I have a lifetime of questionable sleep habits. These started in childhood, when—in the third grade—I found myself unable to sleep without leaving my bedroom TV on. Before you leap in with “you had a TV in your bedroom, WTF,” let me assure you that it was only able to play VHS cassettes and not actual network TV. My solution to insomnia at that point was simple: I’d pop in the Disney movie Cool Runnings, turn the volume down extremely low until I could just barely hear it, and watch it until I went to sleep.
The weird part was that it worked for a couple of years. Once it stopped working when I was in the fifth grade, I would regularly read until I fell asleep—until my dad caught me one evening, my face down in a book, drool dripping onto the open pages, with the light still on. After that, I had to figure out ways to calm myself down if I couldn’t sleep, and the most reliable one was what I called “burrito-ing,” where I would spread my blanket on the floor or bed, lie down at one end, and then roll myself into a human burrito. I would roll myself in as tightly as possible, which gave me an unfortunate resemblance to a butterfly pupa. After this, I would hop up and wiggle back into bed—and usually be asleep within fifteen minutes.
From then on, the occasional insomnia that I had was dealt with by staying in bed, looking at the ceiling. I stopped doing the burrito-blanket roll trick when I realized that it was making me sweat buckets while I was asleep, resulting in a very uncomfortable feeling when I woke up. I may have also fallen out of bed a couple of times as a direct consequence of burrito rolling.
The pattern(s) of my insomnia changed when I started experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia at 19, and was diagnosed at 20. One of the main hallmarks of fibromyalgia is that it can impact your sleep. That’s the polite way of saying that it will totally impact your sleep—depending on its severity, which can vary from patient to patient–drunkenly destroy your sleep patterns with a wrecking ball, then unzip its pants and energetically fuck that wreckage while “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister plays way too loudly on a nearby portable stereo. So, my once or twice a year bouts of insomnia turned into oh, once every couple of months or so when I will just be awake for no reason at all.
Right now, I have at least one bout of insomnia per month, where I just cannot get to sleep, often regardless of my usual level of tiredness (which is VERY HIGH).
When I thought, a couple of years ago, that working from home would be great for me—and my bad sleep habits–because one can work in one’s pajamas and no outsiders would be the wiser, I certainly did not mean “can also emerge, confused, from a nausea-induced nap at 1 PM on a weekday, in the same crunchy/sweaty pajamas that I have been wearing for the past two days because I have been in too much pain to shower.” WORKING FROM HOME!
I honestly fetishize “perfect sleep” to the point that it concerns me a little. Once in a great while, I will have a couple of hours of sleep that feels like I am floating on a fucking lavender-scented cloud while lying on a cruelty-free feather mattress. Often, I will wake up and go WELL, THAT WAS AWESOME, BUT I’M STILL TIRED AS HELL SO IT’S TIME TO SLEEP IN SOME MORE. It’s inevitable that I will wake up from this enthusiastic nap number two disoriented and confused, with my neck or shoulder bent at an unnatural angle. By the time my brain in that situation goes NEED MEDICATION, NOW, I’ve forgotten about my earlier sleep triumph and have settled back in to my normal disheveled state.
Sometimes when I have insomnia, my anxiety-brain will Tarzan-swing in, on a fucking vine, no less, and start yelling at me for ridiculous shit. Picture Nick Nolte doing this as my anxiety-brain and screaming everything below directly into my ear, and you will begin to get an idea of why I find my anxiety-brain so reprehensible:
HEY, are you worrying a bunch about something that you have no control over, like if editors will email you back about those pitches that you were so excited about? DID YOU CHECK TWITTER TODAY, BECAUSE I HAVE NEWS FOR YOU: A BUNCH OF PEOPLE DIED! There, you can worry about that instead of your stupid problems.
Is this “being a writer” thing going to work out for you? Seriously, think about it: IS IT?
I heard a noise! SOMEONE’S TRYING TO BREAK INTO THE HOUSE. (spoiler alert: no one is trying to break into the house)
WHO WANTS TO READ YOUR STUPID ESSAYS ABOUT WHATEVER-THE-FUCK? NAME ONE PERSON.
Did you know that you’re a failure? BECAUSE YOU ARE.
Well, that was annoying. In light of all of this, I have decided to try to change my sleep habits for the better using one of those annoying tip lists from the internet. The results of my experiment(s) are as follows.
TIP: Worry about things BEFORE bed, not after you get into it! EASY FOR YOU TO FUCKING SAY, INTERNET ARTICLE.
TIP: Go to bed at the same time every night! I usually go to bed around 10 PM since it takes me approximately the running time of a pretentious art movie to actually get to sleep, so I already have this one covered.
TIP: Wake up at the same time every day! I already do this, except for when I have insomnia, which I suspect compounds the problem. Our dog, Noodle, will piss all over the wood floors of our apartment if I don’t take her out at the exact same time to pee every morning—this is as good a motivator as any to get me up at the same time every morning.
The time that my body seems to want to get up on weekdays is 9:30 AM. Weekends are a sleep free-for-all unless I have plans.
TIP: Stop drinking caffeine! I love tea too much to actually cut out all of the caffeine that I drink, so…this is not going to work for me as it’s written out. I drink 2 cups of tea per day at most, it’s not always with caffeine, and I don’t know why I am wasting all of this energy justifying the low amount of caffeine that I consume. I am also not a big soda drinker and dislike coffee, so there are two things that I can’t really cut out—unless I want to pat myself on the back already for doing fuck all, which I totally do.
Over the past few weeks, I have had one or two cups caffeinated tea before noon. I have not noticed any differences in my sleep patterns. Not having caffeine after noon is making me feel less weirdly jittery, I guess?
TIP: Don’t do anything in your bedroom other than sleep and other bedroom activities! DO NOT read or look at your phone in bed! The stumbling block for me with this one is that I LOVE READING IN BED. It is one of my top ten or fifteen things that I like to do. The combination of getting to lie down comfortably and read is just the best.
So I know that, right from the outset, that this is going to be a tough one. I’ve been following the “don’t look at screens for at least an hour before bed” tip for a few months, and it seems like it’s helping things along.
I have not been able to stop reading in bed. I am a voracious reader and a terrible sleeper, I guess.
TIP: Don’t take naps! Okay, here is the thing about this tip: for people who have chronic fatigue from an illness (not just OH I GET TIRED SOMETIMES, TOO, abled folks), naps are a necessary evil.
There are days when I want to do nothing but take naps. This would concern me, but daytime tiredness is a thing when you have fibromyalgia (or its Benadryl-doused cousin, CFS/ME—an illness that I am very glad to not have because dealing with chronic pain is enough). I usually give in to failure so quickly that any normal person would look at my sleep schedule and be like, “um, you should go see a doctor for that hypersomnia, dude.” And I’m like, NO, THIS IS JUST PART OF HAVING A CHRONIC ILLNESS THAT FUCKS YOUR ENTIRE BODY UP, BUDDY.
I want to be in that dead sleep space constantly. There are nights when I’m awake and, after a certain point, get extremely excited about being able to sleep in the next day—which, I’m guessing, exacerbates the whole insomnia thing.
I have tried to avoid napping during the day for a few months, with my successfulness ranging from middling success to NO SUCCESS AT ALL.
In the interim, my snoring got worse, so I had to go get a sleep study done, which is why I’ve divided this piece up into multiple parts.
I came here after reading your article about allergic reactions. Have you ever been evaluated for Mast Cell Activation Sybdrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Dysautonomia? They run in a cluster and sound SO much like what you have. EDS is often misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia.
Chronic pain and fatigue are just two of the many heads of a monster begotten of autoimmunity and sleep apnea. This Hydra torments people of all generations, not just Millenials, or Boomers like me (my mother, an octogenarian, has always suffered this way; unfortunately, because of lifelong fear and misunderstanding, she refuses treatment).
I’m glad you had polysomnography done, and are now using CPAP. It’s too bad that poor air quality in your area has interfered with your use of the device. In my experience, nasal congestion problems are also associated with poor mask fit causing pressure on nasal cartilage, inappropriately high air pressure, and an imbalance between room air temperature, tube heating, and humidification. Head position also has a degree of influence, because of body fluid shift causing swelling in nasal passages. It’s a continual juggling act for me to get a few decent snatches of sleep at night between episodes of severe chronic pain.
There are so many of us blogging about these interrelated health problems, we would make a statistically significant sample for a research study. (If ever you’re feeling up to it, I have several blog sites, and the one that deals with some specifics of my health issues is at https://butterflybefree.wordpress.com)
I understand what you’re going through, so I don’t expect a reply to this comment. I just wanted to express my empathy and contribute to the reassurance that you are not alone.