Thursday, December 18, 2014

Desperately Seeking Sleep

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Searching for the Illusive Night of Restful Sleep

Sleep is my nemesis. I don't know when it started for me, the restless nights but sleep and I have been incompatible for as long as I can remember.

Sometimes, I have insomnia, I just cannot sleep, no matter what I do.
Sometimes, I can sleep for hours, days even, and I never feel like I have gotten enough rest.
I rarely sleep well, I never feel rested, I am always tired.

I realize that always and never are such extreme words, but for me, there is no other way to describe the constant struggle for a good night sleep.

Insomnia, chronic fatigue, sleeping too much, I have it all.. Truly.  

There is much research to suggest that depression causes sleeping problems. Recently, however, it has become a chicken or egg discussion. Chronic sleep issues are now thought to CAUSE depression, rather than the other way around.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
The earliest sleep problem I can recall, is having a constant urge to move my legs. I used to call it shaky leg, until I found out there was actually a term for it, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). Yep, sounds like one of those crazy, made-up disorders, doesn't it? I remember in my early 20s, trying to sleep and my legs just wanted to move... I would get up in the middle of the night and do squats and calf raises, trying to wear out my muscles so they would stop. Later, I learned that scalding hot water helped, if I took a super super hot bath before I went to bed. I am talking, dip your toe in, and ease your body into the tub and it burns, boy does it burn. You will never find my hot water heater on a child safe setting, I wouldn't get any sleep! I have been known to scald my legs in hotel rooms, where for some reason, my RLS seems worse. Actually, it always seems worse when I am away from home, no matter the location. 

I take medication for it now, it helps most of the time, but not always, occasionally, I still have issues... I have found some OTC meds that help in a pinch, but there is no sure-fire way. Just a few preventative measures coupled with prescription medication, and that still isn't a sure fire way to stop it.

Light Sensitivity
My sensitivity to light is a more recent development. I don't remember having such sensitivities in my 20s, but certainly, for at least the past 10 years or so, I need my room pitch black to sleep. I swear, I threw a party when I first saw Black-out curtains! When I was a young girl, I thought it was funny how dark my dad kept his room, but he worked shift-work and slept during the day, so that makes a lot more sense. But, blinds and black out curtains are not enough for me! I put electrical tape on my cable box lights and any other red, green or blue thing that glares in the night. It never made sense to me how those little lights could bother me, my eyes are closed after all. Maybe it is all in my head, but my clock is turned away from me, and dimmed as low as it can go and I have electrical tape on all my bedroom appliances. 

Noise Sensitivity
This is another one I used to laugh at my dad for... he used to keep his bedroom TV parked on UHF, if you are old enough to know what that is. Again, I do not know when it started, but, now, I too require white noise too sleep. I have tried white noise machines, they feel too artificial, I have tried apps on my phone, but the best noise for me is and has always been a fan! When they started coming out with whisper quiet fans, I thought to myself, why would anyone want a quiet fan? My children have all inherited this need for white noise from me. We travel with fans or phone apps. I have been known to call the front desk of my hotel room to ask for a room fan. I used to think it drowned out the noise, and sometimes it does. (Like when I lived in a town house and my next door neighbors kept their bedroom TV on all night) But now, I think it is something mesmerizing. I think it helps me quiet my mind, as I concentrate on the steady, constant sound, it lulls me into slumber. If, I am going to sleep that night, that is...

Temperature Sensitivity
Another sensitivity of mine, is temperature. I absolutely NEED the room to be cold. I am talking, 65 degrees, snuggle up under the comforter cold. This particular sensitivity tends to be expensive in the hot summer months, but works well in the winter, I don't need heat. My kids complain they can't sleep if the temperature is above 68 degrees, so I guess their skinny wives will be freezing their butts off someday, or my boys better be good at snuggling, because we like it cold when we sleep.

I am a pillow snob, I have yet to find the perfect pillow, I have tried them all! I have yet to find a pillow that is soft and yet firm enough to give me just the amount of support... Sometimes, I think I found a winner, only to be disappointed in a week or so. I also tend to sleep on my arm, much to my chiropractor's lament. Some think that having the right pillow, with just the right amount of firmness, will stop the desire to put your arm under your head. It does not seem to matter to me, I could have a rock under my head and I would still want to put my arm under there....So, I will continue to wake up with the trigger points in my shoulder blades flared and a stiff neck and shoulder, until I find that perfect pillow. Don't even get me started on my need for a leg pillow....

Position Sensitivity
Besides, the arm under my head, I have a quite a few positional requirements for a good night sleep. I like to lay on my side, arm under my head, toes of one foot, wrapped around the very bottom of the mattress, the other leg, up on a body pillow. My thumbs must be resting between my pointer and middle fingers, on each hand. Yep, sounds ridiculous, but it is true, this is how I must sleep. If you were laying in my bed with me, you would know I was ready to fall asleep when I start to scoot my body all the way to the bottom of the bed to find the bottom of the mattress with my toes... lol, I know.. I have issues!

So, if the moon and stars are aligned perfectly and my pillow is comfy, my room is dark, cold and filled with the sound of my loud, whirling fan... My body is in just the right position, I might actually fall asleep. Ah..... I do love to sleep, but I never feel rested! It does not matter if I get 6 hours, 8 hours, 12, hours, 15... it is never enough, which leads me to believe I am not getting quality sleep. 

I have been evaluated for sleep apnea, I take sleeping pills every night, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the one thing I know for certain, without the sleeping pill and the restless leg pill, I will not be sleeping that night.

One could easily evaluate my lifestyle and come up with a few things that need to be corrected, so that I can sleep soundly, but where is the fun in that? While I am on this mission to get healthy, I want to lose weight, quit smoking, start working out, get healthy in general... Well, let's throw quality sleep in the mix.. I am going to start trying some different things and see what works for me and what doesn't.

In order to evaluate the quality of my sleep, I have chosen to use the sleep bot app. The Sleep Bot app for android tracks your sleep patterns and measures how well you sleep over the course of several nights. It also tracks your movement at night, records sounds in your sleep like talking or snoring and wakes you gently in your lightest sleep phase within 30 minutes of your scheduled wake time, so that you are not roused from your deepest sleep. I have tried another app in the past, and found it interesting to see how much deep sleep I was getting, or not getting, in my case. (which the apps measure based on your night time movement.)

So, for the first week I am just going to carry on about my day as usual and track my sleeping patterns without any adjustments. Next, I plan to make various adjustments based on sleep hygiene articles from various sources I will document the changes and see if it has any impact on the amount of or quality of my sleep. 

I am excited to see what I come up with! If something ends up keeping me awake... nothing new, if I get a good night sleep or wake up refreshed for the first time, EVER, then what a great success that will be!

So, follow me on my journey... DESPERATELY SEEKING SLEEP!


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