Monday, May 18, 2009

Insomnia is Crazy-Making.

(Photo from

I've had problems with insomnia for the past 5 years or so. It seems to go in cycles, which have been running closer together, and for longer periods. It became unbearable this past winter, but I think I now have it under control. I still don't know what causes it, although I can eliminate an immune response to gluten. I know that it is in part anxiety-driven, but not completely. The insomnia is on 2 levels- the first, that it takes forever to fall asleep, the second, that I don't stay asleep. once awake, my mind starts spinning. At its worst, I was getting 3 hours at night and unable to nap during the day. I know a lot of people struggle with insomnia, so the point of this post is to let you what I've tried- I for one am always looking for new things to try to get some rest.
Caveat: these are suggestions only! I'm not a doctor, etc etc.

- Bed Time routine- I kind of wanted to hit the people who suggested that. Really? Can you tell me which way my underwear faces, because without you I can't function! So yeah, I have a routine of turning lights off, reading magazines, no phone calls or computer, and calming down in general.

- Benadryl, Tylenol PM, etc- Don't make me laugh. These may have worked 5 years ago when this started, but they have no effect now. I've read that a tolerance can develop quickly, and they are not meant for long-term use anyway.

- Valerian Root- doesn't work for me, but I know people who swear by it.

- Catnip tea- doesn't work for me.

- Chamomile tea, SleepyTime tea- no dice.

- Melatonin- doesn't work (for me), and it's not great to take for anything more than an occasional night. I've read that it can cause a feedback loop wherein your body produces less; what you want is for your body to produce melatonin to regulate your circadian rhythm.

- Magnesium- the theory is that you need adequate magnesium to absorb calcium. It didn't make me feel sleepy, but it did relax me which is still helpful.

- Sunlamp- my husband has a therapeutic sunlamp. You're supposed to sit in front of it for at least 15 minutes in the morning; it triggers melatonin production. I don't know about sleepiness, but it did make me feel a lot more energetic first thing in the morning.

- Brain waves- Booker has some CD's that you are supposed to listen to with headphones. They re-set your brain waves for relaxation, concentration, sleepiness. They made me noticeably more relaxed, but at its worst sleep was still elusive.

- Tryptophan supplements- the amino acid in your Thanksgiving turkey makes you sleepy. It actually helped once in a while.

Ok, time to get serious. I saw the doc for:
- Trazadone. I took this for over a year, during Booker's deployment. It worked, until it didn't. I went off and was sleeping okay- not great, but sleeping- until a new insomnia cycle started this January.

- Seroquel- I only took this for 2 weeks. It knocked me out but I didn't like the way it made me feel.

- Gluten intolerance- got a blood test to check for an immune response, which I don't seem to have. Have not yet investigated any other food sensitivities.

- Ambien CR- worked great the first week. Then not so well, then not hardly but still better than taking nothing. It had only been a month when I called about switching. The nurse told me that it is the strongest thing on the market, so if Ambien doesn't work, nothing will. Cheery.

- Sleep study- Apparently I have mild sleep apnea, but not enough episodes to warrant the mask. Doc told me to sleep on my side, which is something I intuitively do anyway. Nothing else was really revealed. When I asked him what I could do to sleep, he told me to keep taking the Ambien CR and to have a bedtime routine (see the first bullet.) Seriously dude? This was after I waited 2 hours in an empty waiting room, because "the doctor isn't in today, but he's on his way in now." Um, I drove an hour and a half to be here for a 1:30 appointment, for which you did not have the courtesy to consider until I've been here 2 hours?

This last insomnia cycle took about 4 months to get stabilized. I am still deeply interested in finding out what causes it- if it's anxiety-based (I believe in part, but not entirely), if it's partly physiological (not confident I got rid of the tapeworm, maybe food sensitivities?), or what. But for now:

- I take an anti-anxiety medication in the morning. This issue is both separate from and part of the insomnia. It helps, to an amazing degree.

- I take Ambien CR at night. It seems to work better now that I'm taking the other med. I still wake up a lot at night, but now I am able to fall back asleep whereas before I'd just spin my wheels. For hours.

- Climbing out of the hole means I have the energy and drive to take on positive habits that had fallen by the wayside. Exercise, cleaning the house so it's not a pit, taking general better care of myself so I have pride in my appearance, cooking meals for us, hanging out with people for fun, etc etc. All of these go into sleeping better at night, and I was not capable of any of them until I could even things out a bit.

- No alcohol, at all, ever. I don't metabolize it very well on a good day. It actually makes the insomnia worse- something about the sugar or preservatives. Now that I have some prescriptions I just don't want to mess with it at all.

- Continue to limit caffeine, which I have done from Day 1. Unfortunately it is a vicious cycle- the less you sleep, the more you need something to face your day.

If you have insomnia, I feel your pain. Maybe something I have tried might work for you.


Anonymous said...

I have struggled with recurrent insomnia far longer than you have - probably because I'm older. I've tried everything you've tried, including the sleep study - what a joke. I've been helped by two products: Fatigued to Fantastic Revitalizing Sleep Formula, and Tension RX Nighttime. I find that if you can break the cycle of insomnia, you might be able to go a night or two without taking one of these products. For your sleep apnea, get a mandibular advancement device, sometimes known as an anti-snoring device. You can pay a lot and have your dentist make one especially for you, or you can pay a little and buy one of the many that are advertised on the web.

S. said...

Anon- Great advice! I haven't tried those yet but I will soon. I'd love to not be on these pills. I hope that the sleep struggle is going better for you.

Christy said...

have a baby. you will be begging for sleep and able to sleep on a dime. i am not kidding! seriously, i have had insomnia in the past as i really don't have any good advice. i blog. i read. but generally, it makes me sleep deprived and depressed. i know, at least to a mild extent, what you are experiencing. i took seriquil (sp??) for a period but it made me hallucinate. i don't remember what finally worked, or if we ever found a solution. you can always come rock the baby during one of your episodes - i can even give you a bottle so you can feed him. i actually adjust better to new motherhood pretty well - because i am used to getting little sleep. they used to call me the sleep-nazi because i used to always try to get my roommates to stay up with me. it was lonely being awake and my mind going mad. i am curious to know what your therapist told you - is it circumstational or life long problem. oh, another thing you can do - start your own business. then you can obsess about it around the clock and work all the time.

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Anonymous said...

Hahah, someone said have a baby.
I have a baby. He's two, now. That did not help with my insomnia. When he was a newborne I was so sleep deprived the sometimes I would literally pass out, but I would still wake easily, and often, especially since I was breast feeding. But, because I had an episiotomy, they gave me percocet, which helped knock me out.
I'm 21 now, and for the past year and a half of my life, my insomnia has become completely worse. It's terrifying. I have been diagnosed with bipolar and chronic depression, in my early teen years. I've taken meds, but now I'm too paranoid to take them. I also have very serious anxiety issues. I hardly socialize, and I've attempted suicide before (some while on meds, some while going off meds cold turkey). I'm almost suicidal every few days thanks to my non sleeping and current downward spiral of depression.
I'g glad I came across this, though. I don't know what I'll be able to use from it. I don't have a doctor, and I don't know if I still have insurance. I take a sleep aid, from Walgreens. I feel it usually, but it makes me jittery. I used to be an alcoholic when I was a teenager, I'd drink myself to sleep then. I realized that doesn't really work, and I wouldn't go back to that now that I have my son. I used to take drugs like vicodine or codiene on occasion, when I could get some to pass out. But even with those I'd feel jittery in my sleep.
All in all I'm finding that though I've had insomnia for a good portion of my life, it's worse now that I share a room with my 2 year old, and share a bed with my husband.
My husband breathes like a dragon, and talks too much in his sleep.
Still, I'm very thankful to have come across this. I appriciate your humour even more.

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insomnia is a problem of care, is something I've seen several documentaries that can even kill you!

dancilhoney said...

Wow i am so glad i found this website!! Great advice, thanks, will be using tonight!

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Insomnia cleared by use of Ambien. Have been using nightly for about 12 years. No side effects whatsoever. However, my dosage is small.

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I can relate to this - Insomnia is just like a punishment to ones self because it will make you an owl the whole sleeping time then it will make you a bat during day time. This is hilarious!

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