ZZZ: The Role of Sleep in Self-Care #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to the last post in the #AtoZChallenge. For my letter Z post, I have, each year that I got to it, used ZZZ at least among other things. And yes, it’s totally fitting with the self-care theme too. Sleep is so important! Today I’m going to explain a bit about how you can take better care of your sleep hygiene and how sleeping issues can signal other problems.

Most people have some sleeping issues at times. I have had quite a few nights in which I fell asleep late recently.

When I was a child or teen, anxiety would often keep me awake. Since I didn’t get any help for my anxiety then, the issue grew until I had to use sleeping pills for a while at age 20. When I moved into independent living, my insomnia grew worse and it was one contributing factor to my suicidal crisis three months in. The first medication I got, was again a sleeping pill.

Now let me be very clear: sleeping pills are not to be used long-term. When I got my first script in 2006, my GP said to take it no more than two to three times a week. I was taking sleeping pills for a few months early in my psychiatric hospital stay, but I eventually decided less sleep without pills was better than less sleep with pills. I did take sleeping pills on an as-needed basis for a while after that. However, except in extreme cases of severe mental illness keeping you awake a lot, you ultimately need to find other solutions. So learn to practise proper sleep hygiene. I honestly don’t do too well on this now that I write about it.

For example, one tip is to use your bed for sleeping only. Though I do that, I tend to nap a lot too. I am learning to get up after at most an hour, so that I won’t disrupt my night-time sleep.

Also, it is recommended to turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. I’ve heard this is because the blue light of your smartphone or computer screen can stimulate the brain to stay awake. As I always keep my screen curtain on, this isn’t an issue for me and it may not be with dark mode either. However, I do experience that keeping very busy shortly before bedtime keeps my brain awake.

Some people find that hearing some white noise or soft music can help them sleep. I usually turn on calming music when I’m struggling to fall asleep, but eventually turn it back off as it seems to lead to a more restless sleep.

Having a soft toy in bed does help me too. Occasionally, I diffuse some lavender essential oil. There’s no scientific proof that it works, but it may help.

In addition to insomnia, sleeping too much is also an issue. I find that I sleep way too much when I’m depressed. This, of course, in turn worsens my depression.

Lastly, waking up unrefreshed can happen even when you get the right amount of sleep for you. This can be caused by a number of factors, including medications you may be taking or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. If this happens a lot, it may be time to see your doctor. Then again, doctors can be incredibly dismissive where it comes to fatigue.

Working On Us Prompt: Sleep Disorders

The past few days have been pretty busy, so even though I did want to blog, I hardly found the time. Now it’s already latish evening too.

Today I’m once again joining in with Working On Us, for which the prompt this week is sleep, insomnia and other sleep disorders.

As a child and teen, I suffered from insomnia a lot. I would often be awake for the whole night or hardly sleep at all. On week-ends, I sometimes made up for it by sleeping in, but I was definitely chronically sleep deprived. Though my parents sometimes suggested, and I don’t know whether they were joking, that I take valerian or melatonin, I wanted nothing of it. In fact, when I was going in for eye surgery at age seven or eight, I refused the tranquilizer they offered us before the operation. I also constantly fought the anesthesia.

When I was 20, I sought treatment for my insomnia for the first time. My GP prescribed temazepam, the most commonly-used sleep medication here in the Netherlands at least at the time. I was very scared when first using it, being that I’d not taken any medication in years, not even paracetamol.

I think that what lay underneath both my insomnia and my refusal to take medication for it, was an intense fear of losing control. I was, after all, pretty compulsive particularly as an older child and teen.

My sleep issues escalated in 2007, when I lived on my own in Nijmegen. Though I didn’t sleep less than I had as a younger person, I did suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation more. When I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital, the first medication I was prescribed was again temazepam. Then followed another few benzos and even levomepromazine (Nozinan), which is normally only used for palliative sedation.

I had to take “twilight anesthesia”, which means high doses of benzos, several more times prior to procedures and chose them over the pain that would otherwise ensue. However, I still had terrible fear when I “awoke”.

Other than insomnia, I’ve had an assortment of other sleep issues. My husband said at one point that I have hypersomnia, because I slept so much. This was probably down to a combination of medication, vitamin and iron deficiencies and lack of structure.

I am a sleep talker and I snore too. The snoring got slightly better as I lost weight last year. I’m not sure whether it’s worsened again since I’ve gained weight back up again. The sleep talking comes and goes with stress.

Lastly, I suffer from vivid dreams and nightmares. They’ve gotten a little better now that the long-term care situation is more or less settled, but during times of stress, I very often awaken in a state of shock because of vivid dreams. That is, I’m not 100% sure they’re REM sleep dreams or night terrors (which happen during stage 4 sleep). I’ve never had a sleep study done either.