Monday, August 4, 2008

Talk to the Animals

I knew I was in trouble when I found myself in the laundry room talking to my daughter's newly-washed stuffed animal pal.

No, I hadn't gone mental, nor was I under the influence of anything ilicit. I was just severely sleep-deprived from a chronic problem I've been fighting since I was a child: insomnia.

I don't have it all the time, but at least once a year I have a round that lasts for weeks and renders me a slow-reflexed, cranky, and mentally dull member of society. I am not a person who can function well on broken or little sleep; the first four months of Ainsley's colicky infant-hood saw me lucky to get more than 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep at a stretch and therefore also saw me on antidepressants. My husband can thrive on 5-6 hours a night; if that's all I get for longer than a day or two, I fall apart at the seams.

One of the ironies of my life is that I require a good amount of sleep, and yet I am a frustratingly light sleeper and it takes little to trigger insomnia. In spring and summer, the late evening sunlight throws me off. During vacations from work, rising later disrupts my body's clock. Add any kind of stress, change, big presentation, scary movie, or general worry and there goes the ability to turn my brain off and relax. I am a born worrier, and I worry my best around midnight.

When I struggle like I have been the last few weeks, my thoughts turn to the Ambien commercials. I am tempted to beg my doctor for some until I remember how I embarrassed myself while on sleep medication during chemo.

Some chemo drugs are stimulants, and the steroid most onocologists pump into your system to keep you from rejecting the drugs also revs up your system. When not even Benadryl could induce sleep the first couple of nights after a treatment, I was given a little drug called Restoril. Sounds tranquil, doesn't it? Gentle and mild? Well, the generic name of the drug cued me in to its real nature: it's a happy member of the valium family.

It definitely made me sleep. But here's what I learned: if you don't go to sleep right after you take it, if you, say, decide to stay awake and play around on the computer for a little bit, you will get a little loopy and a little crazy and worse yet a little forgetful.

One afternoon after a night sleeping peacefully thanks to Restoril, I opened up my email to see I had something from a favorite professor of mine from college. You Centre grads may remember him as being well-loved for more than his fabulous brain and energetic teaching; he was the object of many a co-ed's fantasy. I was puzzled and happy until I opened the email and realized it was a reply to an email I had sent him in the wee hours of the morning telling him all about how I had cancer and I just wanted to let some of my former professors know and woe is me and blah blah blah. Until I read the reply, I had had no memory of sending the email. But then it came back to me; I had taken a sleeping pill, and instead of going to bed, I had gone downstairs and surfed the internet for a while waiting for the medication to "kick in." It apparently had kicked in already and made me lose my better judgement and spill my guts electronically and then erased all memory. So when I hear about people who sleep-eat and sleep-drive on Ambien, I totally believe it. And fear it.

Now when the beast strikes I stick to more natural remedies. I make myself get up early (though not as early as I have to rise during the school year; getting up at 5am 365 days a year I am pretty sure classifies as cruel and unusual punishment) and prohibit caffeine after noon. I exercise no later than 5pm and don't allow myself to nap even if Ainsley does. I light aromatherapy candles and use lavender-scented lotion. I take melatonin but try to avoid Tylenol PM (unless I get a migraine on top of the insomnia, which is common since one seems to like the other's company.) I wait it out. And know that eventually I will sleep. And in the meantime...

In the meantime, I do things like go downstairs to take laundry out of the dryer, come across Lumpy, my daughter's favorite stuffed animal and best friend, and engage good ol' Lump in a conversation about how he's all clean and fluffy now, and will get reunited with Ains the next morning, and how cute he is, and how I would like to snuggle up with him, except that I don't sleep anymore. And finish the conversation with, "And how crazy am I to have a five-minute discussion with an inanimate object."

But that's just the nature of the beast.


Robert K. said...

Totally feel your pain. I used to be able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, but as I've gotten older I've developed insomnia. A few summers ago when I was really stressed about work, it got to the point where even Ambien didn't put me to sleep. Yeah, that sucked.

Karen said...

I feel your pain too. Some nights, my brain will not shut off. It's like when the needle gets stuck in the same groove on a record (showing my age here, talking about records!). And I really love it when I wake up in the middle of the night and the worries set in and stay for the rest of the night. I even dream about them when I finally fall asleep! I guess we're all just going to have to talk to each other on nights we can't sleep! :)

Anonymous said...

Insomnia has been my boon companion since at least 7th grade. A slumber party culminated in a showing of Nightmare on Elm Street - Freddie Krueger to a bunch of 11- and 12-year-olds! Well, it culminated for everybody else who all fell asleep about 20 minutes after the movie shut off.
I've found that light levels in the house make all the difference for me. No computer time after 8:30 unless I'm willing to be up half the night. Sometimes TV will do the same thing - it depends on what's showing. Caffeine after about 11:00 am is out. Despite all that, I'm like Karen sometimes - I can be physically exhausted but my mind hums along with worries or just random sh*t, even a catchy song that you heard hours earlier and don't even like.

dd said...

I remember one of your sleep-talking episodes when we were about 12, "I can't find the cord"!