Insomnia – lying there at night, when it is dark and quiet but you just can’t get to sleep. You glance at the clock and notice the hours as they slip by without being able to get to sleep. Trying to shut off your mind, but the thoughts just keep coursing through your brain. Getting up in the morning, tired and just wishing that you could get some sleep… I like the word “agrypnia” better than “insomnia”; “chasing sleep” seems so much more appropriate than “sleeplessness”.
I have had lifelong agrypnia. My first memory of agrypnia was when I was a preschooler. I remember being glad when I learned to tell time in first grade specifically because of my agrypnia. We had a mantle clock that chimed the hours and half hours, and somehow, it was comforting to know what time it was. My agrypnia only got worse as I grew older, instead of being awake for hours at night, I began to be awake for the entire night.
I finally started doing some research about how to prevent insomnia in the 1980’s. I followed all the recommendations: establish a routine, and go to bed and get up at the same time every day; don’t take naps; eat before you go to sleep (but don’t have a heavy meal); exercise before bedtime (but don’t exercise too much); avoid stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine; avoid alcohol (wait, is that a depressant or a stimulant – oh, no, it is both!); only use your bed for sleep or sex – no TV, no reading of books (wait… read books but not anything stimulating); and most importantly – avoid stress and don’t worry! Right…
For years, I followed this advice. Do you know how hard it is not to take a nap if you haven’t slept much the night before? And to this day, I don’t drink caffeine after my morning coffee; in fact, I avoid any soft drinks with caffeine. After a while, it really annoyed me when I realized that it was all “Do this”, “Don’t do that”! Experts were saying that it was my fault that I couldn’t sleep – my thoughts, my actions, my choices were preventing me from sleeping!
After years of trying to follow all the advice, I began to think “How dare you? What makes you the expert? Unless you have insomnia yourself, you have no reason to say anything!” I even read an article that said insomnia was a learned behavior, and when I couldn’t sleep I was supposed to get up and do something I really hated, like washing the kitchen floor. This was supposed to condition me to decide to sleep because the consequences were unpleasant. Like being so tired but lying as hour after hour passed wasn’t unpleasant enough! Like struggling though a day at work wasn’t difficult enough!
I decided that if the “expert” hadn’t lain awake for hours and hours at night, wondering why sleep was so elusive, I wouldn’t listen to them!!! If the “expert” hadn’t personally experienced their own agrypnia, and not just an occasional sleepless night, then their advice was practically meaningless. Trying to sleep is difficult enough without wondering what I have done to cause my sleeplessness. That doesn’t turn off my brain at all.
Sigh…. I am really tired but I can’t go to sleep tonight. Again!
You know what is the worst? I googled insomnia remedies again this evening, and they haven't changed since the 1980's! The same useless advice. Oh, well.