Insomnia is no joke. It is a lonely, anxiety riddled, horrendous side effect to Chronic Pain. I have followed almost every piece of advice that I could such as:
- go to bed the same time every night
- memory foam mattress
- read before sleeping (did this all my life – so no probs there)
- think relaxing thoughts
- good pillow (tried foam, memory foam, down, fill etc.)
- use a fan or white noise machine
- dark room (shutters AND blackout curtains)
- flower scents (not sure if it really works, but hey who is going to turn down fresh flowers)
- drink warm milk (make me have to pee – which makes me get up – which inhibits sleep)
- sleeping medication – prescription and/or natural
- get up and leave the room, take a break and try again – this one is the killer for me
- don’t have a TV in the room
- no caffeine after 10am
Insomnia is a crafty little beast. It slowly encircles your brain, then wraps its’ tendrils around your heart, dives into your stomach and then spreads through your neuropathways. All the while choking the life out of your system and once it has exhausted you – it flicks on the most brutal of switches. The pain switch. Exhaustion is a very powerful fuel to the pain fire.
You can’t really feel it at first, but soon you start to lose your words. Memory is something lost. With this, irritation and crankiness grows – which in turn escalates pain – which in turn increases crankiness. Sadness will flow over you like a Tsunami – you are not sure why but that person said hello in a certain tone made you cry.
Appetite is off, because your body is not sure if it is day or night. Awake at 3am – you may have a snack – but if you don’t sleep – it is your 3pm snack. Even though your mind is telling you this, your body knows better and your metabolism fights you like the Devil.
Anxiety grips you with a tightness in the chest – oh God – bedtime is coming – what is going to happen. Where normal people fall gratefully into their cocoons, we lie down tentatively, slowly….as if the bed will bite, not comfort.
The clock watching starts. Wake up and it is Midnight, then 2am, then 3am, then 4am – then it is 5am and people are starting to arrive gently into the new day. We have lost our clocks – when did the old day end and this one begin? A slow motion, acid flashback of days, nights, evenings, afternoons all flow together. The only thing clarifying the difference is the rhythm of other household members.
Dark thoughts tend to find Insomnia an invitation to party. Without daytime life distraction – those horrible, awful self-destructive thoughts arrive. Painies understand obsessive thought; a cruel byproduct of pain. Our minds are able to focus on one singular thought/event/trauma, continuously repeating and torturing us. The shadow of night holds it right in our brains. This causes anxiety – no sleep – increased pain – no sleep – anxiety etc.
Tension fills our failing bodies as we try to maneuver ourselves around our home in the dark. We don’t want to wake anyone else. We know they know, we can’t sleep – which causes them anxiety – which causes us anxiety.
Reality TV, Infomercials, local cable talk shows and really low brow television become our secret buddy. Reading is good – but if you are sharing a room/bed with someone – the light is going to bother them. Those reading light attachments are great – but I know I can only sleep in one position – so it keeps my husband awake.
Heightened sensitivity consumes us. Smells, sounds, movement, lighting, pjs, sheets, temperature – all these things can become irritating in a flash.
Recently, I have been awake for 48-52 hours at a time. During the night mini dozes happen, which last on average about 20 minutes. I have not slept for more than 4 hours in a row in almost 8 years. After extended periods of wakefulness – I will then get the crash. One or two days in bed – sleeping for 1-2 hours – getting up for 10 minutes and then collapsing back into bed. The theory is – sleep when I can – my body needs it. Even though I cherish sleep – I feel guilt for sleeping during the day. Knowing too – daytime sleep – will further screw up my sleep pattern. However, what do I do?
Due to pain and all that goes with it – my Cortisol levels are extremely high at night. For my faithful readers – high Cortisol levels are the source of many other health issues. Cortisol levels are supposed to be highest in the morning – assisting your anatomy to get through the day. In the evening – those same levels are reduced – allowing you to sleep and regenerate your system. Which again – poses the question – What came first the Cortisol or Insomnia?
I have included some interesting links – this is not an endorsement of these sites – just additional information. A particularly interesting observation is – when looking/reading these sites there was little if at all mention of Chronic Pain being a condition that causes Chronic Insomnia. Stress, anxiety, depression, sleep apnea, new parenthood – are all mentioned. In some articles a “shout out” to those with arthritis are there – but not Chronic Neuropathic Pain.
All these factors being inextricably linked – and it seems – impervious to breaking. How to stop the cycle? I am not sure – my Cortisol levels will be checked at my next appointment. I have a blood test – one in the morning and then one in the afternoon.
I would like to rid myself of the anxiety that insomnia brings. I want to be able to gently lay down in my super comfy bed, read for a few minutes and then drift successfully into a dream filled slumber. Then I will awake refreshed, invigorated and better armed to combat my pain.
Ahh to sleep perchance to dream.