Occasionally I hear from an insomnia sufferer who can tell me precisely the times she woke up the previous night. “Went to sleep at 11:30, up again at 12:55. Lay awake for an hour. Got back to sleep but woke up again to go to the bathroom at 2:40. Woke up again at 4:40 and stayed awake until the alarm rang at 6. What should I do?”
This person—let’s call her Judith—doesn’t sound like she’s getting much sleep: little more than 4 hours if you tally up the numbers. Few of us could thrive on a steady diet of 4-hour nights, and Judith is no exception. She works full time and cares for her family in the evening. When the alarm rings, she’s got to be up and on her toes all day until she crashes at 10 p.m. No wonder she has a lot of anxiety about sleep and is desperate for more of it.
I’ve blogged about various ways to improve sleep, but one small change of habit I’ve mentioned deserves more attention.
Gardening is a real stress buster for me. I’m actually convinced it makes me less susceptible to insomnia.
I said the same thing on Facebook last May, posted this same photo, and got a ton of “likes.” Who knew so many people found gardening to be relaxing the way I do?
The truth is, it’s really only spring gardening that has this calming effect. Summer weeding and fall cleanup can feel a lot like chores. But the spring planting season: that’s when gardening helps relieve tension and puts me in a contemplative frame of mind.
Sleeping pills approved by the Food and Drug Administration–Ambien and Lunesta–are getting some negative press these days, and I hear more talk of using off-label medications to treat insomnia. (Off-label meds are drugs approved for the treatment of other disorders.) I’ve blogged about some of these drugs before: trazodone, clonazepam and quetiapine.
Pregabalin is another, which is now being prescribed for people with trouble waking up in the middle of the night.
Could simply changing your thoughts about insomnia lead to better sleep? Some sleep therapists claim it works this way. They promote a process called “cognitive restructuring,” typically offered as part of cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia. It involves identifying negative thoughts about sleep and then challenging them. The goal is to wind up with thoughts that are more sleep friendly.
Sounds like a tall order, right? I agree. I’ll say up front that I had limited success with it myself. But the experts say this exercise is helpful for many who struggle with chronic insomnia. You may be one.
Is there a stigma attached to insomnia? Is it regarded in the same way as psychiatric disorders were regarded in the past–and are seen by some yet today–as something to keep quiet about for fear of others making negative assumptions about your habits and soundness of mind?
I revisited this issue over the weekend as I was responding to questions from Dr. Laura L. Mays Hoopes, a biologist and writer who has read my book and is interviewing me for her blog.
Once fear of sleeplessness moves into your bedroom, it can feel like a permanent feature of the night, making insomnia worse. But does it have to be this way?
Therapy with a sleep specialist, or measures you can take on your own with instruction from a book or the web, can help set fears to rest.
I spent years in denial about my fear of sleeplessness. Just how mixed up would I look if I admitted to an anxiety that undoubtedly made my insomnia worse?
I didn’t know anything about emotion then, or how people come to fear things like dogs or water or sleeplessness. I’ve come a long way since.
Whether the mind’s runaway chatter actually causes insomnia is an open question, but there’s no doubt but that rumination and worry go hand in hand with anxiety and make it harder to sleep.
Here are three ways to keep intrusive thoughts from creating anxiety and ruining the night.