Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep.
If you suffer from mental illness, achieving that feels like winning a marathon. Sleep is one of the first things to go when it gets challenging on the mental health front.
If you suffer from mental illness, even if you don’t, and you have a brain like mine, you’ll blame yourself for it. You’ll blame yourself for anything and everything, including insomnia.
My sleep has been off for the past three weeks, and it wasn’t brilliant before that. Because I’m not sleeping well, I get tired very early. I push myself to stay up until nine; going to bed before that feels like giving up on life, somehow. Unfortunately, I don’t stay asleep. Once midnight hits, I’m up. No more sleep, just tossing, turning, and cursing. The bags under my eyes are getting huge. I’m past the age where a few sleepless nights don’t show on my face.
I decided I was at fault. Was I drinking too much coffee too late in the day? I haven’t been wearing my blue light-filtering glasses while on the computer; perhaps that’s the cause? I’ve been slacking on my meditation some; maybe the lack of inner peace is getting to me. Perhaps I haven’t been journaling enough? So many questions and the answers all lead back to me.
My fault. Always my fault. So many of us do that; blame ourselves for, well, everything.
Yesterday, I had a lovely phone conversation with a friend. A “see how you’re doing” catchup conversation. She asked me what I’d been up to and I had to confess, not much. It’s been bothering me, my lack of productivity and forward momentum. It’s been a handy stick. I mentioned that I’d been pretty unproductive. I also talked about the two weeks of pain from the failed dental implant, which was followed by a week of neuralgia. I realized as I talked to her that I’ve been living with hard-core pain for the past three weeks.
Until I told her, until I said it out loud, I didn’t realize it. I didn’t realize it had been hard. When I encounter struggles in my life, I blame myself. It’s how I’m programmed. After our conversation, however, I felt lighter. The insomnia isn’t my fault, it isn’t because I’m a failure. It’s simply a side-effect from three weeks of misery.
It’s not because I’m fundamentally flawed, which is a long-held, deep-seated belief I struggle to overcome.
Identifying the probable cause was a relief. It let me relax, and when I relaxed, I started to recall the things I’ve done in the past when sleep has proven challenging.
There are any number of helpful tricks and tips regarding getting a good night’s sleep out there. Google results are in the multi-millions. But since insomnia is an on-going problem, I’ve come up with ones that work well for me.
to bed when you’re tired.
- i forget to do this. I judge myself harshly for doing it, as well. “You’re going to bed? It’s only 8:45 p.m.” I’m giving that up. If I go to bed when I’m tired, falling asleep isn’t a chore.
some exercise during the day.
- when my neuroses start acting up or when life gets challenging, i tend to become sloth-like. I shut down. I’ve found, however, that even ten minutes on the elliptical at some point during the day helps me sleep better. Whether it’s because of the exercise, or because doing it shuts my brain up about not having exercised is uncertain and irrelevant. Exercising helps me.
a bedtime routine.
- I hate this one. I hate it because it works. It’s like the “get fresh air advice” for depression. It’s on every list, and it feels belittling, but it’s actually very effective. Put on pyjamas, wash your face, and brush your teeth. It takes very little time, which is what I remind myself every night when my brain tries to convince me to abandon the effort. Plus, I paid big money for that fancy night cream; I may as well use it.
a supplement that helps.
- melatonin doesn’t work for me. It knocks me out, but I don’t stay asleep and it makes me feel groggy in the mornings. A calcium-magnesium supplement, on the other hand, is quite the thing. It makes me drowsy, it calms my restless legs, and it soothes my nerve pain. It’s a winner.
- background noise.
- i used to believe it wouldn’t work for me. I used to believe that I needed silence to fall asleep. Then I realized that there’s no such thing where I live. The highway hums, the local animals make nighttime noises, trains announce their presence as they pass by, and the people I live with do not tread softly. When it looks like I’m going to have trouble falling asleep, I use the music from one of my meditation apps. I set the timer for thirty minutes, but I’ve never heard it shut off. The soothing, meditative strains cause me to drift off in short order.
After the phone call, I felt better. I went to bed and did all the right things: pyjamas on, clean and brushed, cal-mag on board, and soothing music playing in the background. The next thing I knew, it was five in the morning. Which is not sleeping in, but it’s better than it has been.
I’ll take it.