Round Peg in a Square Hole

A repository of reference material on a variety of subjects

Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream.....

Let me just state, up front, that insomnia sucks. I know that there are many worse things, but here, at 3:47 in the morning, it's hard to think of many.

Let me start out by saying the time it took me to realize that I had insomnia is the best example of the damage it can do. I work in a highly technical, detail oriented field, that requires one to perform routine tasks with great attention to minutia. (O.K., my spelling is never good, and lack of sleep isn't helping), while simultaneously being ready to react to emergencies on a moment's notice. Yes, it's high stress, but I do actually love what I do. What I don't love is that, without enough sleep, my ability to do my job is seriously impaired.

The other issue is that, all modesty aside, I'm a pretty smart person. In addition, I'm smart in a lot of different areas, and pretty creative at problem solving. I tended to catch, or be able to mitigate, the errors that I was making. So, it took me a while to realize that I really was making a lot more errors than I ought. Then, my judgment being impaired, it took me even longer to realize what was at fault.

So, being the direct and linear soul that I am, when the penny finally dropped, I attacked the problem head on. I started making sure I was in bed for at least 7 hours a night. That's when I realized that being in bed does not translate automagically into getting sleep. I cruised the internet, looking for suggestions. I meditated. I drank herbal tea. I had already given up caffeine in grad school, at the strong recommendation of my homeopath (I still hold that at least partially responsible for the fact that I never finished). I ate heavy meals right before bed. I ate turkey. I had a glass of wine. I ate light meals before bed. I took warm showers right before bed. I tried yoga positions said to help with insomnia. I went to bed at the same time each night (well, sort of). I tried "good sleep hygiene": using the bed only for sleep or sex, not for reading or knitting or anything else; getting up if I lay awake for more than 20 minutes and trying to do something boring. (Side note: I'm actually finding it difficult to find something boring to do. Even my old standby, my organic chemistry book from undergrad days, failed me. Having only read bits and pieces of it, I decided to "start at the very beginning". Just my luck, the intro was all about the birth of modern organic chemistry, which just happened to have occur ed in the fabric dyeing industry. As an avid knitter who has dabbled in hand-dyeing yarn, I found it fascinating.) Finally, I tried OTC sleep medications; they worked for a while, but then I acclimated to them. Then began an interesting shell game, using various OTC sleep aids alternating with NyQuil and other antihistamines: using one for a night or two, then switching, taking the weekends off. I even tried progesterone cream, just in case this was an early sign of menopause. Few things helped and those that did didn't work for long.

Somewhere in all this, I visited my doctor, trying to get a prescription for something a little more potent. Bless her soul, she's thorough; she asked a zillion questions (even remembering that I work in space and asking about whether I had to do a lot of shift work, which messes up one's circadian rhythm) and wouldn't prescribe anything until she had sent me to a sleep specialist.

I have to admit, I was less than impressed with the sleep specialist; although he did listen to me and was willing to credit my assertion that stress was the major factor, he supported my GP's desire to make sure all the organic causes were ruled out. I have no problem with that; what bugs me is that he casually doled out to me three or four sample packets of prescription medication and told me to save them for nights when I really had to have a good night's sleep. What he didn't take into consideration is that I'm fairly small: 5' 4", between 120 and 130 lbs. Now, when I was younger, I always made sure that I got the lowest dose possible of any medication, at least to start out with. (Ask me sometime about the idiot shrink who had me on a triple dose of Prozac, along with something to counter the anxiety attacks it was causing, and which combination left me sobbing on the lobby floor of a hotel at a professional conference. Yeah, that did a lot of good for my professional image....) But it has seemed to be less of a problem in recent years, so I didn't worry about it.

Come Thanksgiving weekend, and I haven't had a decent night's sleep in a week. I'm scheduled to give a Cassini slide show Sunday at a local science fiction convention, and I'm starting to get a little punchy, so I take one of my "magic bullets" Saturday night.

Huge mistake. The thing is formulated for your average adult male, who probably weighs at least 50% more than I do. I slept like the dead for 9 hours, woke to the alarm (thank goodness for my anal-retentive tendencies!) feeling drunk and disoriented. Knew there was no way I could drive in that state, and wasn't too sure I'd be able to give my talk, even if I got a ride. For the first time in my life, I had to cancel out on that sort of commitment, and it really pissed me off. I remained groggy (not enough to sleep, damn it, but too much to watch football, which is saying something, for me) all freakin' day, only coming out of it late that evening. Of course, by that point, I was leery of taking anything that night; that, combined with the stupor I'd been in all day meant I got virtually no sleep that night, and was unable to go to work for two days, until my cycle settled down a bit.

So, that's where it stands. I need to do a sleep study: go to their facility, and be monitored through a night of sleep (or attempting to sleep) to confirm that I don't have restless leg, or apnea or something, before I can get a prescription. Being close to the holidays, I haven't yet shaken loose the time to do this, so I'm sitting here blogging instead of sleeping, because I couldn't stand laying there any longer. Goddess only knows how I'm going to focus in the all-day class I've got to go to today (last day of a 6-day series). I am reminded of a button I own:

"Sleep deprivation is neat! You see such pretty colors......"


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