Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Trouble With Insomnia

Today, I want to talk about insomnia. It's not a new topic on my blog, but has gotten much worse since I stopped writing regularly, and has probably been the biggest contributing factor to my lack of blog motivation (or really, motivation to do anything at all). It's one of those things that I have felt very alone in dealing with, but once I made it public (on facebook of all places) it became clear to me from peoples' responses that a lot of others struggle with the same problem. I felt ashamed that I couldn't sleep - it is supposed to be a natural human function, just like being hungry or having to use the bathroom. I felt pathetic that I was trying to deal with it using pharmaceuticals. I felt embarrassed that my life was spiraling out of control because I couldn't sleep.

So that being said.. this is my story about insomnia.

I have dealt with insomnia for over a year. As most people know, my job requires me to do shift work (2 weeks of overnights, 1 week of evenings, 2 weeks of day shift). Shift work disorder is very real, and is very difficult to cope with. Mine was very slow in developing. At first, it was just when I was working overnights - sleeping during the day was hard because it was going against my body's natural instinct. I went to my doctor and got a prescription for Ambien, at Mary's suggestion. That worked for a while. Then I developed problems sleeping all the time, be it when I was working days, nights, evenings, weekends, whatever. The Ambien that I had been taking "nightly" lost its effectiveness.

People who don't deal with sleep issues really have no idea how much of a problem it is to live with them. Practically everyone that hears about it has some sort of home remedy that works for them. Trust me - I have tried them all. I have tried warm milk, playing distracting games in my head, journaling before bed, meditating before bed, sleeping pills, booze, the unfortunately combination of sleeping pills & booze (not advisable), getting up and reading or watching TV when unable to sleep, staying up all night to try to sleep better the next night.

Nothing worked.

I hit a really bad spell about 2 months ago when I was working my 2 weeks of day shift. I find that the hardest shift for me to sleep on (surprisingly enough) is when I work days and sleep nights. I usually go to bed between 9 and 10 and get up at 5:15 am. I would go to bed, lie there, toss and turn, and not sleep until my alarm went off. Then I would have to drag myself to work, using coffee as my only means of staying awake. One good thing that did come from this fight with insomnia was the purchase of a Mr. Coffee K-Cup machine!

Anyways, during the 2 weeks that I was working days, I literally could not sleep. At all. The first two nights I didn't sleep but I managed to make it through the following days, but by Wednesday I was dragging. I thought for sure I would sleep Wednesday night but by that point, my anxiety over not sleeping (the thoughts of "oh my god I need to sleep" or "how am I ever going to get through another day of work like this" or "am I ever sleep again" plus much more horrible, disturbing things that I won't speak of here just kept playing on repeat in my mind. Accompanied by bouts of hysterical crying, of course). Come Thursday, I could barely make the drive into work. It was a slow day and my supervisor was out, and I wound up with my head on my desk for half the morning. This did not make me feel good. I am paid to go to work, do a good job, and be reliable. I didn't feel like that employee. I was making mistakes. I was repeating things because I couldn't focus and my hands were shaking. Then I was not being productive at all and sitting at my desk trying to just make it through the day. And then I lost it and started crying in the office. Terrified that someone would see me, I managed to dry my tears, and went to go find covering supervisor (he works closely with my supervisor who was out for the day), saw him, and immediately burst into tears. He asked me what was wrong and I managed to choke out "I can't sleep." He sent me home for the day.

That was the point where I resolved to do something. I refused to live like this. I didn't care how many doctor's appointments, prescription drugs, therapists, WHATEVER, it took.. I was going to sleep again.

So I saw a different doctor. I explained to him what was going on in my head when I was trying to sleep. I asked him if he could just tranquilize me so that I could get at least one night of sleep. He prescribed me Lorazepam (for anxiety) and said that was exactly what he was going to do. That Lorazepam has been a life saver. I take it right before I go to bed, and then I read in bed for 30 minutes or so, and I can actually fall sleep again - it relaxes me enough that my mind doesn't go into overdrive anymore (at least right before bedtime). I also saw a PhD at a sleep clinic. She was able to create a "sleep schedule" for me for each of my three shifts and explain to me the biological reasons as to why I was having the problems.

So I am doing all that I can do for my problems. I still get anxious sometimes and I still have nights where I don't sleep very well, but I feel much more confident about my long term success. I was tired of whining about being tired all the time, and I am so glad that I have been able to address the problem (for the time being). I think being open to absolutely any solution helped me out. As an athlete, sleep is one of THE most important factors in my training. I finally am feeling back to normal, which is good timing because my first race of the season is in 3 days!


  1. Alexa,
    Jake knows your pain...he takes trazodone before bed to get the brain shut off problem solved. It seems to work.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Kim! seems to be working pretty well for me too. :)


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