Want to know the last time I slept like a baby?
As of a few weeks ago, almost every night for the past year and a half.
Before you congratulate me, I don’t mean that in a good way.
Babies don’t sleep.
At least mine didn’t.
I don’t know what your experiences were, but mine were of tossing, turning, refusing to sleep, crying, whining, exhaustion, and waking up no less than four or five times per night — for both me and my “sleeping” babies.
And since about the summer of 2014, that’s how I’ve slept … or not slept … almost every night.
If you’ve ever suffered from long-term insomnia, you’ll understand.
If you’ve had a night here and there where you can’t sleep, that’s different.
Those of us who’ve battled chronic insomnia know that it’s a serious ailment and one that eventually wreaks havoc on many parts of your life. Studies prove it. Not getting adequate sleep causes your body to behave much like it does when its drunk. (I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to behave like I’m drunk, there better have been a pitcher of Appletinis involved.) Impaired judgment, loss of cognitive ability, forgetfulness, health problems, depression—the list of the effects of lack of sleep isn’t pretty. Throw in weight gain and loss of sex drive and solving the problem becomes dire. (And is usually when your significant other will jump on the find-a-cure bandwagon.)
There are countless sleep-aids and methods out there that claim they can guarantee a solid slumber, but many experts will tell you they’re pointless. Until you can know what’s causing your insomnia, you might as well be covering up your severed artery with a band-aid. Others will quickly suggest everything from essential oils to narcotics so strong and mind-altering that they cause some people eat everything in their fridge in the middle of the night and/or have sex without remembering they had it.
When insomnia first struck me in the early summer of 2014, I attributed it to my snoring husband. But what I’ve learned in the past year and a half is that waking up in the middle of the night due to an unpleasant, incessant death growl emanating from your husband’s throat and sinus cavity isn’t really insomnia. That’s called fury. (And possibly, mariticide.) Insomnia is the complete inability to fall asleep at all, no matter how tired you are, and no matter how far away you’ve banished your husband. And night after night after night, the tossing and turning and bargaining and despair takes you farther and farther into the wee hours of the morning.
Looking back, I wonder if changes in my professional life in the spring of 2014 contributed to insomnia’s onset. Sure, they were exciting, but they also came with a fairly hefty dose of stress which I can now see could have been manifesting itself into my sleep habits. Hormones certainly could have been playing a role. (Plus, at my age hormones are likely the cause of pretty much everything that’s going to shit with your body and an easy scapegoat.) Could a daughter flying the nest have been something that was keeping me, subconsciously, from sleep? Definitely. But I had a handle on all of these things (well, maybe not the hormones, but really, who ever does?) and as surprising as it was, felt perfectly balanced in my waking hours. (And in my defense, I even had a therapist tell me I was—which I won’t lie, made me feel oddly unwanted.)
After about a year, and at my wit’s end, I did what any good American would do.
I turned to drugs.
My neurologist had prescribed Xanax for me a year earlier for some mild anxiety but I rarely used it. Honestly, in a year I think I used three because all they seemed to do was make me sleepy which really only added to my anxiety. Sigh.
When I met with him at a later date to discuss migraines and mentioned my insomnia he suggested taking a Xanax at night to help me sleep. As someone who never ever experimented with drugs—recreational or prescription—I was terrified of becoming addicted.
Hey, I saw what happened to Matthew Perry during seasons 4-7 of Friends. I had valid concerns.
Long story short, over time I caved and began relying on Xanax to help me get to sleep about three times a week. When .25 mg stopped working effectively, I upped it to .5 mg. For awhile I only took one when I knew I needed a good night’s sleep but last fall I fell off the wagon and started taking one pretty much every night.
And then, after about three months my damn good-girl conscience told me it might be wise to take a break.
So I stopped the Xanax cold turkey.
I honestly never thought it would be a big deal.
But it was.
Addiction is real, ya’ll.
Because what followed was about six weeks of the most horrifying insomnia I’d ever experienced.
Insomnia that made anything else I’d even considered to be insomnia laugh maniacally in its face.
Insomnia that was caused by my brain—who’d been sleep trained by Dr. Xanax—to rebel.
I thought I’d lose what mind I had left.
So what did I do?
All of it.
I’m nothing if not an overachiever.
- Xanax – I think we’ve established that yes, Xanax helps me sleep, but it’s addictive, even in small doses. Does that mean you shouldn’t take it as a sleep aid? Not at all, and maybe there’ll come a day when I need to take one again to ensure a good night’s sleep for one reason or another, but I would never take it nightly.
- Benadryl – The #1 OTC sleep aid. Seriously, it’s in everything. Didn’t really do much for my sleep issues, but it did clear up a nasty rash.
- More random sleep aids – I bought like three sleep aids before I figured out they were all just different names for Benadryl. Doh.
- Magnesium Glycinate – I read amazing things about magnesium and how magnesium deficiency is practically a national emergency. People swear by mag glycinate to help with insomnia. However, magnesium also comes with a fun little side effect. Let’s just say you can’t sleep if you’re sitting on the toilet all night and leave it at that.
- Melatonin – Melatonin is another one of those sleep aids that works better for some people than others and is one that you might have to experiment with. I went with a recommended brand from Amazon, and while it definitely made me drowsy it didn’t ever really get the job done. Plus, I took 5 mg. which made me nauseous. I then cut the pills in half, which still made me a bit sleepy, and while it didn’t cure my insomnia it’s definitely something I’ll keep around. Made me a bit drowsy the next day, though, which isn’t the end of the world because as we all know, I live to nap.
- SleepyTime tea – First of all, it’s gross. Second of all, drinking a cup of tea at bedtime makes you have to get out of bed like six times an hour to pee. Seriously, how one cup of tea produces so much pee is baffling.
- Progesterone cream – I had this from the last spring when I figured my hormones were screwed up (because at my age they’re supposed to be, AS WE ALL KNOW). Sure, progesterone cream makes you drowsy, but in my case, the drowsiness lasts all damn day no matter when I use it. Plus, a blood test told me my progesterone levels were normal so you can go suck it, perimenopause.
- Trazodone – After a few weeks of not getting to sleep until at least 3 or 4:00 a.m. despite all the OTC stuff I was using, I snapped. I went to my GP who prescribed a low dose of Trazodone, which she promised me was non-addictive. Upon research (because I’ll Google shit until my eyes bleed) I discovered it can, indeed, be addicting. But I trusted my doctor and took one. Did I sleep? Yep. But the entire next day I felt drugged. Like, I didn’t trust myself to drive kind of drugged. Again, unless there’s an Appletini involved, no thank you.
- Essential Oils – I’ve tried using many different oils for various ailments (insomnia, headaches, tension, etc.) and I just don’t get it. They do nothing for me but piss me off.
- Body lotions – In a fit of despair I spent like $20 on body lotions telling me they’d help me sleep. Clearly I’d lost my mind.
- I even tried one that smelled like vanilla, which I despise.
- I just realized there is no #12. Think we can all agree it’s possible I’m losing some of that aforementioned balance.
- Lavender Epsom Salts – Did soaking in epsom salts cure my insomnia? No. But since I take a hot bath every night anyway I didn’t think it would hurt. And since using them makes my bathroom smell like a spa every night, I’m never going to stop.
- Chardonnay – I know, I know, you’re not supposed to drink alcohol like three hours before bed if you want quality sleep. I tried it. Honestly, I did. Didn’t make a damn difference, so you bet your sweet ass I disregarded that bit of advice.
I also tried listening to YouTube meditations (the British guy’s voice was soothing, but I spent the entire time telling myself what a joke it was and convincing myself I’d prove him wrong); going to bed at 9:00 (which meant I laid there for six hours wide awake instead of four); white noise/rainfall/waves/thunder/crickets chirping on my iPad (either made me have to pee or have nightmares); read real books (imagine!); banished my iPad; used my iPad; purchased sleep headphones; and tried counting sheep (really).
As you can see, it’s been quite the recipe, and like most recipes I try, it was pretty much a failure.
So after a couple of months, I gave up.
I quit trying.
And guess what? After about a week I was miraculously able to fall asleep and stay asleep (mostly).
Somehow, my brain relearned how to go to sleep again on its own.
No cocktail of meds, lotions, or oils.
After all that, what worked was literally nothing.
A relief? Sure, but somehow it still pisses me off.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been back to a somewhat typical sleeping schedule—meaning I get in bed way later than I intend and watch Gilmore Girls until I fall asleep, which is just fine with me because I fall asleep—and I’m starting to feel like my old self (the jury’s still out if that’s a good thing).
It’s been a tough road and one I’m sure I’ll travel again, but I think I’ve learned a few things that will come in handy next time.
The most important?
If you’re going to use a cocktail to help you sleep, it may as well be an Appletini.
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