Sleepless In Epping

Bad idea

When I started this blog it was to share with you my experience of depression, both going through it and getting over it. But as I’ve said before, there were parts of the experience which didn’t really fit into the main story but may be relevant to others. As well as the main illness I was also suffering from severely disrupted sleeping patterns, which I still have now. So I’m sharing them with you. Aren’t you lucky?

What was wrong?

For quite some time, many months at least and maybe years, I have got by with around five hours sleep each night, but in the lead up to my depression diagnosis this got progressively worse. I was managing three hours at best most nights, and not all in the one spell: I would wake up at least once or twice, and sometimes more, every night. Whilst this may not have been the ‘cause’ of depression, it sure as hell didn’t help prevent it! I was asked about this when I first saw my GP, who noticed that I had a slight irregularity in my heartbeat which she thought might be a contributory factor to my nocturnal arousals – the waking up and getting up, even if I didn’t need to pee! So, on top of all the other tests, I was sent for an ECG to see how serious this might be. Fortunately, this confirmed the irregular heartbeat but not to a severe level. So I still have that, untreated, and I know that I’m just going to have to live with it.

The next stage was to be referred to a specialist clinic. I didn’t have to stay in hospital but was invited to add to my apparel for one night – a mini computer, with all sorts of wires and tubes to be attached to my chest, stomach, arms and face (see below). The instructions were like IKEA for sleep disorders, but at least they were in something resembling English and all the parts were there! This test also confirmed the irregular breathing patterns, but nothing more severe. I had been told that I was being tested for sleep apnoea, which was just a name to me, and when the consultant told me the results I said I was almost disappointed – I’d been hoping they would find something wrong so that they could treat it. The look on his face was priceless, somewhere between ‘you have my sympathy’ and ‘you’re a complete imbecile’ and it was then he told me that sleep apnoea can be fatal, so it was just as well I didn’t have it! He also said there was no treatment that would help me, either. So that was it – keep your fingers crossed, lad, you may sleep properly one day!

What the well-dressed insomniac is wearing

What the well-dressed insomniac is wearing

What could I do about it?

I was advised to try sleeping in a chair, rather than my bed, as this might improve airflow though my passages. They thought my irregular heartbeat might be combining with breathing patterns to jolt me awake. As the advice came from a professional I thought it was worth a go, and nearly a year on I’m still doing it. I don’t know if it helps but I’m afraid to stop doing it! I’ve tried a few times to sleep in my bed again, but have still woken up several times in the night and in the mornings I’ve had terrible backache. I must be getting old! But at least chair-sleeping makes it easier to get up in the morning – I just stand up!

I was also advised that weight loss would help, which didn’t really come as a surprise! I’ve lost over three stone in the past seven months and feel much better for it. I’ve no idea if it helps with sleep though, and how could you test it anyway? I don’t think my scales measure sleep times as well as weight.

So I’ve tried a few other things as well, with mixed degrees of failure. To give you an idea:

Sleeping on the settee – mine’s a two-seater, I was constantly moving around trying to get comfortable and keep everything on the settee. I didn’t sleep and I felt like I’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. Not recommended!

Sleeping on the floor – only for the hardy or the terminally stupid. Painful, didn’t work, and guys if you try it be careful to avoid squashing important bits. That doesn’t help you sleep – trust me, I know! Not recommended!

Infusions – I’ve never been much of a fan of the herbal/floral teas. As far as I’m concerned, to be called ‘tea’ it needs to contain ‘tea.’ Grass is for gardens, or for enlivening smoking. But someone recommended lemon and ginger and to my surprise I quite liked it. So I thought I’d try the special  infusions to aid sleep. Verdict? Well, I’ve never drunk liquid compost, but I think I now have an idea of what it would taste like. And it didn’t seem to help me sleep any better either – probably because of the retching. Not recommended!

Herbal sleep tablets – following the ‘it’s good for you’ logic I thought I’d try these. Well, if they’re good enough for Cadfael, why not? They were quite large, it was impossible to swallow them without tongue contact and they tasted like…you guessed it, liquid compost in tablet form. No noticeable difference in sleep either, probably because of the bad taste lingering above toothpaste. Not recommended!

Hot chocolate – tastes much nicer than the shit-in-a-bag stuff. But no noticeable improvement in sleep. Recommended for enjoyment, but not for sleeping.

Keep the TV on with low or no sound – what was I thinking! I just ended up watching movies! Not recommended, well, for sleep anyway. I saw some good films though.

Sleeping with the lights on – also in the ‘what was I thinking’ category. No. Utterly pointless. Not recommended.

Keep the TV and the lights on – see the previous two. Not recommended.

Listen to music – also falls into the ‘enjoyable but didn’t help’ class. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried it with AC/DC? Fun, but not recommended.

Reading to make my brain tired – see watching TV, only in Kindle form. Not recommended.

Going on the computer to make my brain tired – see watching TV, reading etc. Not recommended.

Making the flat very warm, to induce drowsiness – more likely to help with weight loss from the sauna effect. No use whatsoever. Also detrimental to the electricity bill. Not recommended.

Basically, after trying all of these and getting nowhere, I’ve come to the conclusion that my motto should be….

‘I want to go to sleep, but my brain keeps  talking to itself’

So, does anyone know of anything else I could try? I’d love to hear from you if there is, provided it isn’t illegal or immoral.  I think the only thing I haven’t tried is normal sleeping pills from my GP. We’ve discussed it several times but always agreed that they may not work either, they may react with my anti-depressants, and they can be addictive. But I’m going in the morning so I’ll ask again. If you don’t hear from me for a while it will mean I’ve got some and they worked! And if not, I may see you on Twitter at 3am one morning.

As they say..

’Dear 3am. We have to stop meeting like this. I’d much rather sleep with you.’

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20 thoughts on “Sleepless In Epping

  1. Hi Clive. I agree we all do not have the same sleep needs. I am a licensed clinical social worker…so have heard problems like this. My questions would be how tired are you during the day? Cap naps mess up sleep patterns and patterns are important to improving insomnia. Do you find yourself sleepy at a regular time but think it’s too early to go to sleep? Better to listen to your body. If you are sleepy before your favorite tv show, and stay up to watch them, you come out of sleep phase and “wake up.” Our biorhythms are individual not driven by the clock. The weight loss is great, but just to see you have no vices left..Do you smoke? Getting up to smoke can disrupt sleep and your body gets used to nicotine middle of the night. Is falling asleep interrupted by thoughts you are afraid to forget…keep a notebook by your bed and jot down the thought. Actually cool temperatures are more likely to induce sleep…they signal the body it is night, and dim light with no flickering (like tv and computers) is better. Regular location (i.e. your chair helps…but that place should only be used for sleep…not reading etc.) Lastly, you can try meditation techniques: progressive muscle relaxation and deepening your breathing. When you just slow your breathing, making each breath longer (you can measure by counting in your head and trying to get to a larger number) and deeper (focus on inflating your chest) your brain wave patterns start to look like sleep patterns. This is several counseling sessions abbreviated down to the basics..but hope something is useful. Joanne

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    • Many thanks Joanne, some great advice in there. No, I only smoked briefly at 16 when we all tried it, didn’t like it so gave it up very quickly. That was my ‘golden oldie’ post for the week and things are generally better now thanks. The best possible cure was to retire from work – now it doesn’t really matter when I sleep! But you’ve given me a lot of food for thought if I get real problems again, which is always possible as I have the slightly irregular heartbeat for life now.

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  2. Clive, I do agree with Ellen. Who knows what the right amount of sleep is for each individual. But I do know from personal experience that to keep the black dog at bat and for a more restful nights sleep, I must get some exercise every day. Thanks for opening this discussion and posting at the Salon today.

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  3. Not stressing over it helps, who says how much sleep is the correct amount for you. I am lucky and gave up work early , I took up walking as my fitness and do it twice a week minimum with a neighbour who has become a great pal now. We laugh and forget we are exercising, she has always suffered with depression since a child, exacerbated by the death of her son ten years ago suffered a complete breakdown. She tells me her mental health has improved ten fold, that meant she is on less meds and her doctor was thrilled. My madness, (the good a bit loony kind) /friendship has made her light hearted and it shows in her ability to go out make new friends and after years of not sleeping, she sleeps unaided.

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  4. In the pain medicine department where I worked, the nurses recommended no catnaps during the day, a regular bedtime routine, and a course of Melatonin to regulate the sleep/wake cycle. You could perhaps ask the GP regarding Melatonin, as I think they can prescribe it.

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  5. Very enjoyable reading Clive, I know it’s a serious matter especially if you suffer, however you do get all the relevant points across in a light hearted way . Sorry cannot help you in the quest for a solution, as I’m one of those irritating people who sleeps 7 to 71/2 each night .

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  6. Ahhh, I thought the word “exercise” was conspicuous by its absence! 🙂

    I only mention it because a patient of ours – overweight, sleeping badly, eating junk food, diabetic, managed to overcome all of that just by going for a regular walk every day. As he progressed, week by week, his appetite changed, he slept much better and could stop wearing his “sleep apnoea” device. He’s only just borderline diabetic now and looks fit and happy.

    I don’t think exercise has to be uncomfortable or knackering to work in the long term. I love cycling and I can feel it triggering all the ‘feel-good’ hormones but walking is probably the safest form of exercise there is, it may cheer you up too and it’s free! Obviously, though, in view of your medical history, before undertaking anything at all, check it out with your doctor. 🙂

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  7. Hi Clive 🙂 I do wish you well in your quest for a good night’s sleep. I’ve read all of the above there’s no mention of physical activity – how much is normal, whether you’ve tried increasing it and what sort?

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    • Hi Jan, many thanks for this. I didn’t mention that purely because I’m planning a separate piece on it. But you’re right – I’ve got rid of my car, walk whenever I can and have bought some bits of kit to exercise at home. I’m sure it’s part of the recovery, not sure that it has done anything for sleep yet though 🙂

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