Winning the War on Insomnia
One of the most debilitating parts of depression is the constant fatigue – how everything seems to take so much effort. It becomes tiring being tired all the time. It seems like such a cruel joke that when you are in most need of some quality sleep, it is denied. I have had a good three year battle with insomnia.
At the worst point I would barely remember having slept at all – the worst week was when I averaged about three hours a night. That level of insomnia was quite disabling; it resulted in slurred speech, memory blackouts and dangerous concentration lapses.
It was a truly terrifying period – I started becoming scared and anxious around the whole business of sleep which fed its own vicious cycle.
About an hour before my planned bedtime my heart would start racing and I would get that horrible broken-glass feeling in my throat. My mind would just whirr. I would keep willing myself to sleep. I had to sleep.
How I started dealing with it…
Funnily enough the way I dealt with this was simple. I stopped caring whether I slept or not.
The way I saw it was that worrying about sleeping didn’t make my sleep any better. I had survived (however badly) on very little sleep – sure it had a very negative effect on me but it hadn’t killed me. I was still here. I didn’t see any improvements for the first three or maybe four weeks, but then slowly I did.
I therefore wish to share with you what I found helpful:
1) I quit reading medical articles on the dangers of lack of sleep. Yes, okay, most of these articles were with reference to legitimate evidenced based research but knowing that a condition is harmful doesn’t stop you from having that condition. All that happened was that it started to feed into my OCD mindset.
2) Correct body temperature helps with improving sleep onset time. Well, it did with me. If I’m too hot or too cold then it worsens the problem.
3) Not having a heavy meal just before bedtime.This is actually standard advice although the twist here for me is that I suffer on and off from acid reflux.
4) Practising mindfulness exercises in bed. If sleep doesn’t come within about an hour, I try not to panic. I tell myself things like:
"I’ve been here before and I’m still surviving."
"It doesn't matter if I don't get any sleep tonight- I will have the best day I can tomorrow either way."
"You are loved."
5) Exercising. I notice that the nights which follow a day when I have been exercising are filled with better quality and quantity of sleep.
6) Not clock-watching. I try hard not to keep an eye on time or have a set bedtime; I just go to sleep when I’ve started yawning (at whatever time that might be) and that’s that.
These days I hover between six and a half and eight hours. This isn’t exactly how I’d like it to be and I still occasionally get a few nights of disturbed sleep but it has improved dramatically and continues to improve.
As with any opinions I have regarding health issues, they are personal opinions. Always consult your doctor if you’re concerned.
This is a shortened version of Rose's piece but for the full post, please visit Rose's blog.