I have suffered with insomnia for decades. Honestly, I have tried nearly every herbal remedy—beginning with Chamomile (lame at best), Valerian which smells and tastes like manure (I held my nose and swallowed), Kava, Braca spray and numerous other herbal cocktails. There’s been Benadryl, Unisom sleep and lots of Melatonin, all to no avail. I stay open minded to almost anything anyone suggests, much like I did when my son suffered with colic (salt in his water bottle?).
I ventured into the prescription market when my muscles ached, my head pounded and perhaps not being as young as I used to be, I felt hung over after a night when I was unable to sleep at all. Insomnia was definitely more fun when I was twenty-five and raring to go. Some of the prescription medicines work, some don’t— but nothing works all the time. What I do know for sure is that I haven’t slept five hours in a row for more than thirty-five years and yes, occasionally it makes me really, really crazy.
I tried meditation and still meditate but it has no impact on how well I sleep. I exercise. I take long baths and I play soothing music. Recently in a moment of total frustration and a little desperation I consulted a sleep specialist. He was both enthusiastic and convinced he could help me get to sleep and derived a plan for me.
The Plan: I was to give up surfing on my computer at night—which was a true sacrifice and TV screens ninety minutes before my desired bedtime. I was instructed to read a book backwards (I chose The Life of Einstein) with an itty-bitty book light—OY! And for five days I listened to a custom made CD all night long (yes you heard this right). By day three of this, I began to get anxious just thinking about the bedtime ritual. It seemed that efforts to resolve my insomnia and the promise of sleep seemed to be drifting further from my reach. I began to dread the “cure” more than the insomnia.
And then it occurred to me that I had to find another way and stop fighting with my insomnia. It’s chronic and we have to live together as peacefully as we can. My biggest challenge is how to explain my condition to others who generously offer book suggestions, doctor referrals, website links and just about anything else you can imagine. No one believes it when you tell them (even doctors) that you have chronic insomnia, that it isn’t hormones or unhealthy bedtime rituals and that you can subsist on a few hours of sleep each night and a nap when you are lucky.
Of course none of this is easy, it’s not the path I would take if given the option to choose. But life is like this. We don’t always get to choose. And maybe now that I’m “gasp” middle-aged, I’m getting tired of talking about sleep and ready to get on with the rest of my life. There’s going to come a time when I will sleep quite a bit. When that time comes, I hope I’ll have a good mattress and the softest Egyptian cotton sheets. I won’t even have to iron them.
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