So I have chronic insomnia that’s lasted the better part of 10 years. What have I done about it?
Well, I can tell you what hasn’t worked.
(I was really touched to see that most of the comments on my last post about sleep deficit included suggestions for resolving insomnia, including meditation, books on tape, and limiting electronic screen time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m always open to hearing what works for people. It’s how we learn from each other. But please don’t think that I haven’t tried many of the things that people have suggested. I’ve been highly motivated to fix my sleeping problems over the years, because I’m definitely not a short sleeper. I really feel it when I don’t get enough sleep.)
So, some of the things I’ve tried:
Using a blackout curtain to darken my bedroom
For many years (from ages of 18 – 39 or so) I had heavy, pull-down blinds or metal mini-blinds covering my bedroom windows. They effectively blocked light from streetlights and the moon at night, making my bedrooms quite dark.
Then I moved into a studio apartment with a large window. My finances were limited, so I avoided purchasing any window coverings. There was a spotlight right outside my window, and it was quite bright inside my apartment at night. I lived (and tried to sleep) like that for a couple of years, and around this time my insomnia got quite bad. Not saying there’s necessarily a correlation, though.
Because at my next apartment (which had separate bedrooms), I made a heavy blackout curtain for myself out of black denim (and still use it in my bedroom today, one apartment later), and I still have sleeping problems.
Music, audio books, and guided medications
I started using all of these quite heavily in the bachelor apartment. I would play soothing music on a boom box near my bed at bedtime, but found I would wake up when the disc ended. (I still love this jazz first album by Pat Metheny, though, which was a bedtime staple during that period.)
I also tried soothing audio books like Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, which always put me to sleep, but again I would wake up periodically whenever the rhythm of his voice changed.
I tried a few guided meditations, same story. Sometimes the recordings worked, most times they didn’t. When I got a smartphone I even tried listening to timed recordings on my phone, but still found them unsuccessful at keeping me asleep. My favourite was an app called Sleep Machine Binaural Beats by SleepSoft, that produces great white noise if there’s something like a dog barking or a neighbour’s television that I want to block out.
Herbal and dietary supplements
I’ve tried pretty much everything that’s recommended for sleep, including melatonin, kava, L-theanine, and 5-HTP – sometimes in combination.
I can’t say anything has really helped in the long term.
I’ve been really reluctant to go this route to solve my sleep problems, although near the beginning of my chemo I did ask for something from my family doctor, since I was still working full time and was worried about my work performance if I wasn’t sleeping well. She prescribed a very mild dose of the antidepressant trazodone, which I tried a couple of times without noticeable success.
Later when I was off work for the remainder of my chemo, I also tried Gravol and Benadryl to make me sleepy when my sleep schedule got seriously disrupted (I was napping all day and then awake most of each night). After a few nights each didn’t work as well, though.
It’s probably common sense, but all of the above, while having the potential to address symptoms, didn’t necessarily resolve the underlying problem – namely very, very poor “sleep hygiene”, i.e. bedtime habits that are non-conducive to a good night’s sleep. So that’s where I’m starting from at this point: changing my poor sleep habits – including the use of electronic devices in the bedroom.
This is the second in a series of posts about changing unhealthy sleep habits. Future posts will include:
- Sorry, it’s past my bedtime
- White-knuckling the early morning hours without sleep aids
- Fitbit, my friend
Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.
Photo: Cats napping, September 2011, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow