ruthless compassion (aroraborealis) wrote,
ruthless compassion

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the state of the sleep

As people who have had to deal with me around bedtime with any regularity or who interact with me after a bad night of so-called sleep know, I have intermittent but significant problems with insomnia. I'm lucky because it's intermittent, and I rarely have more than two bad nights in a row, and the vast majority of my nights are fine, but good sleep is hugely important to my mood and functioning (how do you people who are parents survive??), so when I have a bad night or two, I'm not all that much fun to be around.

I have always taken between 30-60 minutes to fall asleep. Plenty of people I know would feel like that in itself is insomnia, but it's pretty normal for me, and it typically doesn't bother me these days. More problematic is the occasional night when I'm still awake after two hours and feel myself not heading toward sleep anytime soon. This is the most common way it hits me, and it usually means I get 2-4 hours of fitful sleep somewhere in there.

Much less frequently, I wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back asleep. This is almost always due to having something on my mind, which at least makes it a little more comprehensible to me, even if it still makes me crazy.

Because of the infrequency of it -- 1-2 nights a month, typically, I haven't really found sleep hygiene to make a big difference for me. Most nights I'm fine and drift off to sleep eventually, but every once in a while, things just don't line up right and I lay awake for long, plodding hours. I don't love it.

I've generally been unwilling to consider sleep aids as an approach to my problem for a few reasons: First, because it's pretty infrequent that I have insomnia, I don't want to get myself habituated to need a sleep aid more often than I would, so I wouldn't want to take one on the nights I don't need it ... and by the time it's clear I do, it kind of feels "too late". (I think this "too late" issue is not a good reason, but it's real anyway.) Second, almost all the big guns sleep aids out there have side effects that range from inconvenient to embarrassing to dangerous. And third, they all also are habit-forming, and I'm certainly not in a situation where it's worth my while to be hooked or to have to take more and more of the stuff to get the effect I want. So. No Ambien for me.

I've tried more "natural" sleep aids: valerian gave me light hallucinations and made me feel feverish and awake. It was interesting, but not really so much a sleep aid. A couple of months ago, I bought myself some melatonin, in advance of my trip with kcatalyst to Europe, because I know melatonin has been shown to be helpful in combatting jet lag. When I got back to the US, I kept using it for a week or so to adjust back to my time zone. Then I did a little more reading and discovered that it can be helpful for people who take a long time to fall asleep: me!

So, I've been using it since then, and I think that I am falling asleep faster now. I have also skipped nights here and there when I get into bed and already feel that looming sleepiness right away, and I think I fall asleep faster than I used to in those cases, too. At some point, I think I'll try going a week or two without it and see what happens, but there don't seem to be any alarming side effects of taking a small dose regularly long-term, so I'm not fretting about it particularly.

It has not solved the occasional actual falling-asleep insomnia, and it hasn't been long enough to know if it has reduced the frequency of it, but I'm feeling optimistic. It has definitely not changed the occasional waking-in-the-middle-of-the-night insomnia, but, hey, I didn't think it would solve my inner turmoil.

They have other drugs for that, right?
Tags: sleep

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