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Here Is A Method That Is Helping Insomniacs Get Some Sleep

My Life As An Insomniac

My name is Jessica I am 26 years old, and I am a Patient Coordinator at Creek Stone Integrated Care. However, first and foremost, I am an insomniac. These days, especially in the US, there are millions of people not getting the proper amount of sleep they need. For some, it’s occasional insomnia, while for other people like myself, their symptoms are ongoing and chronic for years on end.

In my experience, insomnia is a popular term that many people use when they haven’t slept well for a night or two. I have often found myself feeling irritated with the casual use of this term because it often comes from people who do not know all of the symptoms that come with this disorder and just how adversely it can affect someone’s daily living. So, before I tell you more about how I handle my insomnia, allow me to give those of you who aren’t aware a quick education on insomnia and it’s symptoms.

Firstly, the definition of insomnia is to suffer from habitual sleeplessness or inability to sleep. Secondly, while the definition of insomnia only covers the fact that you are not sleeping, there are several other symptoms that occur because of this. Some of these symptoms include:

• Difficulty falling asleep

• Awakening during the night

• Awakening too early

• Not feeling well rested after a nights sleep

• Daytime sleepiness or tiredness

• Irritability, depression, or anxiety

• Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering

• Increased errors or accidents

• Tension headaches

• Distress in the stomach or intestines (gastrointestinal tract)

• Ongoing worries about sleep

It should go without saying that not every insomniac is afflicted with ALL of these symptoms, however in many cases a handful, if not all, of these are experienced at some time or another either daily or during occasional insomnia cases.

My personal journey with insomnia has been about a 13 year struggle. At first, the symptoms really weren’t too bad and my insomnia was occasional. I would go through periods of a week or two, sometimes three weeks, when I would not be able to sleep more than a collective 2-3 hours in a night. As I grew in age and maturity, my insomnia matured with me. When I attended college, a lot of my anxiety and stress was not over the classes I was taking, but about if I could fall asleep that night.

I had a running dialogue on loop in my mind wondering how much sleep would I be able to get. What would I not be able to accomplish the next day if I didn’t sleep? If I can’t sleep, what am I going to do about it? Finally, when bed time would come, I would already be so worked up about falling asleep, that there was no chance for me to do just that. Along with the anxiety through out the day about sleep, I would be noticeably exhausted throughout the day- every day.  My ability to focus in classes suffered, even my attention span when talking with friends or family was short. Those closest to me often were the ones catching my attitude because without sleep, I am one cranky lady.

Biologically, I am already prone to anxiety and depression so I personally cannot give my insomnia full credit for either of those conditions, but combining those issues with the inability to rest made the lows of depression and the highs of anxiety, very extreme. My depression and anxiety made the feelings of being tired throughout the day that much more intense. At times, I would get so upset after having a mostly sleepless night because every hour that ticked by, I felt like a failure. How can I not do something so simple? Why can’t my body do what it was made to do? With my body and mind being under so much stress, I also had many migraines which would last for days.

It was in my most desperate of times at college, when my insomnia was at it’s worst, that I really began researching and trying to find ways to cope with this condition. There are prescription medications that I could have easily obtained but I am also biologically prone to addiction issues, so I was not willing to go down that road. I tried taking Xanax for a small period of time when I was extremely desperate and I absolutely hated it. I would not sleep through the night and the hangover the next morning was worse than my usual exhaustion each day without it. I tried taking Advil or Tylenol PM or melatonin tabs as well but to no avail.

Cut to a few more years down the road when I was 24. I discovered Unisom sleep tabs which were over the counter and risk free for dependency. I gave them a try and I loved them. Still, to this day, I use them when I can feel that sleep is going to be a difficult achievement. While they are chemically risk free for dependency, people with insomnia when taking any sleep aide- run the risk of forming a psychological dependency. I can attest to that because when I first discovered this sleep aide I did get a little too attached. I found that if I forgot to take one, it triggered my anxiety and I would be awake all night. So I had to work very hard to recognize when I needed one, and when I could do without.

How I accomplished this was with my next discovery- guided meditation. I know that for a lot of people the idea of mediation sounds goofy. I can say that because I thought so too! However, while in the midst of weening myself off my pill-formed comfort blanket that was Unisom, my anxiety skyrocketed. One night, while lying in bed staring at the ceiling and feeling my chest tighten with every anxiety-ridden thought about sleeping that night, I grabbed my phone and went onto Youtube. Call it fate, call it what you will, but in my suggested video feed, I saw a 40 minute long video that was a guided meditation for sleep. I thought to myself “self- you’ve tried everything else, so why not this?” I clicked on the video, put in my headphones, and my life was changed for the better.

Guided meditation uses a series of techniques that trigger the relaxation response ( a term coined in the 1970’s by Dr. Herbert Benson) which reduces those feelings of anxiety, stress, and tension. It can even help lower your blood pressure! During the meditation you learn to focus on your breathing, and releasing the tension from areas of your body that hold onto your anxiety. Often times, I still (years later) can feel myself holding onto tension I didn’t know I had until I start one of my meditations.  You also learn how to break cycles of negative thoughts which tend to keep you in a state of discomfort.

There are many things that you can do to help combat the symptoms of insomnia and get better rest. Guided mediation and occasionally using a sleep aide are two things that work for me. A good, solid routine is just as essential to my success. My friends, family members, and co-workers often get a laugh out of the fact that I am 26 and have a strict bed time. Often the response is “hey you’re too young for that!”- but insomnia is no joke, and for me to be able to function each and every day, I have to stick to a regimented routine. I have to go to bed at the same time and try to wake up at the same time every day and night, I have to take a sleep aide an hour and a half or two before going to bed if I need, and my mediation needs to start within 5 minutes of getting in bed. If I don’t do all of these things at the right time, I’m going to have a rough night. Sometimes, even when I do everything just right, I still can’t sleep. When you have insomnia, you handle it one night at a time.

That’s the best you can do.

For anyone else that knows this struggle, stay strong! If you haven’t tried guided meditation or a sleep aide yet, you should! If you haven’t discovered your routine, I implore you to put one together and try it for a few months. And just remember you’re not alone.

For those of you who know or love someone with insomnia, be patient and supportive. I hope this blog may have helped offer some insight and guidance. At the bottom are some links to research I used in this blog, as well as some other tips and tricks to getting a better nights sleep.

Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep – Harvard Health Blog

Insomnia Symptoms – Mayo Clinic

Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief: Finding the Relaxation Exercises That Work for You

Sleeping Pills: What You Need to Know

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