Curing my insomnia

For about two years, I’ve been experiencing this incredible insomnia. I think that college just really messed up my sleep patterns, and that I haven’t yet really managed to train my body to anything natural. But anyway, the result is that, more often than not, I lay awake for two hours each night.

This insomnia has spurred a number of life changes. I’ve started waking up in the mornings every day, even on weekends. I’ve stopped drinking coffee. I quit smoking. And maybe some of that has helped, but I still get these periods–weeks at a time–when I can’t fall asleep. I only have two hypotheses / solutions left. The first is that maybe I just don’t need as much sleep as I think I do (I try to get eight hours every night). Maybe I really need six or seven hours. Or maybe I just need to start exercising every day.

Ugh, I really hope it’s the first thing. If that’s it, then I’ll end up with two extra hours a day (score!). But if it’s the other thing, then I’ll lose another hour each day (boo!). I’ll do anything, though. This sleep stuff is brutal. I mean, cmon, if it’s such a necessity, then why can’t it just impose itself on me the way that every other bodily function does?

Does anyone else have any experience with insomnia? How did you all try to manage it?

10 thoughts on “Curing my insomnia

  1. arthole

    turn off your alarm clock and see what happens. if you use your alarm clock to wake you from sleep, then you are working AGAINST your body. do you get tired during the day? do you take a nap? eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired. I use my falling asleep and waking up time to do some of the most creative work. I setup the problem in my head when I fall asleep and I think about tangential problems when I’m waking up and new connections and approaches get made.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783

    sleep is not some “down time”. it’s when you are building your brain.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/sleep-long-term-memory_b_886998.html?view=print

    also, exercise would do you good. it’s a fantasy to think that you would actually gain two hours if this insomnia is your normal routine. because otherwise you would already be using those two hours to write with right now. You need to sleep.

    http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/03/sleep-is-more-important-than-f.html

    And you would not lose an hour if you exercise. exercise will improve your brain function, especially if you get outside and walk around or run, especially if you use it to go places!

    http://kottke.org/12/02/charles-dickens-liked-to-walk

    I really can’t stress enough the importance of using your body to take you places. It doesn’t matter where you live, going for a walk and maybe a run, where you explore a place provides adventures.

    just to note, there are not many stories about driving a car, or just riding in a space ship. but people tell stories of walking and running. why? because when you drive a car, nothing really happens. it’s a very passive experience.

    I have this hypothesis that our deep seated nature to tell stories comes about precisely because we do walk. Our ancestors from hundreds of thousands years ago developed a way to describe short and long walks to different places and the conflicts and problems they had along the way. And that development became story telling.

    So tonight, when you are wide awake with insomnia, get up! Put on your shoes and go outside for a walk. even if nothing happens, I bet you have an adventure. and make sure to turn off your alarm when you get home… and if you can’t turn off your alarm, but tomorrow afternoon when you get home from the office you lay down on the couch and feel sleepy, then let yourself fall asleep. As you are doing it, you can prep your subconscious with ideas for another story.

    Remember this, there is no normal. people are different, and it’s good that they are different. you may need less sleep, or you may be a night person, or you may be a napper. If you don’t put intellectualized restrictions on how your body behaves, it will let you know what it wants.

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/naps/

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      You want me to get up, put on my shoes and walk around downtown Oakland at 3 AM? Do you have something against me?

      For years, I went to sleep and woke up whenever I felt like it. And that was great, but it made it impossible to keep any schedule or plan out my days. And it meant that at least one day every week, I’d have an appointment that meant operating on only a few hours of sleep. And that meant I’d need to use caffeine to keep awake. And that meant I’d be really tired and depressed and find it hard to sleep and the next few days would be shot.

      Ever since I started waking up in the mornings (and quit drinking coffee), my life has become much simpler. I know exactly how much time I’ll have in each day. The only part of the plan that doesn’t work well is the going to sleep part =)

      I really don’t think the body _is_ very good at letting us know what it wants. My body wants to eat all the time. And it definitely wants to get drunk at 11 AM. But the doctors tell me that I ought to ignore those bodily urges.

      Still, I’ll think about your advice. And thanks for the links!

      1. arthole

        I know it must be annoying, but I think it’s cool you are having this adventure. thank you for sharing it.

        my cheap way to get to sleep is to have an orgasm. and I’ve noticed that if I get really hungry, past the craving hunger point, then it’s easy for me to fall asleep, like i’m conserving calories or something.

        other things that tend to make me sleepy. watching intellectual tv while laying down and sort of zoning out. reading difficult papers, again while laying down on a couch of the floor.

        oh and check this out. lots of story ideas here I think.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17193783

        There is something I have noticed with myself, that everything about my body is connected in interesting ways and when I change one thing, it affects other things about myself. oh, and exercise will probably help you sleep better, a hard workout wears me out and I sleep better.

        I guess I should have said your body knows what it needs, not wants. cravings are deceptive. it’s like my taste buds are still hungry but my stomach is full… I try and listen to my stomach, often unsuccessfully. that’s what I meant. we live in a weird time of abundance, quite the opposite of our scarcity driven design.

        1. R. H. Kanakia

          Haha, yeah. Ugh, I hate my tendency to just get all sarcastic at people. I’m glad that my commenters tend to be more level-headed than I am. Actually, I’m definitely going to start exercising. And I’m going to do exactly what you suggest. I’m just going to walk around. For years, I’ve tried to exercise in gyms and have inevitably failed. And my brainstorm was when I realized that gyms are just dull, horrible places. So instead I’ve ordered a pedometer and am going to try to maintain some kind of walking regimen. I don’t expect to lose weight or anything, but I think the activity will be good for me.

          Hmmm….hungry. I’ll think about that. I was really hungry last night and I slept pretty well. Maybe I’ll try not eating in the evening / night and see if my sleep problems clear up (I already had way better sleep success last night than I’ve had during the previous few weeks).

          I think you’re totally right that everything in the body is connected in weird ways. Like, when I stopped smoking, I never really noticed the improvements in lung capacity and throat health and such, because they were too slow and subtle. But I immediately (with a month and a half) noticed an improvement in concentration that came from not having to stop every forty-five minutes and smoke a cigarette. Also, my hands and feet tingled for months after I quit smoking, and they eventually stopped getting as cold as they used to. I mean, I knew that blood flow would improve when I quit, but I didn’t think it would improve so perceptibly.

  2. Ekola Idola

    Try melatonin. It’s an OTC sleep aid drug. I take it whenever my sleep schedule messes up.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      How much do you take? I try it sometimes when I travel, but I am like 320ish pounds, so I am not sure whether I am underdosing.

      1. Frank Bishop

        Melatonin is a nature chemical your body makes. It is the chemical your brain produces when you need to start going to sleep, in fact you start making it the second the sun goes down. I usually take 1 10mg pill 30 minutes before bed.

        I have horrible sleeping problems. One of the seven issue I have is sleep-induced insomnia which just means I’m asleep without being asleep.

        Things that have helped me; no computer or back lit screen 30 minutes before bed, the bed is only used for sleep and sex – absolutely no just hanging out in bed, don’t just hang out in bed if you can’t sleep, get up and do something for 30 minutes or so before returning to bed, and unfortunately diet and exercise.

        1. R. H. Kanakia

          Cool Frank. I’ve been taking 5 mg. Maybe I’ll take a little more. Also, I’ll try your backlit keyboard thing. What kind of diet is best for sleeping?

        2. R. H. Kanakia

          Last night I took 10 mg of melatonin and then I tried abstaining from screens for half an hour before going to bed. I fell asleep and slept really well. It’s not quite a full night of sleep since I woke up at 6 AM and couldn’t fall back asleep, but it was still _really_ good. It makes intuitive sense that looking into a light source would stop my body from falling asleep. Haha, oh man, I just realized that in my response to your comment above, I wrote “backlit keyboard” instead of “backlit screen”. Haha, I just got a new laptop. It has a backlit keyboard. I really love it.

          1. Frank Bishop

            The recommended exercise for my sleeping problems is 30 minutes of cardio three days a week. Doctor told me that walking is good, running is better, elliptical is best. He also said stay away from greasy food, eat breakfast, and fiber helps. I’m still not sure how much of the diet part is correct, but I do what he said and for the past year I have noticed amazing differences.

            The trick to the 30 minutes before bed, and a few others, is to get your brain used to a shutdown routine. That way when you lay down it starts the process without much trouble.

            If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve been going through this for a year.

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