I’ve lost many hours holding the wall up with my glazed stare. Unable to calm my mind yet unable to focus my thoughts clearly, I’ve been sleepless for days on end. I would go on through my days like a zombie. “Just keep going,” I’d tell myself. Some days I would come home from work and collapse on my bed until the next morning. I would wake grouchy, confused and still tired. Insomnia doesn’t keep you awake permanently… just until you crash.
Insomnia’s Effects on My Life
[push]I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed. ~ David Benioff[/push]
The tired feeling morphed into a bone deep lethargy; an energy sucking, crippling fatigue drained me. I began to feel like I could barely survive. I had begun the dip into major depression and bipolar behaviors. I don’t blame my mental illness on my poor sleep nor do I blame my sleeplessness entirely on my mental illness but as I’ve come to learn bipolar disorder and insomnia affect each other in such a way both deserve the attention and respect of proper self-care and good sleep hygiene.
What Didn’t Help My Insomnia and Bipolar Disorder
I had no concept of proper sleep hygiene. First I tried over-the-counter sleep aids, then doctor prescribed sleep aids. Some worked briefly but didn’t give me any sense of being in control of my mental health as their reliability was sketchy at best. Band-Aid solutions were not enough. What could I do?
How I Changed to Help Cure My Insomnia
I rarely gave myself the time for all the things my morning contained. This meant I constantly woke feeling rushed (a very anxiety inducing way to start the day). Focused on getting past insomnia, I started by taking my medications at the same time every day. I made my mornings peaceful waking experiences without coffee. (No coffee?! This was initially a cruel form of torture advised by my doctor, naturopath, and various sleep information rich websites alike.)
At bed time, calming a worrying mind takes practice and effort. Quieting a busy, synapse-firing brain is tricky and left me feeling hopeless at times. Staring at the wall, numb and dissociated from wakefulness and sleep alike is dangerous. I had to want to change before my sleep habits started to improve. Maybe out of desperation or out of new found knowledge I wanted to change.
Training my brain to shut down and wake up at the same time every day is hard. Setting an unwind time alarm and a bedtime alarm felt a little silly at first. I didn’t want to go to bed at 10:30 pm when House was only half over. But I do want to be able to sleep well most nights. My health is more important than House.
More Ways I Cured My Insomnia
I added more artillery to my sleep war chest over time building a stronger defense against insomnia:
- I removed the clock and any direct light from my sleep area. So many gadgets to hide with their tempestuous glow. No more looking at the clock and being exasperated at the hour I find myself *still* awake.
- I take my relaxation techniques to bed. Deep breathing, and deep muscle relaxation exercises help put me in the sleep zone.
- I eat breakfast. It helps keep me from going back to bed and helps my mood too.
- I start my day with a big glass of cool water instead of fake fuelling myself with sugar and caffeine (did I mention that really sucked at first?).
- I get out of bed after nine hours. Many people operate fine on seven hours of sleep. Good for those people. If I get up before the ninth hour I’ll take a cursed nap. These are terrible things that I love.
- I don’t nap. Or I try not to. If I’m tired I try to be aware of that as I continue through my day/evening but it’s good to finish the day tired. That’s an almost guaranteed good night’s sleep. I skip the nap when I can.
Insomnia, Sleep and Me Now
I fall asleep a little easier these days. With the addition of the help of a new medication I’m on for my other mental health issues, I find myself drowsy near the same time nightly.
I still have to force myself many days to get to the kitchen and drink that glass of water. It takes time to make habitual changes. For me, insomnia really is a result of the culmination of habits surrounding my sleep (known as sleep hygiene). I’m sleeping more often than not these past couple weeks and that is an accomplishment. I’m finding the will to start doing the things I love again. I’m learning to follow my bliss in life. It’s the simple things that make the difference, like a good night’s sleep.Leslie is a mental health patient in Atlantic Canada. She voices her experience getting healthy on Twitter, @SaltySmile. She is passionate about social justice issues, reading, writing, learning and sharing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.