The Most Dreadful Part of Insomnia


Insomnia isn’t “just” regular trouble getting to sleep or lying awake more nights than not because your mind won’t shut down the way that it should and let you get some rest. It doesn’t matter how much you do to make your bed and bedroom comfortable. It doesn’t matter how cool (temperature-wise) your bedroom is. It doesn’t matter how uncluttered your bedroom is. It doesn’t matter if you turn off all your electronics and read a paper book for an hour before bed, how you time your evening meal and exercise, or when you have your one glass of wine.

Some of us just have insomnia.

Insomnia covers the broad spectrum of sleep disorders, including:

Inability to sleep

Inability to fall asleep within 30 minutes

Inability to stay asleep

Racing thoughts that begin when you lie down (insomnia+possible OCD)

Regular, exhausting nightmares

Night terrors (waking and thinking that there are malicious beings in the room with you)

Sleep paralysis (waking but being unable to move or speak . . . your partner may report that your eyes were open and you were “gurgling” or otherwise attempting to speak)

Sleep dread

Sleep dread is self-explanatory. If you have any of the symptoms described above on a regular basis, you’re probably going to be afraid to go to bed! So you sit up. You stare at your phone. You drink. Drinking doesn’t help you go to sleep and stay asleep. It interferes with your sleep and you feel like crap when you finally have to get up.

Some people swear by chamomile tea. I’m allergic. Some people swear by melatonin. I’ve had less than impressive success with it. Antihistamines help me fall asleep but not stay asleep, and I’m groggy the next day. Sleep medications can help, but they don’t work for everyone. The very worst thing that you can do, and the most dangerous thing, is to mix alcohol and medications. The combination of antihistamines and alcohol–and prescription medications–has caused more than one celebrity overdose. Don’t do it. I know how hard it is to see a doctor these days, let alone find one who can help you if you don’t have the money for a sleep specialist and sleep study.

Therapy can help. People claim that meditation helps many disorders rooted in the mind. Others say that if you haven’t fallen asleep in 30 minutes, you should get up and do some boring task, like folding laundry. I find the essential oil lavender to be calming. I put a few drops on my pillows. Got back pain but can’t afford a new mattress? Find a solid board and put it on your box springs. It should reach from your mid-back to your upper thighs. Get a mattress pad, one of the “egg-carton” styles. If you snore, try to prop yourself up with pillows.

Turn on the TV, on low, on a boring channel if possible. Open a window and listen to tree frogs, crickets, and passing trains. Let the dog or cat sleep in the bedroom. I find a snoring cat or dog relaxing. Try relaxation sounds. Try prayer beads.

Replace uncomfortable pillows and sheets. Talk to your doctor if you’re waking with numb hands or numbness from the elbow down.

Finally, make your bedroom comfortable to you. Sleep with a light on or the TV. Make up your bed in a different way . . . with two top sheets instead of a blanket. Don’t tuck in your sheets. Load up your bed with pillows. Hang wind chimes in your window. Rearrange the furniture. Try sleeping with just your mattress and box springs on the floor. Don’t make your bed. Just crawl into it and relax.

I hope that some of these tips help you. Oh, don’t go to bed hungry. Have a yogurt, a glass of milk, a glass of soy milk. Just the right amount of food on a hungry stomach can help you fall asleep.



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