Sleep. It is so wonderful – when it happens. I have had such little sleep in my life that I can note the few nights of good sleep, rather than the few nights of poor sleep.
Sleep is my next area of improvement in my life. I’ve done a great job at healing from abuse. I’ve done the mental calisthenics required to overcome my past (mostly – I know I’m not completely done) and improve my marriage, and all my relationships actually. And now my brain needs some R & R in the form of solid ZZZZZ’s please.
Here’s a link to a site with valuable info about sleeping (or not sleeping in this case). http://www.patient.co.uk/health/insomnia-poor-sleep
I’m going to explain what I’m going to do to try to sleep more and more deeply, but first, I think I should explain my sleep troubles over the years. It seems I have always had something to disrupt my sleep.
Asthma: I had my first severe asthma attack at age 6 months. My Mom has told me how many times she rushed me to the hospital in the middle of the night as a baby and toddler – with blue lips. Asthma and bronchitis trouble me a bit through my twenties, but seems to be mostly gone now in my thirties.
Allergies: Dry mouth from open-mouth breathing with a runny or stuffy nose. Sinus headaches.
Abuse: No details today. But has to be mentioned that my dad often abused me at night, in my own bed. I can’t even imagine how this reduced my ability to sleep – always hyper-vigilant for the next attack.
Spinal Cord Injury: At age 12, my back surgery did not go as planned, and left me with substantial nerve damage. My legs would twitch and spasm randomly all day and all night, waking me often. And until just a few years ago, I would actually wake up with the need to roll over, not having the strength to move my leg unconsciously, I had to wake up, realize I was uncomfortable, reach down and and use my arms to assist my leg in scooching, and then try to fall back asleep. My leg is finally calming down, less twitchy, and getting stronger!!
Pregnancy: Sleeping was just about impossible with a bowling ball in your belly, pushing on your spine, pushing on your bladder. Somehow I survived multiple pregnancies. I remember each time finally sleeping – a bit – when they take the baby to the nursery.
Babies: Sleeping with a baby in the house was just about impossible. My babies did not sleep well or much, or for long. And when they did, I was too afraid they would stop breathing or the roof would cave in, or the house catch on fire. I was too afraid to let anything happen to my precious helpless bundles to ever sleep. Hyper-vigilant again – nothing was going to hurt my babies. I know now this was not healthy or rational, but I was mostly not healthy or rational back then.
Toddlers: Toddlers did start sleeping more at night, but all of mine were plagued with nightmares, bedwetting during potty training, and illnesses. And of course having toddlers and babies together in one room meant NO ONE was sleeping. (how did I survive that too?)
Children: My kids are generally all good sleepers now. One had a few years of asthma, but nothing as extreme as mine. (Could that be because I was up all night listening to her cough and started treatment right away? Hmmm) They of course still have the occasional bad dream, coughing spell, tummy ache, etc. But mostly, I tuck them in at 9pm and don’t see them again until 7am. Each night it still seems like a miracle.
Dog: My dog is 13 years old and a bit neurotic now. He’s always been a high energy guy, but lately we have to put a leash on him and tie him to our bedpost to have him settle down and sleep. Poor guy doesn’t get walked nearly enough, I know.
Cats: What is it about 3am that makes my 2 cats call to each other? It is an eerie, sleep piercing “Meeeeeeeeeeoooooooooooooow?” Over and over, until they find each other, and then the growling starts, and they chase each other in a game of tag in the dark. My cats are now 18 and still do this often. They don’t know they are old.
Nightmares: I used to have terrible, gruesome, horrifying nightmares each night, several a night. I think they started in Middle School, when I started to understand more of my reality and how I had been and was still being abused. Thankfully these nightmares have nearly stopped altogether. Only a few in the past few months. Stress, like around the holidays, will bring them back full force.
Dreams: I guess all the waking means I get to recall crazy dreams. I have always been able to recall 3-4 dreams from each night. They are full color, full action, and I can replay them like a mental video. Although they are not always scary, I usually wake from them exhausted, as if I really was flying or running or swimming, or whatever my dream had me doing. My kids seem to have have wild dreams too, and often tell me excitedly about them in the morning.
Sleep Panic Attacks: I used to wake up choking, gasping for air, like someone was strangling me. No dream or nightmare, just a panic attack in my sleep. Not easy to settle back down after one of those.
So things are better now. Really, so much better. Why aren’t I sleeping more? I don’t think I know how to sleep. I need to start my own sleep training program. I have started with the 6 steps below, and I’m very hopeful that quality ZZZZ’s will follow.
Step 1: Reduce caffeine. I know, duh. Well, I have relied on caffeine for so many years to keep my sleep-deprived brain functioning that I fell prey to that kind of thinking that allows us to do things that aren’t good for us. I’ve always had this much coffee, it doesn’t keep me awake. (Just like smokers think their own lungs are immune to cancer) So I have switched to 1/2 caff grounds for now, so I can still have coffee at all usual times and will reduce more as needed. I know far too well to reduce slowly, as the caffeine headaches from withdrawals are no fun at all.
Step 2: Reduce alcohol. Somehow it had become a habit to ‘relax’ every night with a nice drink (usually whiskey) along with my chips. Although it may help me fall asleep, it is supposed to mess up sleep cycles. I don’t need anything to mess that up more. Luckily I am not as addicted to alcohol as caffeine, so switching to night time herbal tea or just water has been easy. I still drink when I go out with my friends, but the dancing sends me home so worn out I fall right asleep those nights!
Step 3: Have a bedtime. 11pm every night to get 8 hours in bed. Ugh. I hate that one. I love staying up late, all by myself in my quiet house. So I had to carve out other times to be alone. So far I have my dance class once a week, and weekend mornings I get to lounge in bed a bit before the kids scream for breakfast. Still working on this one. Parents just don’t have a lot a alone time. Hubby is doing his best to get me a few hours each week all by myself to read or draw or whatever.
Step 4: Exercise. Every Day. Enough to make your heart pump and your forehead moist. I have been using my lack of patience to help me get moving. I hate waiting for anything and just standing. So now I do wall presses and squats while watching the kids at the bus stop each morning. I do jumping jacks while waiting for the computer to restart or the soup to warm up. These little burst of intense activity really seem to help that brain fog and keep me off the couch.
Step 5: Therapy. Yup, still in therapy. We are working on ways to reduce the hyper-vigilance of PTSD, to forget the night time traumas, to feel safe when sleeping. No luck here yet, but not giving up. We’re discussing adding trazadone to help relax and sleep, but I’m trying steps 1-4 first before adding something new to my brain chemical mix.
Step 6: Enjoy life! I’m going to a concert this weekend. I played a card game with my kids on the carpet last night. I went out dancing with a friend on Saturday. I have protective boundaries between me and toxic people. I walked to the market with my kids yesterday because it was strangely above freezing outside. I play my favorite music while working. I think of ways to show Hubby I love him. I allow Hubby to love me. Dream of Springtime and sunshine and bike rides and picnics and hugs and tickle fights and everything I get to do because I am alive and lucky enough to have a beautiful family.