Please don’t wake me…

Today kicks off Sleep Awareness Week, which aims to highlight the importance of good sleep. As a chronic insomniac I am of course acutely aware of how important sleep is. I’m writing this at 4am, so I haven’t found the cure for sleepless nights. I do though have some semi successful strategies.

My relationship with sleep has flipped from one extreme to the other. In my youth I could drop off anytime, anyplace. I loved to snooze and had zero issues dropping off. I was the queen of the long lie. Sleep became a problem when I first experienced mental health problems aged 19. Unfortunately, I have never managed to regain my easy breezy relationship with slumber. Almost twenty years on I have become accustomed to functioning on a few hours a night. Chronic pain has done little to aid a peaceful night, but an inability to calmly shut down is still a major obstacle in my quest for rest.

A decent night’s repose can affect everything from heart health to sex drive. It goes without saying that exhaustion also has a massive impact on mental health. The NHS advises that most of us need around 8hrs sleep to function properly. In fact, lack of sleep can so massively impair cognitive faculties that experts suggest driving after only 5 hours sleep is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Everyone should be mightily relieved that I cannot drive.

The long-term effect of insufficient sleep is grim. The anxiety of going to bed each night knowing achieving sleep will be a battle is wearing. The more you worry about not sleeping the less likely it becomes. Constant fatigue makes getting through daily tasks difficult, which adds to one’s stress levels. This in turn pushes that magical 8 hours even further out of reach. Long sleepless nights are lonely. There’s rarely anyone else awake leaving a busy mind way too much room to mull over worries. Throw pain into mix and you have a recipe for despair. Moving through the world in a worn-out shuffle will grind you down, which is why I offer my extensively tested tips on getting some god damned sleep.
I’m not going to waste your time with milky drinks and lavender under your pillow. Everyone knows the basics and they aren’t going to cure hardcore insomnia. I don’t have a failsafe solution, if I did, I’d snoring now. However, these are the things that I have had some success with over years.

Bedroom Tips

Keep your bedroom cool. Lowering your body temperature helps the body prepare for sleep.

In theory that’s why a hot bath should aid sleep, but I find any sleepiness gained from the temp drop is lost during the process of getting dry and organised for bed. If you do less faffing post bathing it might work better for you.

No tv in the bedroom. This is a definite for me. I find a television to be the opposite of relaxing. I need my bed and bedroom to be a completely chilled out zone. Which sits nicely with my next point.

Try to make your bedroom as pleasant as possible to be in. Obviously, that means different things for different people. For me it’s nice sheets, subtle scents, comfortable mattress.

Black out blinds are your friend. I could not live without mine.

Invest in one of those huge maternity pillows. They give so much support if you have back or joint pain. Plus they’re just super comfortable.

Sound Effects

Rain on window

I use sounds machine apps. I like heavy rain/ thunderstorm type sounds, but experiment and see what works for you. Something about being safe & protected from the elements I’m hearing sometimes helps me drift off.

Soothing music (whatever that means to you) at a low volume can also help. I like to mouth the lyrics and focus on words I enjoy rather than my own thoughts. Getting the volume just right is key for me, so again, you might need to experiment. Select specific songs and make a playlist beforehand. You don’t want anything that unexpectedly bring unpleasant or stimulating associations to mind.

Preparation

I should probably have started here, but lack of sleep melts your brain. So, you’ll have deal with my disjointed thinking.

These are all evident. I’m going over them because sometimes you miss the obvious when you’re knackered.

Don’t eat too close to bedtime.

Don’t watch, read or listen to anything that will bring up stimulating emotions (nothing scary, disturbing, sad, triggering etc).

Avoid arguing or deep conversations right before you hit the hay.

Smoking, caffeine, some meds (check with gp/pharmacist) are no goes before you attempt sleep.

Against Accepted Wisdoms

Sleeping cat

I’ve consulted many Drs, Psych’s and other practitioners over the years and some of the oft repeated advice they’ve given me has turned out to be just plain wrong for me. If you find something that really does or doesn’t help, even if everyone is telling you the opposite, do you. For me this includes:

Looking at my phone in bed. Putting it on night shift mode to alter the light tone to yellowish rather than blue is a must. Otherwise I find aimlessly scrolling can be very helpful in getting me sleepy.

Reading in bed also works for me. I can’t fall asleep without reading. I find that if I just keep going until I literally can’t keep my eyes open, I have a good chance of getting into a proper sleep. I think it’s because my mind is occupied with the content of the book rather than whatever mess is in my head. Clearly, it’s important to choose the reading material with reference to my previous points.

Sharing the bed with pets. So many people have cautioned me against this. I find my petting my cat and hearing his purrs excessively relaxing. Thus, I ignore such warnings.

Hippie Dippie

Constellation lamp

I hate to be that person, but occasionally the esoteric route gets you there.

A constellation lamp in a dark room can offer something uncomplicated to focus your attention on long enough to get to sleep.

Gentle yoga – clears the mind & stretches everything in a pleasing manner.

Desperate Measures

When you’ve been attempting shut eye for hours and are reaching the point of hopelessness; get up. By that point you aren’t going to sleep. Every toss & turn just raises anxiety levels. I find it much more productive to get out of bed and stop forcing it. Do whatever you can manage and if you get drowsy try again.

Medication – You need sleep to operate. There comes a point when discussing medication options with your Gp is the sensible thing to do. I have tried several sleeping pills over the years. Most didn’t work for me. Most are not a suitable for prolonged use due to addictive and/or tolerance building properties. There are some drugs that can be used for longer periods. I have been prescribed one such medication. It doesn’t have a 100% strike rate, but when it does work it knocks me out all night.

Sleep when you can in extreme cases. Often napping is counterproductive when fighting insomnia. However, when you haven’t had more than a couple of consecutive hours sleep in weeks that goes out the window. When my sleeplessness is at its worst, I will get so completely exhausted that my body will crash. That doesn’t always happen at bed time. Take that sleep. You need it. Sleep all day if you must.

Last but Not Least

Oxytocin

Sex and orgasms in general are brilliant for sleep. Sex works on so many fronts. You can tire yourself out, all those feel good hormones chill you out and of course it’s the perfect distraction from any negative bullshit you have going on. Flying solo releases all that lovely oxytocin and melatonin too, so don’t be shy about giving it a try.

Advertisements

A day in the life…

This morning I was rudely awakened at about 3am. The ill mannered culprit was pain. This time it was intense & centred in my stomach. So, i got up, took my stomach meds, some painkillers & hoped for relief.

Relief was not to come. I lay in the dark for half an hour waiting for the medication to work it’s magic. My body was having none of it, a wave of nausea washed over me & I knew I was going to be sick. I ‘rushed’ to the bathroom where I proceeded to vomit repeatedly. Each violent wretch sent pain shooting down my back. An hour later I’m sweating, dizzy, sore & unable to get off the bathroom floor.

All the throwing up had triggered some hefty heartburn & reflux, but meds weren’t  an option for fear of kicking off more vomiting. I slowly picked myself off the floor & retreated to the living room. Once situated on the sofa, I turned out the lights & put Joni Mitchell on low.  Over the next several hours,

I tried breathing exercises,

put on my tens, 

paced, 

drank mint tea,

curled into ball,

took more medication, 

vommed more medication 

watched the sun come up

& resigned myself to having a rough day. 

That’s exactly what happened. Today was a riot of pain. My stomach continued to be a nightmare. My back ache progressed into agony. I was intermittently sick throughout the day. Thus I had to cancel appointments. Most of the writing scheduled for today wasn’t even attempted. More housework piled up as I struggled to control my pain & rising panic. An acute flare like is this stressful because I never have any idea how long it might last. I could be in better shape tomorrow or I could be in hospital. I live alone & I work freelance; if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. I worry. A lot. I grow concerned about 

staying solvent, 

my professional reputation,

keeping my home presentable,

keeping myself presentable,

how I will keep important appointments,

letting my loved ones down, 

losing control of my mental health, 

Basically, I worry about everything, from the state of my kitchen floor to the state of my relationship. Of course all this stress is detrimental to my health. Especially with regards my to stomach problems, stress is the enemy. Likewise, stress is an anathema to sleep. Lack of sleep makes illness more difficult to cope with, but of course pain & illness also make it harder to sleep. If I can’t manage my anxiety it will spiral into panic attacks & depression. Any decline in my mental health reduces my productivity, my ability to leave the house & my chances at engaging with the world positively. Around & around I go. Symptoms exacerbate symptoms all adding up to an almost permanantly exhausted, scared, sick & sore me. 

And this is my life. This level of illness is not rare. My good days are not pain free. I don’t know when the bad times will hit. I wake up every morning with no idea if I’ll be able to get out of bed. Chronic illness is fucking nightmare. It forces you let people down, to miss huge chunks of your own life & to live that life always walking on broken glass.  

Blackbirds singing in the dead of night…

It’s 5.07am. There are some very loud birds outside & the light is creeping around the edges of my blackout blind. I haven’t slept, but I do finally feel a little bit sleepy. Do I sleep? If so I might sacrifice the day. After no more than a couple of hours for the last few nights I might conk out big style. I wanted to do something today. Something nice enough to make me feel like I am doing normal life whilst still being easy. Sleeping all day does not fit the bill. Although, perhaps I’ll wake up feeling rested & be productive. If I could complete one if the many, many things on my list I might feel a tiny bit less anxious. For now I’m stuck in the vicious crazy circle. No motivation + no energy = accomplishing nothing. As the things I have not done pile up so does my anxiety. Until the undone things & the anxiety are so huge that I’m paralysed by their weight. I’m just stuck underneath it all stressing & not sleeping & feeling increasingly worthless. So, maybe I should sleep. I’m exhausted. I’m always exhausted because I never get enough sleep. There is always something keeping me awake. Be it pain or anxiety or coughing or nightmares or vomiting or the terrifying vagueness of insomnia. Right now I feel that illusive part of tiredness that usually escapes me. The fuzzy comforting drowsiness that signals actual sleep is a possibility.

But

If I sleep now, chances of sleeping tonight are slim. I could miss the chance to do a thing that could make me feel a thing that isn’t grey or edgy. If I close my eyes now I’m risking the dreams. Flashing scenes dripping with all the things I cannot bear to look at again. Flickering images soaked in feelings too potent for consciousness. Then I’ll wake in a mess. Heart pounding, breath hiding m & I’ll have to talk myself down. Fool myself into calmness that’s counterfeit. Either way the day is scuppered. All those hopes for lightness dashed. 


So, I stay awake. I’ll just wait in this cool dark room for the day to really get started. Force myself into the shower. Try to make a plan that doesn’t feel overwhelming. Push down the fatigue & the jangling of every nerve for the possible reward of OK. Reassure myself that this isn’t forever. Repeat that I am not back in the hole. It has been a difficult month. I am allowed to feel bad. Tomorrow or the next day or the day after that will be easy. Just keep going. Swing from one pleasant moment to the next & hold my breath through all the rest. 

This will pass

I will write the things that are over due

I will do some god damn washing 

I’ll cook a proper meal 

&

Wash my hair

Peace will be restored 

Life will go on

&

I will live it. 
If only I could get some sleep…

 

All I can say is I’m breathing…

PTSD is a persistent foe. You can make progress & start to think maybe, just maybe you can actually defeat this bastard, but it knows you think that. 

It’s waiting for you to relax your hyper vigilence. The moment you begin to let go of the breath you’ve been holding for 17yrs it will suck it in & grow.

Folks in your life see you gaining strength & think you’re better. There is no ‘better’.  There is managing ,

coping,

trying to live,

daring to live?

The good days can start to stack up. You can feel a safe distance from the horror, but you can never be sure. 

You can never be certain that a flashback won’t stun you like lightening. 

And stuck in that hot, white memory you could loosen your grip on the here & now.

The relative calm & safety could be shattered. Perhaps only for that instant. You could be lucky, those smells & fears could melt away. Current achievements or delights may well wash over you. It’s possible. That happens. 

You’ll make plans & take steps. But you’ll always be looking over your shoulder. The knowledge of the cruelty of your own mind will keep you rigid.

Because lightening does strike twice & thrice & ever & on.

With every thump of your heart you know you’re only one more squeeze from disaster. Where little sleep becomes none. The crazy creeps out from behind all those positive walls, it brings terror & tsunamis of grief. 

And the pills don’t work

Or Dr’s 

Or the life jacket you had to make with your bare hands. 

There is only one way to row to shore & it’s brutal. It’s hot blood dripping from your fingers; slippy yellow fat & an uncontrollable urge to cut a little deeper. 

Bleed a little more 

Wrapping up the unthinkable pain in the easy hurt of butchering yourself. 

This illness is being  awake in the night & writing so you won’t do. It’s ignoring the destructive comfort because you so desperately want this new, real life. 

And, yes, all those yous should be I’s. 

It’s my past, my pain, my ongoing battle for a future. 


Listen, I’m a really perfect song.

The bedtime tag…

I’ve read a few other blogger’s posts on this & as bed is one of my happy places I wanted to join in.



What are your favourite pajamas?

Soft & warm jim jams do it for me. I am severely aneamic, which makes me freezing most of the time. I have sexy chemises, but I’m more frequently found in M&S thermals & fluffy socks. 



Current bedtime reading?

In one person by John Irving. Another excellent book by one of my favourite writers. 

What is on your bedside table?

My bedside table is actually two large stacks of books. I can’t sleep without reading, so I always have a pile of books waiting to be read. On top of my books lives an anti ageing face cream, germolene, pain killers, pain relief gel, my glasses & peptac. 

Favourite sleepy scent?

Various violet scented products. My bedroom usually smells of violets. 

What is your usual bedtime & wake up routine?

I have a lot of trouble sleeping, so it varies. I am definitely a night owl, so I won’t be in bed before midnight. 

Top 3 bedtime products?

A rather strong prescription sleeping pill.

A rather strong prescription pain killer.

Lacuna expert regeneration night cream. 

Your most common sleeping position?

On my side with one hand under my pillow.

Any strange bedtime routines?

I don’t think do. Brush my teeth, wash my face etc

Are you the big spoon or little spoon?

Little spoon, but as I mostly share my bed with this little man, I don’t often get the chance.



I shall tag my wee sister to share her bedtime secrets.