Just the other day I was part of the funniest conversation! A lot of people were sitting in a circle and trying to explain how they had the worst insomnia. Each story was more outrageous than the other! I could not really believe my ears. Honestly? Bragging about not being able to sleep? That is so absurd! What will people brag about next? How they struggled with mathematics in high school? Bah!
Any way, this strange conversation got me thinking about my own experience with insomnia…
There was a stage in my life when I was a proper insomniac. I didn’t sleep for more than three hours a night for almost two years. Not being one to brag, I kept this to myself at that absurd bragging party… My problem was twofold:
Firstly, I came back to South Africa from a country on the other side of the world. The time difference was around eight hours. I was in the other country for quite some time and my body was used to living, working and sleeping in that country. Jet lag was a real issue when I came back and at the time I had nothing to do, so I just stayed in rhythm with the other countries’ hours. I stayed up most of the night and slept until noon. It sounds amazing, right!? To be honest, it was, until I found a job and had to get up early…
The other part of my problem was that, round about the time when I came back to SA my heart got broken. My first true love told me that things won’t work out between the two of us. Sad but true. Heart ache can be a massive contributor to insomnia. And by the way, this is not just my biased opinion, it is a scientific fact.
What does jet lag and heartache have to do with insomnia?
So there I was, calibrated to a completely different timezone and all out of love (so lost…). I could not close my eyes without seeing flashbacks of the one I loved. My waking hours was pure agony. Scenarios of past fights ran through my head and I kept on telling myself if only I’d done this or that differently things would have worked out. All joy was sucked out of the world. My appetite vanished, I didn’t want to go to work, I didn’t want to be comforted. Selfishly I clung to my grief and refused to even try to sleep. Lying in bed was by far the worst part of it all, because all around me everything was dark and quiet. The perfect time to reminisce about past mistakes and fantasize about how I would make things right.
As you can imagine, this just increased my sleeplessness. This cycle spiraled out of control, as I tried to find things to fill up the void left in my chest. I fed my insomnia by playing games until the early morning hours. When I didn’t feel like gaming, I went out and partied the night away. Believe me when I say that I wasn’t in a very good space. I lost weight like a terminally ill patient, my intestines started giving me problems and the list goes on.
By now you are probably thinking that I am the worst of the braggers when it comes to talking about insomnia. I apologize if that is the feeling you get when reading this. It is not my intention to brag about anything or bore you with my losses. Rather, I want to point out that having relationship problems can really cause insomnia.
This can quite often lead to sleepless nights, and if you are not careful, insomnia. If jet lag is not treated with the respect it deserves, it can easily be the catalyst to turn you into an insomniac. The best way to get over jet lag is just to force your body into the rhythm required of it. Get back into routine as soon as possible. Even if you are not sleepy, go to bed when everyone else in your household does. If this means that you have to lie awake a couple of nights, so be it. Better to lie awake for a week than to create unhealthy sleeping patterns and lie awake for a year or more. After going to bed early, it is just as important to get out of bed early.
After spending some time in a completely different timezone, it is always difficult to acclimatize to a new (or old) timezone. Forming healthy sleeping habits and patters will really help you to get over that jet lag quickly. If you do not take afternoon naps under normal circumstances, do not start doing so when you get jet lag.
Another interesting way to get over jet lag is to get out into the sun during the morning hours. Research done by Reuters journalist, David K. Randall indicates that being exposed to sunlight during the morning time makes it easier to synchronize your internal clock with your surroundings. So if you are going somewhere on the other side of the world, or you are returning home from a far off journey, be sure to take your morning tea outside!
Some other reasons for becoming an insomniac
Losing sleep is a common phenomena in people that suffer from some kind of emotional trauma. When you lose someone close to you, whether he or she chooses to leave or is taken away by force, it can have severe effects on your internal clock. As I already explained in some detail, when relationships do not work out, people readily lose sleep over it. But it can be far worse than going through a bad breakup.
It is one thing when someone decides to get out of a relationship, but quite another if someone close to you passes away. When losing someone in a breakup, there is always the slim chance that you might get back together with that person. If someone passes away, you know that it is final. You will not be seeing that person again in this life, and depending on what you believe, you might never see that person again. Dealing with something like that can be extremely difficult and experiencing insomnia is only one of the myriad of symptoms associated with undergoing emotional trauma.
Death is not a game
Similar to breaking up, when someone close to you passes away, it is easy to fall into the habit of asking yourself “what if”. This is a dangerous road to go down. The simple fact is that you can’t change what happened and no amount of “what if’s” will bring your loved one back. Do not lie in bed at night and ask yourself what you could have done to avert the person’s passing. Unless you killed him or her yourself, it is not your fault that the person passed! Unfortunately death is a very real part of our lives and no-one will escape it. We have to make peace with that fact and try to cope when it strikes close to home.
How can you avert sleepless nights over losing a loved one?
It is not easy to just switch off your mind. When going through a traumatic experience, it is important to allow our minds to deal with it. We must not subdue the emotions and the anguish, because that can lead to much bigger problems later on in life. No, we must mourn the loss of a loved one. Having said that, it is important to discern between mourning and obsessing. It is healthy to mourn, but distinctly unhealthy to obsess over someone’s passing. If you realize that you cannot sleep and cannot function at work, because it feels like your loss is overwhelming, seek help. Write down your thoughts, see a psychiatrist, talk to friends. Whatever you do, don’t let your anguish rule you.
And please, do not start taking medication to help you sleep without consulting a medical practitioner first. If the doctor prescribes sleeping pills, be sure to regulate your intake and do not become dependent on them. We are at our most vulnerable to become addicted while we are under immense amounts of stress and dealing with heavy losses. Please be extremely careful when it comes to taking sleeping pills under such conditions.
In the current economical climate it is not that difficult to become anxious. Feeding all the mouths in your household is no longer as easy as it used to be and the petrol price stays high. Don’t even talk about school fees and clothes! It is ridiculous!
Let’s face it. When people have responsibilities, they tend to fret. It is only natural to think about your responsibilities. If you didn’t think about them I don’t think you are fit to have any responsibilities at all! (I don’t want to offend you, but I stick to my point). The trick is to find a way to think about what you need to do without stressing about it. Because when you start stressing, things tend to become more complicated and difficult than they really are. Once you over complicate things, it is super easy to fall into a downwards spiral that leads to anxiety. Steer clear!
It is so easy to start fretting as soon as you switch off the lights. Things are quite all around and you are left alone with your thoughts. This is the perfect time for regrets or fantasies to take shape in your mind. Or it can be your work that is keeping you preoccupied. It is a bad habit to think about these things before you go to sleep, because they tend to keep you awake. If this cycle starts taking a hold of your life, you are in danger of falling prey to the ever lurking insomnia monster.
You might be in danger of getting trapped in a vicious feedback cycle!
If you allow your sleeping pattern to be ruled by regrets and emotions, you might be in serious trouble. Once you get in the habit of lying awake and fretting, sleep itself can become one of your main reasons for stressing. Thoughts on whether or not you’ll be able to fall asleep might keep you from falling asleep. How absurd is that?
Some medical conditions can also contribute to your inability to sleep
Cold & Flu
There are various medical conditions that affect the way you sleep. The simplest one being a cold or the common flu. If your airways are all clogged up, it can be quite difficult to fall asleep, or once you managed to fall asleep, to stay asleep. The medication you take for the flu or cold might also be responsible for keeping you awake. If you are taking medication and you are struggling to fall asleep, read the pamphlet and if sleeplessness is one of the side effects, please consult your medical practitioner and ask him or her to change the medication to something that does not influence your sleep. Getting proper sleep and rest is one of the most beneficial ways for your body to deal with disease, so you really don’t want pills that are supposed to heal you keep you from sleeping.
There are also sleep disorders that can keep you awake. Sleep apnea is one of these. We’ve spoken about sleep apnea a lot on this blog, so I won’t bore you with all of the facts. Let’s just do a quick recap though. A lot of people have sleep apnea and they don’t even know it. If your airways become partially clogged at night, you might have this sleep disorder. When you have sleep apnea, you stop breathing every now and then while you sleep. This leads to waking up briefly. You might end up waking up many times through the night, which is very disruptive to your sleeping pattern. Are you experiencing this kind of thing at night? If so, please consider visiting a doctor or a sleep expert for some advice and possible treatment.
Another very interesting phenomenon is restless legs syndrome. With this condition, you brain tells your legs that they should be moving, even when you are not in a situation where you need to move. Research shows that restless legs syndrome tend to be more acute later in the day and can often strike when a person is transitioning from wakefulness to being asleep. If it happens during this transition, it is difficult to fall asleep. Likewise, you might be asleep already when your brain triggers this leg movement, and then you will most probably wake up. People suffering from this neurological condition can start exhibiting symptoms of insomnia.
Time to get some sleep!
Once again, thank you for reading, folks! I hope that I didn’t bore you with my insomniac/heartache stories and that you learned something! If there is one thing that I want you to take away from this blog post, it is this: Sleep is important, so don’t skimp on it. If you are an insomniac, be active in finding the cure!