In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream.” This invites us to write about sleep, which in theory occupies around a third of our lives. I say “in theory” because that assumes a regular 8 hours per night of sleep, which is something I went for many years without. At its worst, three years ago, I was actually referred to a hospital specialist in sleep as I was having such a problem with it and they feared I may have been suffering from sleep apnoea. Fortunately I wasn’t! I wrote about this in January 2013, describing how I was and some of the things I had tried, in ever-increasing desperation, to find a way to sleep:
SLEEPLESS IN EPPING
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 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.’
A BRIEF FOOTNOTE
Much has changed in my life since I wrote that piece, and I’m happy to say that getting much more sleep on a regular basis is one of the improvements in my life. After all those things that I tried I finally came up with the solution: retire! It really has been that simple for me, and I wish I could have done it many years earlier. It may not be a solution currently available to you but I can thoroughly recommend it!