How do I Get a Good Night's Sleep When I Can't Fall Asleep?!


My mother's memory of my first day in this world was that I stayed awake for 24 hours straight. Uncommon for a newborn. Some of my earliest memories are trying to sneak out of bed when she wanted me to take afternoon naps with her. I'd throw one leg over the side and then slowwwwwwly, slowwwwly the other.

2015 marks Year 44 of my chronic insomnia. I've tried everything and I'm out of ideas. Everyone tells you how important it is to get a good night's sleep and I agree with them. The problem is that no one tells you how to get one. 

I've experimented with sleeping pills. After the first one, I woke up face down in a puddle of my own drool. It honestly scared me. The second one gave me migraines. The resulting daytime fog wasn't worth it.

I exercise. I eat right. I sleep in a cold, dark f***ing room. I use lavender aromatherapy and wear organic cotton pajamas. I've tried a white noise machine, melatonin, and magnesium supplements. I'm not bipolar. I've spent $3000 on mattresses just in the last five years. I point my deaf ear up and put my hearing ear down on the pillow.

Tim Ferriss' podcast soothed me to sleep until it didn't anymore. Occasionally if I sleep "upside down" on the mattress -- head where I usually put my feet -- I fall asleep. Sometimes I fall asleep if I leave the light on, but other times the light keeps me awake. Sometimes I'm borderline hungry and a small snack will tip me into sleep oblivion. Other times I'm achy. If I'm honest with myself, I haven't fallen asleep without taking Tylenol in more than ten years.

Yesterday I had just one cup of coffee at 8 a.m., worked, ran 5 miles, had a 90 minute massage and ate a banana at 9 p.m. for the tryptophan. I turned off all my devices at 9 p.m. At 1:00 a.m. I was still awake so I took a dose of Zzzquil.  I was wide awake until 3 a.m. and I was frustrated.

Some twenty years ago, a Bethesda doctor told me to just give up and get out of bed and find something to do. Make the most of the awake time and forget about it.

The problem is that society fetishizes the early riser. Everyone still expects you to be up and sharp during daylight hours. I could get up and work on that novel I've been writing for the past 8 years. I could do stuff for clients just because my mind is amped up. But I don't feel like I should. I feel like I should be asleep.

You can't for go very long on that schedule without the sleep deficit affecting everything you do. The exercise that helps you fall asleep becomes very difficult. You're too tired to concentrate on writing. You start to tilt toward the hours that your mind is at its best. You build a productivity heat map in your mind and work around it, even if you don't want to work around it. But it doesn't feel okay. And it can actually feel quite lonely.

Feeling okay with my body's jacked up time clock is maybe the last battle in my war with sleep. Last night I put my laptop next to the bed but I couldn't bring myself to start working at 1 a.m. Maybe I should have. If I let myself be okay with it I might have finished writing that novel years ago. How do I make it okay?

Do you have trouble sleeping? What are you struggling with in your mind about your chronic insomnia?




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