Archives for Insomnia
Well, I thought last night at 4:30 am, at least tomorrow's Panic About Anxiety blog post just wrote itself. But let's rewind a a couple of hours first, shall we? I had a hard time falling asleep last night. I don't know why, but I don't often question it. It happens. It's no big deal. What I do know is this: laying in my bed while tossing and turning never seems to help. If I can't sleep, I like to change locations until I'm sleepy enough to return to bed. So at about 2 a.m., Netflix kept me company as I lay curled up with a soft blanket on my living room floor. I fell asleep to TLC's My Strange Addiction. (Who in the hell watches that before bed, you might ask? Well, for context, I was watching an episode about a woman who was addicted to sleeping with her hair dryer every night. So, um, it was sleep-related programming. Sort of.) I fell asleep on the living room floor wrapped up burrito-style in my blanket. It was oddly comfortable. Until 3:50 am rolled around.
"But you don't look sick." Yeah. I've heard that one before. Have you? There's migraine. Fibromyalgia. Lupus. The pain and autoimmune problems aren't immediately visible. Within the mental health spectrum, there's panic disorder. There's depression. There's bipolar disorder, PTSD, and OCD. It's not easy for others to visually see our suffering. But just because an illness isn't showing doesn't mean it's not legitimate! THIS STUFF IS FOR REAL When I have a bad migraine, the only overt evidence of my suffering is the pair of sunglasses I'm probably wearing indoors. Also, I tend to walk very lightly on my tiptoes in a futile attempt to suppress the gnawing, throbbing, and stabbing pain on the right side of my skull. But a big pair of sunglasses coupled with a delicate walk? I look more like some cross between a drunk ballerina and a celebrity-in-hiding. I don't look like I'm suffering. It's the same thing with panic: if I have an attack in the middle of the grocery store, there's no good visual indicator that I'm suffering. Sure, I'll probably abandon my cart and walk quickly toward the exit -- but how does that make me different than any other woman who has forgotten her wallet in the car?
As an adult, I definitely understand the logic of how small things sound like big things at night. It's the Contrast Principle in effect: during the day, there are so many sounds in nature that we're unlikely to hear a tiny mouse scurrying near our feet. But at night, with its absence of light, dull orchestra of crickets, and an imagination open wide, tiny sounds get amplified by our minds. As we learned in my last blog post, in a tent full of scared eleven-year-old Girl Scouts at summer camp, a field mouse scurrying through the leaves = a big hungry bear searching for a late-night snack. At the right (or, well, wrong) thoughts and a tiny mouse becomes a big bear. It doesn't necessarily need to be dark outside for our mind to amplify the wrong message. When anxious, small things sound like big things. When sick, small things sound like big things. When depressed. When overwhelmed. When tired. I mean, think about it: when's the last time something small -- say, washing a load of dishes -- seemed like a gargantuan task? Maybe it was yesterday when your nerves were already abuzz thanks to your colicky little one screaming her head off.
Can science give us the perfect sleep-inducing song? I've been a bit of an insomniac lately. Somewhere in the depths of 2 a.m. last night (or this morning?), I Googled "most relaxing song ever." And what did I expect to find? Well, a bunch of songs esteemed Most Relaxing by the court of popular opinion. But instead, I found...science. Maybe. From The Telegraph: ...the eight minute track [by Marconi Union], called Weightless, is so effective at inducing sleep it should not be listened to while driving. Carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms and bass lines help to slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Manchester trio Marconi Union worked with sound therapists to create the soothing tune, which also slows breathing and reduces brain activity. Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, says that the song's rhythm begins at 60 beats per minute and then gradually falls to 50 by the end. She told The Telegraph that the song's lack of melodic repetition quiets the brain from trying to predict a musical pattern.
Today, I slept until 10:40 am. Oops. At the moment, I don't have a steady 9-to-5 gig, so the consequences of sleeping too late aren't financial. They're just annoyingly...biological. You see, I've been diligently trying to train my body to wake up earlier. I have this wonderful soon-to-be-husband with whom I'd like to sync sleep cycles. Last night, he went to bed at 9 pm so he could wake up at 6 am for work. Five hours later, after organizing my counter, putting away dishes, and listening to a few podcasts, I finally settled down to sleep at about 2 am. I want to be a morning person. I really do. In fact, I blabbed enough in December about wanting to be a morning person that my fiancé bought me the Philips Wake-Up Light for Christmas. It's this nifty little bedside alarm clock that slowly lights up like a sunrise. A half hour before your programmed wake-up time, the light glows dimly. Then, each minute, it kicks itself up a notch. When your alarm finally comes on (buzzing or bird sounds, in my model's case), the now-bright light should make it easier for you to rouse yourself from sleep. Should. Should.
Those of us with anxiety disorders know the feeling well -- we lay in bed, but sleep does not come. Our mind is too busy racing its way from here to there, rehashing the day's activities, and constructing lists of would have could have should have. Did I turn off the oven? I should have called Janice back. Where did I leave my car keys? I could have finished that project at work, but I got sidetracked and I hope the boss isn't upset with me. Did I remember to set the alarm clock? It is exhausting. Yet somehow, it is not the type of exhaustion that brings sleep. I often wish that my own mind came equipped with an off/on switch. Or, well, a dimmer switch. That would be better. I mean, I doubt that I'd ever want to cease all thoughts -- especially an important thought like, "Okay, I want to turn the switch back on now!" Yeah, a dimmer switch would be nice. I would crank it up during daylight hours & slowly dial it down as the evening sets in. Alas, there's no such thing as a Mind Dimmer Switch. But can we trick our mind and brain into slowing down for the evening?
Last night, I couldn't sleep. Nothing new or special there. It happens regularly, I suspect, to all of us. The day shuts off, but our brain stays turned on. Usually, when I can't sleep, I like to play the Alphabet Game -- an easy mental exercise that provides me with a simple task to focus on -- in order to push out the circular thoughts that are keeping meu up. You pick a category, like boy's names, and then you go through the alphabet and try to think of one name for each letter. Andrew, Bobby, Curtis, Dylan, Edward. When you exhaust one category (Xavier, Yanni, Zachary), you simply move on to another. Items at the grocery store. Professional sports teams. Religious objects. Diseases. Countries. Units of measurement. (The list is endless.) But, last night when I couldn't sleep, I ditched the Alphabet Game in favor of some technological distraction. I pulled out my iPod, opened my NPR app, and scanned the day's stories. Anything about the war or the economy would keep me awake even longer, so I bypassed anything that looked too serious for 4:17 a.m. I settled on this story from Talk of the Nation. An interview with cartoonist Roz Chast of the New Yorker. Okay, that should be good. Maybe they'll talk about cartoons or drawing or something else that's light and fluffy and happy.