Saturday, February 06, 2016

Sleepless No More

I am sitting in a darkened house with a cup of coffee, looking out at a winter wonderland, piano music softly playing from our living room speaker. I am finally doing one of my favorite activities that has been absent for too long: writing.

These quiet moments are rare.  For years I have suffered from insomnia, which means that on weekends I "sleep in" until 8 or 9 sometimes, catching up on the sleep I missed earlier in the week.  Weekends I finally get a full 8 hours of sleep, even though it takes me 12 hours to do so. Usually by the time I'm up the girls are up and the day's activities have begun.

Today, they are still in bed and it is quiet. I began writing at 6:30 a.m.

I had been in a slump this summer and part of this fall, though others couldn't tell. My Fitbit that I got for my birthday in the spring informed me of how very little sleep I was getting, yet at the same time how much. I would awake in the morning thinking I'd barely slept 3 hours, only to find that I had slept more than that but hadn't thought so.

But really, what's the point of knowing you got seven hours of sleep when you feel like you got three? Knowing that I'd gotten more sleep than I thought would energize me for a time, until physical fatigue set in. I'd convince myself that I really should be able to function; after all, I got seven whole hours of sleep! But I still felt exhausted because the sleep was so disjointed. I would wake up around 2:00 most every night. Some times I fell right back asleep, but most nights I would lie awake until at least 4:00 if not 5:00. Occasionally I was up for the day.

Morning meetings are a bitch when you've already been up for 8 hours by the time they occur, much less afternoon meetings. People at work thought I was a morning person, but that was only because morning was actually my afternoon considering the time I got up for the day.

My wise husband, who has talked to me over the years about my sleeplessness, finally convinced me to do something different about it than what I'd been doing before, which was, really, nothing. I had read every resource about getting good sleep, followed every recommendation. I went to bed at about the same time, have a bedtime routine, used lavender,  tried melatonin, insert well-intentioned person's advice here. I had tried over-the-counter sleeping pills but they made me groggy upon waking. Despite all attempts, like clockwork my eyes would pop open at 2 a.m.

My doctor informed me that if I hadn't been waking up in the middle of the night previously that I would start to do so, as women in "my stage of life" often have hormones fluctuate mid-sleep cycle and for some it causes insomnia.

What kind of walking zombie was I going to become?

I finally tried something I had never done before, something that was always a last ditch effort for me: a prescription sleeping pill.

What a novel concept, right?

Sleep aids are one of the most commonly prescribed medications, and I only finally decided to consider them.

My mother has always been hesitant to take prescription medications. Her life's experience led her to have no trust in pharmaceutical companies, and her skepticism is not unfounded. Just like any parent/child relationship, her values have rubbed off on me.

My mother expressed concern that sleep aids cause long-term memory loss and confusion. But guess what else does: lack of sleep. And here I was, wasting hours of my life attempting to sleep while not having the energy to get my exercise in, being cranky with my family, masking my fatigue at work, and never trying a sleeping pill.

After discussing options with my doctor and expressing my hesitation at taking Ambien, which was his recommendation, he finally convinced me to try it with one caution: Never, EVER take it if I've had any alcohol at all. Yes, sir. (And then he and I compared our favorite wines.)

The first night I took one I let my husband know to be on the look out for any weird behavior, and that if the kids needed something in the middle of the night he was on-call. I dutifully took a sleeping pill and went to sleep.

I woke up with my alarm at 6:30.  I was refreshed, not groggy. I cannot describe to you the feeling of having a full night's sleep for the first time in what felt like eons. All day I walked around with a giddy smile on my face. I couldn't believe how good I felt!

It's been a few months now since that first experience, and I am a changed woman. I sleep through the night. If I awake in the middle of the night I fall back asleep usually within 30 minutes.

I started doing my fitness routine again, first just on weekends (when I used to get my catch-up sleep), and then rising earlier during the week as well. I'm back up to exercising three times a week, and I feel AMAZING. Exercise gives me strength and energy, and I'm thrilled to be getting the rest needed to be back at it.

I feel like my life is back on track. It's incredible what sleep can do for a body.


  1. I have issues with sleep. they are hit and miss. I thought getting up for a 5am fitness class would help but I get less sleep because I'm worried about waking up early, what if I miss it. I used to be able to get up early all the time. Now I lay awake for hours, fall asleep, wake up again and then so exhausted. Good to hear you are getting relief!

  2. Anonymous4:58 PM

    Curious to know -- have they continued to work for you or does your body get used to them? Mom