Monday, May 7, 2012

Sleep Issues: Here are Mine

Ever since I was very little (i.e., about two years old) I have had a major problem with sleep. I, to put it simply, am a night person. I would comfortably stay up till three (or all night) and was slow and sluggish until noon. It did not really matter what 'schedule' I got on--that's how things were. Even early to bed meant late to rise, and, more commonly, early to rise = late to bed. When evening time rolls around and the outside begins to darken, I become more focused, energized, and even more creative. I am a night owl. Before my life became saturated with greater responsibilities, I used summers to enable late night marathons for writing and making art. As if my muse stemmed from everyone else being asleep.

However, despite the slight upsides to being a night owl, there are certainly dark sides too (no pun intended--or perhaps it is). Our lives are not designed for night-owl sleep behaviors, for one. But more importantly, my insomnia was just the tip of sleeping issues for me. I have interesting and varied experience with parasomnias. Parasomnias are the large class definition for abnormal sleep behaviors during non-REM sleep cycles (i.e., when you're not dreaming). I have sleep walked, sleep talked, night terrored, and sleep paralyses-ized my entire life. For example, I have made an egg breakfast in my sleep. I have scaled a bookshelf. I have had full on conversations with roommates. I have woken terrified friends to me screaming bloody murder and am unreachable. I constantly wake up with terrible hallucinations and an inability to move. Some of this has been pretty hillarious in retrospect, and I am the first to poke fun at it, but it does not come without it's severe problems. Because these are just one side of my horribly irregular sleeping patterns.

Recently, I have had to deal with awful insomnia in combination with my sleepwalking. See, I easily sleepwalk in the morning. Or, to say more specifically, I am in a disassociated state of conscious. I am awake enough to get up, turn off my alarm, and get back into bed. Sleeping through classes/meetings/plans/etc.. I thought for a long time that this was just me being lazy in the morning. But the more I have researched parasomnias, the more I became convinced that it was something else foiling my attempts to get up. For example, placing several alarm clocks in different locations works, but only for a few days. As if my body learns the locations and is able to find them without waking me. Finally, I went to my local sleep clinic, seeking help from a trained professional who was not a simple neuropsychology student. Unfortunately... I was right.

Why am I bringing this up? Sure, it might be an interesting story, but it does not seem to have any relevance to endometriosis. It certainly has nothing to do with sugar (I have not forgotten the post, I promise!). So why here? Because I almost had my insomnia under control. Before I got seriously ill from endometriosis, I had carefully figured out systems and schedules to manage my insomnia. Sure, I laid in bed for an hour or two, sometimes had no sleep, and still occasionally sleep walked. Yet I still got an average amount of sleep and could handle myself. But that all took a radical change when I 'got sick'.

I am sure stress had much to do with is--worry and the overall 'stress response' does a number on your circadian rhythm and your overall ability to shift into sleep mode. A great quick cure for unusual insomnia is to write out a list of your current worries, put the list in your night stand, and then make all subjects off limits till morning. Even making a to-do list for the next day can help, because it gives you a feeling of control. It helps reduce that stress. But, hormones had a significant effect too. I would love to do a future post on hormone interactions with our circadian rhythms. Insomnia often correlates with erratic hormonal fluctuations and I am interested to find out what the factors of those correlations are. But, for today, I'm sticking in story mode.

After I started Lupron (the awful medication that I will never, never, ever go on again), I suffered some pretty severe mental side effects. For one, I can barely remember events from the past two years. I have forgotten faces, names, events, trips--it is awful. However, the most life-changing effect I suffered was out of control insomnia. No matter how tired I was, I could not sleep. I would be up for days. I started suffering panic attacks, break downs, and unmanageable sickness. I was so tired I could not function but I could not sleep. So I started a little pill. A little pill called ambien.

Fast forward almost a year and I am still on it. I am still using ambien--a pill intended for temporary insomnia treatment, almost daily. As someone who is an advocate for minimal medications, who thinks even melatonin supplements are a bad idea, this has been down right unacceptable. But I can't stop. Because life moves fast and school doesn't allow for weeks of rebound insomnia. And so every night I have to make plans for that awful medication. And, until I am out of school, I have to deal with drugging myself into sleep every night.

Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Once I feel a little more control over my life, and am thus less susceptible to sleep deprivation panic, I am starting an awesome behavioral treatment called sleep restriction therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is amazing; not simply because that is a large focus of my study, but because it works. Comparing effects of cognitive behavioral therapy to other treatments (including medications) of many mental/behavioral problems is like pitting a high school baseball team against pee-wee T-ball.

I am putting this up here and bringing it up because I feel like a lot of sick people have this issue. Especially people with chronic pain. You get so used to being on drugs for pain, nausea, infection, etc., and a lot of these medications have the side effect of sleepiness. And then you have the upheaval of sleeping schedules because of fatigue and stress. Between pain keeping one up all night and stress preventing sleep the following day, it's difficult to ever have a normal pattern of sleep. And pills like ambien can be super tempting because it is heavenly to sleep. To just have a night of six hours without constant tossing/turning/waking. To sleep.

But I want to sleep without those pills. I want to beat my pain and stress and take command of my night time hours. I want to have the same energy/creativity that I get at night to be at my disposal in the day time. So I am going to do research, I am going to try therapy, and I am going to master this awful symptom of illness. And I am pretty sure most people with insomnia have the same goal.

So this is what I'm facing--this is a monster I am trying to tackle. I'll post my game plan next time. I'd love to hear what others' coping mechanisms are. Wish all of us luck.

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Contact me at bedhead@bedriddenhead.com

About The BedRiddenHead

I want to be happy. And this site is about that chance. How to strive to thrive in the body I've got and maybe turn my experiences into something worthwhile.

This site aims to help educate and reach out to people all over that struggle with pain or illness. To try and make something helpful. I work as a medical research writer, my background is in neuropsychology and biology, and I want to share what I learn in a way that is easy to understand. I am not a doctor. I'm definitely not your doctor. I am just some lady who wants to make someone's (anyone's) life a little bit better. Whether you have endometriosis, a chronic injury, a struggling friend, or just want to learn something new, I hope to make a place that has what you are looking for.

Thank you for stopping by, I wish you strength in your health and happiness.