I’m back to the house of insomnia, both literally and figuratively. For five nights in a row, I’ve slept poorly. I knew it was catching up with me yesterday afternoon when my neck started to hurt me. Right around C7 and radiating over both of my shoulders I noted that I was stiff and sore.
I know why I’m having insomnia right now. And, I will share more about that when I am able. But, it got me thinking about what factors play into having insomnia. I’m well versed in this issue, having experienced sleeplessness to some degree for my entire life. I work hard to avoid it – almost at all costs. But, sometimes, such as now – it is unavoidable if one is prone, like myself, to these episodes.
In this post, I’ll discuss what my experience with insomnia has been over the years. It is different for probably everyone, although there are commonalities. One thing my words do not apply to here are the experience of a single sleepless night, here and there. We all have those – for many reasons – even for the simple one of taking a nap during the day. But, what I am discussing is a long standing history of sleepless nights all strung together. Chronic insomnia.
What are Triggers?
Many things can trigger insomnia. And, as I alluded to above, triggers can be individualized to each person who has sleepless nights.
My insomnia probably started in college. As a straight A student, and perfectionist, I would lay awake thinking about what I was learning (nursing), the patients I had (did I do enough for them, did I do no harm, and did I understand how to help them), and how my studies were impacting my own life.
It boils down to stress. When I experience mental stress of any variety (performance, worry about kids, worry about parents, worry about my husband), I have insomnia. I’ve been able to couch this stress by using a few techniques that I’ll discuss in the next section.
Poor sleep hygiene can contribute to insomnia. This is not a huge factor for me with the exception of three things that I have the power to improve upon. One thing I can do is to further limit my screen time in the evening before bed. The second thing is to avoid alcohol. And the third is too not engage in cantankerous conversation or ninformation via texting or telephone or other media. This includes engaging in reading texts, or even media posts about things I am passionate about – education (especially local), and health care.
Usually, I am careful about other triggers and have been able to avoid them. Avoidance is merely a matter of keeping good sleep hygiene. I go to bed at roughly the same time every night – within an hour variance. I wake up at the same time daily. We keep our house cool at night. A too warm house is a recipe for poor sleep. This has been a contributing factor in the last few days. We keep a dark bed room, void of light and sound, if possible. The fan blowing on me and even the sound of it going around and around causes me to focus on it, and not sleep. We do not watch TV in our bedroom or use the computer, as neither are kept in our room. We will check our phone before lights out but mine is on silent between 10pm and 7am. That all works, but the emotional aspect of being excited by an unwanted mental stimulus is my worst enemy.
I avoid all caffeine after 3 pm, and have done so for years! If I forget, there’s trouble! Trouble with sleeping!
My recent episode has included some of these triggers, but another huge factor – not sleeping in my own bed! This is probably the biggest indicator of my having a sleepless night in store for me. It occurs in most places I visit for the first night or two – regardless of whether it is a vacation stay or visiting family. But, I still struggle with insomnia when I am home in my own bed, too. Staying at home is not a cure all.
Insomnia: What are Alleviators?
If my insomnia is related to one of the early factors I mentioned being a cause, I found that getting up and writing down what has kept my mind busy. If I’ve been trying to tackle a problem I write down my solutions. If I am trying to figure out how to have a hard conversation or voice my informed opinion, I write down the points I want to make. And, I do this even if it is 3 a.m.. I’ve found that it allows my mind to rest.
I occasionally take an antihistamine at bedtime if I suspect I’ll have a problem sleeping due to circumstance or when I awaken in the night if it is before 2 a.m. – and usually it is. I can often get to sleep but then waken and am awake for several hours. Taking the antihistamine after 3 am is not advisable for me because I’ll start my day being groggy.
Avoidance of triggers is key as well. We all goof up and have that extra glass of wine or mix up our tea bags or engage in social media before bed and end up not sleeping. But, I strive to avoid it.
And, sometimes we cannot avoid being awake at night. It’s been the case this week. I expected not to sleep well. And, I’m not. But, boy, I am looking forward again to when I can!
Here are links to some of my other posts on the issue of insomnia.