Culture, Depression, Happiness

Insomnia: Mental Health Enemy No. Whatever

Erratic thinking, rumination, anxiety: Most of these I can catch with a watchful mind these days. (Until I can’t, but usually… ) However, there is one thing that will twist my gears hard, and that’s a night without sleep. Worse, two or three.

A lost night of sleep leaves me shell shocked and useless–a rattled, useless mess. My partner will always give me a pass the morning after. Tell me to take it easy. It’s a message I need to hear. And, fortunately, my schedule allows for sick days–lots of ’em.

For more than a month now (six weeks?), I’ve been taking a sleeping pill to be doubly sure I stay out of this destabilizing rut. Sleeping pills can be fun, granted. Mine brings brightening hallucinations every other night. Everything growing mildly animated (sentient would be the best word for it, the lights, the clothes in the closet, observing and jovial). I would have weaned myself off sooner but for the spark of joy that can follow a typically hard day.

Yet I know this is not a lasting formula. So I’m grateful to find this article in USA Today this morning.

While I taper down on my med of choice (way down, down to a quarter tab now), here is a list of suggestions to take me the rest of the way.

The whole article is worth a read, but here’s the list stripped out for those of you in a rush to relax:

• Sleep diary. To help detect the patterns feeding your insomnia, you will keep a diary for a week or two.

• Sleep restriction. While it might seem “barbaric,” most insomniacs need to start by spending less time in bed, Grandner says. The idea is to break the mental link between wakefulness and the bed — by going to bed only when you are very sleepy. You also will get up (until you are sleepy again) any time you can’t sleep. Sleep times increase as insomnia improves.

• Sleep hygiene. These are the good habits that can help anyone sleep better: Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, avoid caffeine and bright lights late in the day, and set a relaxing, consistent bedtime routine.

• Relaxation techniques. You may learn some breathing or muscle-relaxation exercises to help you prepare for bed.

• Rethinking insomnia. “People will be lying in bed, absolutely certain that if they don’t get enough sleep, something terrible is going to happen the next day,” Grandner says. “So we may ask them, ‘Of all of the times you have had insomnia, how many times have you lost your job?'”

• Varying costs. In-person therapy, in six to eight sessions, is the most expensive, but it may be covered by insurers. One 20-minute sleep clinic visit can cost $120, Jacobs says. His five-week online program costs $35; another program, called Sleepio, costs $80 for 12 weeks of access; SHUTi costs $135 for 16 weeks of access.

• Possible side effects. Sleep restriction induces temporary sleep deprivation, so it’s best to avoid long car trips and major work projects during initial therapy, Grandner says. People with bipolar disorder could become manic, he says.


Top image adapted from a “musical brainwave performance” at Deconism Gallery (artist not attributed), courtesy of Wikipedia.


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