. My alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. on school mornings and 99% of the time, I wake right up with the first alarm. I take my crazy pills, pour my coffee (which is ready because I prepped it the night before and it turns on at 5:20), and check the weather forecast, various news, email, and social media, all while the house is still dark and quiet. It's lovely and peaceful and reminds me of the good old days when I'd putter around doing housework late at night after all the kids were asleep. Then at 6 a.m. another alarm goes off, reminding me to wake the children. This is not my favorite part of the morning because most of them don't want to get up! I have tried various methods to make the process easier, but that is for another post because for all my years of motherhood, I still haven't figured that one out!

So, I guess I've always been kind of a morning person, but it also kind of sucks because of why. I wake up early because of racing thoughts! Even when I don't have to get up until 7 or 7:30, or on the weekends that I don't have the kids when I don't have to get up at any particular time at all, I still wake up early. I am a light sleeper so birds chirping or the neighbor's dog barking might wake me to begin with, but it's the thoughts in my head that keep me from falling back asleep, even if I'm exhausted. If I manage to sleep until 7 a.m., it is cause to celebrate.

Falling asleep used to be a major problem for me. Every little noise, any tiny light, every single worry or regret of the day, would keep me from drifting off and I would toss and turn for half an hour to an hour. Not cool. For several years I was taking Klonopin twice a day, which would sedate me enough to fall asleep and stay asleep (and be groggy in the mornings), but when some studies came out linking long-term benzo use to Alzheimers & dementia (which I am genetically predisposed to), the state behavioral health clinic that I go to for meds stopped prescribing them. That sucked, but it's okay because Klonopin also made me cry all the time. So I had to do all kinds of other things to cope with my insomnia, like using a box fan for white noise, a sleep mask to keep my eyes closed and block out light, and hypnotic ambient music to lull me to sleep. My bedtime ritual is a big complicated deal!

Well, a while back, I accidentally stumbled upon some solutions to my difficulty falling asleep. It had become a joke that I could not stay awake to watch a movie with Man Friend and it always ruined date night, because I'm so physically active during the day (raging ADHD + cleaning houses for a living) that sitting still and staring at a screen tells my body that it's time to sleep. Now, I have never been a fan of TV in the bedroom because it supposedly interferes with both sleep hygiene and intimate relationships (you are more likely to watch TV instead of sleeping or having sex), but one day I decided that I'd try putting a TV in my bedroom and see what happens. Turns out it worked like magic. I'd put on PBS (I don't do cable) on a low volume, set the sleep timer for an hour, slap on my sleep mask and zonk out.

As a bonus, I accidentally discovered something else that helps me fall asleep. I had been taking a tremendous amount of ibuprofen pretty much around the clock to cope with chronic pain due to scoliosis, and I wanted to find an alternative that would not tear up my stomach. I did some research and started a supplement regimen that included taking magnesium and tart cherry extract (both muscle relaxers) in the evenings, and turmeric (an anti-inflammatory) in the mornings. The results have been amazing and I need ibuprofen far less often than before, and the unexpected side effect of those evening supplements is that they relax my body so much that I practically melt into slumber with no problem. Falling asleep problem solved without benzos. Yay!

I also used to wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, at 2 or 3 or 4 a.m. There are various spiritual theories about why this happens, but I figured it was probably because my evening handful of pills (the supplements and my crazy pills, including Buspar, a non-benzo anti-anxiety medication with a relatively short half-life) had worn off and those racing thoughts were back with a vengeance. So I would get up, pee, take more Buspar, turn the TV back on, and start the whole process over again. It would take about 30-45 minutes to fall asleep again, and if I happened to be too close to my scheduled wake time, I'd often end up oversleeping because my alarm would go off in the middle of a deep sleep cycle. Argh! No rest for the weary.

But guess what? I stumbled upon a solution to my night-waking! A little over a year ago I embarked on a journey of emotional healing. That whole thing is a story for many other posts, but for now I'll share one part that solved one of my sleep problems. I started listening to guided inner child meditations at night, as a form of hypnosis to reprogram negative self-talk. I made a very long playlist on YouTube of various meditations from various sources, and started playing it at bedtime (instead of falling asleep to the TV). It would play all night every night, and still be playing when my alarm went off the next morning! I would occasionally rearrange the order of the playlist, and/or start at different places in the list when I got bored of a particular meditation. Welp, guess what. I stopped waking up in the middle of the night. Totally did not see that coming! AND, the hypnosis worked! I had some extreme and unexpected positive changes in my self-esteem and self-worth, but again, that is a can of worms for another time!

So, I have figured out how to solve the problems of my difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, but the early morning waking is still an issue. That brings me back to the beginning of this post where I described some of my school morning ritual. But that is not the only kind of morning ritual I have. In fact, I have four due to sharing custody of my children with their dad: school/work mornings with kids, work mornings without kids, weekend mornings with kids, and weekend mornings without kids. The short version is that I have decided to embrace the fact that I'm an early waker, and make the best of it.

Every morning includes the coffee (or sometimes tea) and checking news/weather/social media routine, but on mornings where I don't have to rush out the door, I use this extra time to myself to be productive. On weekends with the kids, I usually wake up an hour or two or three before they do, and I use that time to putter around with quiet housework or the business end of my housekeeping company. On weekends without kids, I write! Writing always takes longer than I think it will because once I get going I fall into The Zone and I can't stop for a few hours! Trying to write while kids are around can be incredibly frustrating because of all the distractions and interruptions. And since I already wake up with racing thoughts, what better way to cope than to get some of them out of my head and onto my blog? Now I am at peace with my "problem" and have effectively turned it into an opportunity.

Do you suffer from insomnia? How do you cope? Share your experience in the comments!


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