I have struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember. It’s not something I talk about very often. Usually it’s because if I do, I get the same list of suggestions of things I have already tried from people that don’t have sleeping problems. My policy is I don’t offer medical advice unless it’s for something I have now or have had in the past and there is a chance I might have something useful to say. In general, my philosophy is if you have nothing to say, then say nothing at all.
What inspired this topic was a video on the same topic by my favorite YouTuber, Wonderhussy. Her video is titled How I've Dealt With 12 Years of Insomnia -- and What I Suspect Caused It. Her situation is quite a bit different from mine, so if this topic interests you, please watch her video for another perspective.
My challenge is not so much falling asleep but staying asleep. I find it hard to stay asleep or awake for long periods of time. Here is how my typical cycle goes if I don’t take anything:
9:30 PM – Go to sleep. This usually entails doing puzzles in bed for about 15 minutes first.
1:00 AM – Wake up. Go downstairs and dink around on the computer for an hour or two.
2:30 AM – Go back to sleep, often facing the other direction.
6:00 AM – Wake up again.
11:00 AM – Have a nap, which lasts about an hour. I’ve been known to nap twice, especially when the previous night’s sleep was expecially poor.
I’ll start with a list of things I’ve tried, which are the usual remedies.
Melatonin – This is what everyone with sleeping problems should try first. To the best of my knowledge, it’s natural, and lacks harmful side effects. You can find lots of it in the vitamin section of any large grocery store. This worked like a charm, for a while. I roughly estimate after taking it nightly for about six months, it started to lose its effectiveness. However, I stayed true to it until it was down to only about 10% of its initial effect.
Ambien -- This is the brand name of a drug called Zolpimem. This is a prescription drug that does work – until it doesn’t. Most stories I’ve heard of others taking it involve not just sleep-walking, but sleep driving, which could lead anywhere. None of the Ambien adventures people go on seem to be remembered the next morning. Once I shared a tent on Mount Adams with someone who took an Ambien and she me told a story in her sleep which I’m sure she never intended to tell anyone. In the morning, she had no memory of it. Nobody has reported to me anything strange I’ve done while on Ambien, but maybe they were just asleep. Like Melatonin, I built up an immunity to it and it’s not very effective anymore.
Benadryl – This is an antihistamine used to treat allergy problems. A side effect is it makes you drowsy. It is easily and inexpensively available anywhere that sells common over-the-counter drugs. I was on this nightly, for a while. However, like everything else, I built up an immunity to it and it’s not as effective anymore. It also causes you to still be drowsy when you do wake up.
Seroquel – This is the brand name of a powerful anti-psychotic, Quetiapine. This is normally used to treat cases for things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A friend of mine who suffers from insomnia recommended micro-dosing it. Wonderhussy also mentions trying it in her video. It didn’t do much for me. Maybe I should have taken more, as I have a strong resistance to mind-altering drugs. Mrs. Wizard is a nurse who often deals with psychotic patients. She was shocked and angry to find it on my side of the bathroom. Suffice it to say that was the end of my experiment with that one.
Do you see the pattern? Everything I’ve tried that was effective didn’t last long. After about six months, the effectiveness was down by about 80 to 90%. What did I learn from that? Don’t take anything on a regular basis. Instead, save it for those nights when you need a good night’s sleep, because you must get up early for something important the next day.
There are some harmless things that do help somewhat, for me at least. The main one is the use of the kind of earmuffs that people that operate jackhammers use. You can find them at any hardware store for about $20. I got a set because Mrs. Wizard snores sometimes. However, I somehow developed an addiction to them. Now, for whatever reason, they help me fall asleep. Once I’m in that state where I’m almost asleep, I can remove them. I keep four sets on the back of my bed, because I take them on and off all night and the used ones are hard to find in the dark. I doubt this will work for many other people and I have no idea why I have become addicted to them.
I also find a hard mattress helps moderately. Mine is as hard as you can buy. Often in hotels I sleep on the floor because the mattress is too soft. I also find it helpful to alternate what directions I face during an on-and-off sleep cycle. Why this helps, I have no idea.
I’m afraid I haven’t found any magic beans that help, especially ones you never build up a tolerance for. Other than not taking anything too frequently, my advice for my fellow insomniacs is to not fight it, but to accept it. Don’t lay there in bed wide awake doing battle with insomnia. If you’re awake, you’re awake, get up and do something until you are truly sleepy. Wonderhussy gives some advice in her video such as not using your bed for anything other than sleep and sex. I feel I adhere to that pretty well naturally, except it helps me to do a puzzle or read a little for about 15 minutes before going to sleep.
That is about all I have to say on this topic. Sorry, there was no brilliant advice, but I hope what I did say will help some people at least a little. Until next week, sweet dreams.