The strange spikes on my sleep tracker inform me that I never reached REM sleep last night. I woke up too frequently, apparently. I’m unclear of how my phone is able to accurately track this, but I can’t argue with the pattern that it has presented to me: I have insomnia.
I’ve been circling around this conclusion for several months now. It seems strange to assign a label to a naturally occurring phenomena that a majority of individuals experience. My best friend WebMD informs me that there are over 3 million cases per year in the US alone. It’s a blanket term for generic sleep difficulties such as getting to sleep, staying asleep, or sleeping restlessly.
I’ve always assumed that my sleeping difficulties are a result of my chronic asthma, but at some point it’s become a strange, self-fulfilling cycle. I can’t sleep because of my asthma symptoms. My tired state exacerbates my anxiety, which makes my asthma worse, which keeps me from sleeping. It’s funny, in a sleep-deprived, hilarious sort of way.
Interesting things happen when you stop sleeping. You’re late to work regularly because even though your body won’t let you fall asleep until 3 a.m., it has no issues letting you snooze soundly through your 7 a.m. alarm. You live your life in a constant haze of exhaustion. You get disoriented, you can’t focus, and your short-term memory is shot. First you get anxious and then you get too tired to care, and all of this is punctuated by a series of delightful and recurring headaches. The good news is that there is a simple solution to your ailments; the bad news is that the solution is more sleep.
So you drift through your days in a daze of non-descript malaise.
My insomnia started as a side-effect of the steroids I was taking to control my severe chronic asthma. I spent the better part of two-and-a-half years going on and off of prednisone, and of all the dizzyingly terrible side-effects it brought with it, insomnia was the least of my worries. But when I was weaned from the prednisone, the sleep irregularities didn’t stop. If anything, they grew worse as I attempted to adjust to new medications to control my asthma and my anxiety.
Like many who suffer from sleep difficulties, I was encouraged to try home remedies like melatonin or benadryl. I’ve done the 3 a.m. shower, and I’ve limited blue light in my evening schedules. I do yoga and I meditate; I listen to the relaxing ambient sounds of rain. I’ve been prescribed prescription sleep aids, which really only makes my morning wake-up that much harder.
In a way it’s been wonderful for my Book Challenge, as I’ll regularly use my wasted time during the night to read. Sometimes it helps me get to sleep, and I’ll pass out with my light on and a book on my face. But sometimes the sleep never comes, and I’m left extremely tired the next morning, but full of accomplishment for ticking another book off my list.
There’s a point at which you become used to a sleepless existence. You adapt your life and your routine and settle into a new world in which you feel like a half-dried husk. You learn to accept it, for the most part.
But possibly the worst thing about insomnia is how absolutely routine it is. Everyone has it. I spent years fighting against my asthma and working to claw my way into some form of stability, but the fact that I can’t seem to sleep more than three hours a night seems perfectly acceptable. Mentioning your insomnia will set off a flood of helpful suggestions that have been tried and tested by everyone you know: bedtime stories, melatonin, ACMR videos, limit caffeine, stock up on lavender.
If you clicked on this article looking for the miracle stage of enlightenment that I reached that will ease my tired bones and lull my mind off to sleep, I haven’t found it. I went to bed at 9:30 p.m. last night and spent the hours between 2 and 5 a.m. alternating between coughing and contemplating homicide. I spent today weaning myself off of coffee and researching sleep aids on Amazon. If one of these holds the key, I’ll be sure to update you.
But in the meantime, let’s all try to take a deep breath and brainstorm some new solutions. Why don’t we sleep on it?