My Relationship With the Night

I have a really complicated relationship with the night. On the one end, I’m a true night owl and can enjoy sitting up late reading a book or browsing the Internet. Before the Internet, I used to listen to a talk show on Dutch public radio called “Night shift” on weekend nights between 2AM and 6AM. The show might’ve aired on week nights too, but I wouldn’t allow myself to stay up past 1AM then. (Yes, I wouldn’t allow myself. My parents didn’t set a bedtime for me past age ten or so.) In the show, people called in to ask for advice or opinions on sometimes rather mundane topics, such as the difference between fruit and vegetables.

One time, a woman called in to ask for opinions on her eye condition. She literally had a hole in her eye, she explained, which she could see when there was static on TV. The hole, however, also meant she was unable to see facial expressions, which limited her card-playing ability. She assumed that and wanted opinions on whether she could have gotten the hole because of fifteen years of almost daily crying. I don’t know whether she ever received a satisfactory answer, but I do know that story brought chills to my spine.

As I said, I’m a true night owl. Others might call me an insomniac. In fact, I’m pretty sure my relationship with sleep and the night was rather unhealthy for most of my life. As a young child even, I used to stay up late at night worrying about things I’d seen in the news, things I’d heard or experienced during the day, etc. My parents hardly comforted me. In fact, they pretty much left me to my own resources. That’s one reason they didn’t set a bedtime for me.

When I lived on my own in 2007, I had an even worse relationship with the night. I developed something akin to OCD that mostly showed up at night. I had to check each night whether my alarm was on, door locked, windows open, heating off, electronics unplugged and I’m pretty sure I forgot something. I’d spend hours going through my apartment checking each several dozens of times.

During the last week of my living on my own, I’d often leave my apartment in the dark to go outside and wander the streets. I still get flashbacks of this darkness now.

Once in the psych hospital, the first medication I was put on, was temazepam, a sleeping pill. That worked for all of two weeks. Then I got put on Nozinan, a strong sedative, which however kept me drowsy for most of the day too. Then followed nitrazepam and diazepam until I finally decided I’d rather have insomnia without meds than with meds.

I eventually did have to go on meds after all, but these were daily meds. I currently don’t experience severe insomnia, but I do experience disrupted, restless sleep and nightmares. I did back in 2007 too, but, though I did mention it when admitted to the hospital, it never got paid attention to. Thankfully, my latest addition to my psych med combo, topiramate, does help with this.

This post was written for today’s Tourmaline’s Halloween Challenge prompt: night.

When I Can’t Sleep

Today, Sadje asks in her Sunday Poser what we do when we can’t go to sleep. Now I must say I only occasionally suffer with insomnia nowadays. As a child, teen and young adult, I’d suffer with it a lot more often. When in the psych hospital, I even tried a handful of different sleep medications until they all stopped working and I just accepted lack of sleep. The one sleep medication I remember that actually worked for a relatively long while if I didn’t use it more than twice a week or so, was zolpidem. I liked that one best, but I actually still have a kind of psychological longing for the floaty feeling it gave me.

Anyway, now that I only occasionally suffer with insomnia, I usually still don’t like to just lie there and do nothing. The nice, floaty feeling on zolpidem would’ve helped with that at least. Rather, I usually get up and do some reading on my phone. Of course, I know that electronics are supposed to keep you awake and this may be the case for me even without the blue light (being that I keep my screen completely black). Indeed, I don’t usually find that reading helps me fall asleep, but at least it helps me pass the time until I’m naturally tired enough to fall asleep. Or until it’s morning.

I wanted to go off on a tangent here and talk about other sleep issues too. The most annoying of these is finding myself in a half-sleeping, dreamlike state where my mind seems to want to do things but my body won’t. This experience, which some people I know have said might be sleep paralysis, is extremely frightening. It usually happens when I take a nap, which is why I avoid taking naps if I’ve had this experience recently.

Which gets me to fear of sleep due to nightmares. I experience nightmares that actually affect my daytime functioning at least a few times a week. I don’t always remember my nightmares exactly and I’m not even sure those I do remember count as nightmares, as sometimes when I’m in them they aren’t fear-inducing. They however do trigger my PTSD flashbacks, if that makes sense. They usually are very vivid. I have had this issue more since starting on my antipsychotic, but now that I think of it, it’s probably more of an anxiety or PTSD symptom. I am really hoping the topiramate, which I’ll hopefully be starting within the next week or two, will help with this.

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.