Insomnia and me – my unwelcome friend

I struggled with where to start on this post, which is kind of ironic as one of the side effects of my insomnia, when at its worst, is lack of concentration (bad for me as I have a very short attention span anyway).

My insomnia has been mentioned in many of my previous posts (notably Insomnia – walking through the fog , and crops up a lot on my Instagram and Twitter also, so it is about time I got around to writing a post which goes into a little more detail about it.

What started it?

It is hard to say when my insomnia started, and if it had a trigger. What I do know is that for as long as I can remember, I have struggled with sleep. As a teenager (probably from around 13 onwards) I remember lying in bed not sleeping, putting call in/talk shows on the radio at a low volume, with the background noise helping me to drift off.

This has been a constant for a long while. My insomnia is constant, but the intensity varies. On average I sleep between three and four hours a night. Other times one to two hours. Very occasionally I will pass out and sleep for around 7 hours.

How does it manifest?

My insomnia takes two forms. Some evenings I head to bed, absolutely shattered, and when I hit the pillow I am wide awake, I then battle to get to sleep. Other evenings I go to bed, absolutely shattered, fall asleep in minutes (usually accompanied by very loud snoring – sorry anyone that has experienced it) and then wake up after a few hours, wide awake and unable to get back to sleep.

What have I tried?

Over the years I have tried many things to help, herbal teas, herbal tablets, oils, music, meditation, relaxation, mindfulness, diet, a walk before bed, a bath before bed. As yet I haven’t succumbed to sleeping tablets, as I don’t like taking medication and I don’t believe chemical induced sleep is beneficial, as still omits the healing, downtimes that come with sleep that our body utilises in many ways.

There have been many times my insomnia has been discussed with my GP, I have completed CBT for my sleep issues. Also I have been referred to sleep studies three times, but have been rejected each time as I don’t have sleep apnoea, which is what most of the studies are focussed around.

A sleep routine has developed over time. There are no clocks in my bedroom, I don’t check my watch or phone to see the time, there is no TV in the bedroom. My curtains are blackout curtains, most of the time I sleep under just a sheet (I am naturally warm blooded and so find it too uncomfortable to sleep under quilt, sheets, blanket etc). Bedtime is roughly the same time every day. Waking time is never an issue.

My sleep is bad regardless of if I am at home or away. Sometimes on holiday I sleep better, other times I sleep far worse. Exercise, physical and mental activities have no effect on my sleep.

How does my Insomnia affect me?

Most days when I wake, I am totally exhausted. Imagine a day when you have been physically and mentally active. At the end of the day the thought of getting off the sofa, walking upstairs and going to bed feels unachievable, the hardest thing ever, beyond your ability, the stairs look like Everest.

That is how I wake most days, my body aches, my mind is dull, my eyes sting, I drag myself to the shower and it is as much effort as I can muster. That’s the start of the day. Through the day varies depending what I am doing.

My concentration levels vary during the day, if I have to write, make decisions, present, give training, concentrate or attend a meeting, I prefer the morning, by the afternoon my capacity wanes. Sometimes I lost focus, my temper can be short, my ability to think and process impaired.

Also I lose interest, rapidly. A TV show that I enjoy, a movie I love, a book I am really enjoying, a meal that is my favourite, I lose interest in all of them, quickly. They just don’t hold my attention or bring enjoyment.

At it’s most extreme I can feel very tired, my vision is affected, I feel dizzy, A few years ago I had a period off work. I was driving home one evening and felt very dizzy and spaced out. I pulled over, waited a while and continued home. The next morning I went to the doctor and took 4 weeks off, I was physically and mentally exhausted. But that is extreme.

What has surprised me most?

I own and have read a number of books that have been written about sleep issues, and done a lot of research. The things that surprised me most were the physical issues that lack of sleep can bring.

Overnight our brain resets, its chemical balance is restored for the next day. This includes various hormones etc. Some of these relate to diet and the hormones that control our hunger and ‘full’ status. There is a hormone released that says we are full and need no more food. That hormone is reset in the sleep phase, when we don’t sleep well, this doesn’t happen. A lot of insomniacs will over eat. I can eat a large meal, then immediately eat something else, and something else. I have no ‘off’ when it comes to food.

Our bodies repair themselves overnight also, this includes muscles and lots of processes. Muscle development and fat loss are easier in people who sleep better, which means that on my exercise and weight loss journey I am at a disadvantage and have to try harder for the same results.

What next?

I have been to my GP many times about my sleep issues, but not to my new GP since I moved. When we have a new normality after Coronavirus I will visit my GP and have another discussion.

An option available to me is to self fund access to a sleep study, I would need to know more about what the outcomes of this would be and if I would gain any tangible benefits and treatment options at the end of it.

I hope you have found the look into my insomnia interesting. I feel that a lot of people don’t understand insomnia and how debilitating it can be to those who suffer.

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