Today I am happy to pretend to sit down and have a conversation with the lovely Mary of Contrary Mom. I asked her to talk with me about sleep loss and she kindly obliged. So, today I’d like to imagine that we are chatting over a cup of coffee at a hip little coffee shop. Well, maybe not coffee because I limit myself to only 2 cups of coffee each morning and no caffeine whatsoever after 2 pm so, how about instead we are chatting while shopping a trendy outdoor strip? No, that won’t work because I’d have my toddler with me. Ok, how about we sit on a park bench at a playground where my toddler can play and we can overlook the lovely bay on a beautiful fall day. Because, today is a surprisingly pleasant with low humidity and slightly cool-ish temperatures here in hot, hot, hot Florida. Now that we’ve set the stage for a fun conversation about insomnia, let’s get started.
I have always loved sleep…really loved it! I love being in pajamas and that first moment of getting in bed after a long day to read my book, it is a heavenly time for me. However, I began having occasional insomnia while in college around exam time. But when exams were over, sleep came back. Then, later in life when I was working on a Master’s Degree that I did not complete, I had bouts of insomnia more often as I stressed about classes. At that time, I took an herbal supplement called Valerian root. It worked wonders but was not very pleasant to take because it smells like stinky feet, quite frankly.
Insomnia was not that big of an issue and was only occasional off and on throughout life. I got married, had kids and lost a lot of sleep with my first child. I had a hard time sleeping when I was “supposed” to after my first because I had to constantly check to make sure she was still alive. After my second child came along, I too wanted him to stay alive of course but did not fear impending doom quite so often and slept like a champ any opportunity I was given.
The most troublesome period of sleep loss began around the beginning of this year. It was off and on but then became more frequent until it became regular and lasted for about three agonizing months. There are many things I attribute to my sleep loss, such as my sister’s divorce. I tend to process big events a bit delayed. So that when the chaos was actually happening, I somewhat emotionally shut down to deal with it and then processed it months later. This was partly the case as well as coping with how my relationship with my sister had changed and the heavy anxiety I carried as a result of those changes. There were other issues that I had little control over such as my daughter graduating preschool which really got to me. The fact that my children are growing quickly which in turn means that I am aging along with my mother. I took on some at-home work that I overextended myself with. In general, I was suddenly completely overwhelmed with life.
I spent many conversations with friends and family trying to analyze myself and many tears trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I considered seeing a therapist but saw my general doctor first and she prescribed me Xanax until I could get my sleep back on track. I took that and it helped. Gradually, sleep began to come back and I have not had such an extended period of sleep loss since. However, that period of time was so traumatizing to me that I still have a bit of anxiety when going to bed. A couple of weeks ago I had three of nights where I had trouble falling asleep and it brought me right back to that fearful feeling wondering what was wrong with me. That is where my mind goes; I over-analyze and look for impending doom.
So, Mary, the above is my answer to why I suffer from insomnia. In a nutshell, it is generalized anxiety that keeps me awake, along with some song, usually from a Disney movie, playing on repeat in my head. You also asked how I deal with it and while I mentioned above that I used Valerian early in life and then Xanax most recently which I have weaned off, I now take Melatonin regularly. If I am having a troublesome week, I will take an Advil PM to help. I usually start my “chill” time as soon as the kids go to sleep by taking a hot shower and having a glass of red wine, which I feel is good for my blood too, or that’s how I justify it at least. I have always been a very “natural” person and steer away from chemicals as much as possible, but when it comes to sleep, I literally will do just about anything to catch some zzz’s. As I mentioned above when we were figuring out where to sit and chat, I also limit caffeine intake and steer clear of it after 2 pm I am one of those people that need sleep for general well-being. I believe most people do and while I can function through my day and take care of my kids on little sleep, my emotional state tends to crumble.
It has also helped me tremendously to hear that I am not alone, that many people, particularly women suffer from occasional insomnia. A friend on Facebook recently put up something like “here we go again, another phase of insomnia” and this was like a deep breath of relief knowing that I am not alone and crazy. It also helps reading blogs of women going through the same thing. I guess misery really does love company.
Finally, I wish I could say that something positive came out of my sleep loss. I rarely get out of bed when I feel sleep eluding me. I tend to lay there and marinate in it and often will half doze only to jolt awake. During my extended time with insomnia, I would occasionally get up and put on the most boring show I could find to get sleepy but it never worked, it just woke me up more. Writing energizes me and wires my emotions too much to stay up late writing. I love writing so much and do not want to associate it with insomnia in any way. So, no, nothing positive comes from my occasional struggles with sleep but since you asked, I may have to look for the silver lining the next time.
I guess our time at the park has come to an end, my toddler needs a nap and we both need to get on with the rest of our day. I am so happy to have chatted with you today and hope we can do it again soon…maybe over a more fun topic. Next time let’s dive into the craziest thing we did pre-kids and maybe then we can pretend to meet at a bar over a drink.