Trouble with Insomnia?

Last night around 2AM I lay in bed wondering if Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston might actually get back together. Then I wondered if anyone thought to lock the back door and what I should make for dinner that evening. I wrote two short stories in my head and I decided exactly what I should say on Facebook in response to a friend’s theory about Covid being fake. The more I thought about this last one, the more wound up I felt, and it was 4AM before I began to doze. Unfortunately Dinner Table Doctor’s alarm goes off at the ungodly hour of 4:30, so soon I was up again thinking about more stupid things.

I’m assuming my lack of sleep was a result of a long dinner conversation DTD and I had about insomnia, so it was on my mind when I climbed in bed. Honestly, though, I haven’t had too many great nights of sleep since I was pregnant with my first child 22 years ago.

Insomnia is one of the main reasons patients come to see DTD, and he explains the more worked up you get about not sleeping well, the worse the problem can get. The first thing he does is try to ease a patient’s mind in assuring him he’ll be OK and it’s a very common issue. Sleep problems can arise from all kinds of situations – maybe you went on a trip, or you are worried about illness or job loss, or you drink too much caffeine, or you have a human being growing in your body and kicking your innards. Whatever the issue, unfortunately some people develop bad sleep habits and the problem escalates as a result. That’s why DTD says you should see your doctor if the problem is persistent and more than a few weeks. Otherwise it will be harder to break the cycle.

Medication is typically a last resort, so for those of you who, like me, dream about anesthesia sending you into blissful slumber for several hours, you may have to wait until you have minor surgery, unless you can hire a personal physician willing to do illegal things for you, but you saw how that ended up for Michael Jackson. I wouldn’t recommend it.

If you’re experiencing insomnia, you could try to improve your sleep hygiene through some simple steps recommended by DTD. First, don’t have any caffeine after noon. Also, exercise every day, ideally in the morning, but anytime it works for your schedule will help. Stop watching television or looking at your phone about an hour before bedtime. Instead read something that’s not too riveting or listen to some soft music. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep after 20 minutes or so, get out of bed and try the boring book or soft music until you’re ready to sleep again.

DTD mentioned a study where cognitive behavioral therapy was used to try to help insomnia, and out of all the methods researchers tried, telling people to lie in bed and NOT go to sleep no matter what made the subjects fall asleep more quickly and for longer periods. I guess that just goes to show that your mind is very powerful. When we want to stay awake, we can’t.

I believe that parenting is a major detriment to sleep. Pregnancy is uncomfortable, babies cry in the night, toddlers need water or help with the bathroom, kids have nightmares, and teens stay out late and worry us. Plus we need large amounts of caffeine to make it through the day. I would think it’s almost impossible to develop good sleep habits when you’re a parent, but DTD is a parent to the exact same kids, and he seems to sleep like a baby.

Our son took a class about the neuroscience of sleep and learned that it’s true some people are morning folks and others are night owls. (I myself am more of an afternoon person.) Scientists theorize that this makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint since tribes of humans would need someone awake and keeping watch at all hours. Nighttime is when there’s the most danger and teenagers easily stay up late and are young and strong and fast, so they’re our nighttime protectors. DTD wakes up very early, so he takes care of the morning hours. I’m most alert in the afternoon, which overlaps with everyone else’s time, so I’m evolutionarily meant to eat bonbons and relax most of the day. At least that’s how I interpret this theory.

I’ve given up on a truly good night’s sleep after all these years of outside forces interfering with my slumber. The kids are easier now, but I’m starting to have hot flashes and having to use the bathroom, so it’s a lost cause. Honestly I’m getting used to it, and I have a lot of creative, life-changing ideas in the middle of the night, if only I could remember them the next day…and of course there’s always the possibility of a minor surgery and some anesthesia. I can dream, even when I can’t sleep.

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