Insomnia Rots Your Brain

S. J. Pajonas August 15, 2012
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How I cope with little to no sleep.

Here’s the day it began.. November 13, 2009

I remember this day vividly. I was newly pregnant, only a few weeks along, with my second child and this was the day the morning/noon/night sickness began. At the time, I was doing a photo project on Flickr called 365. You take a self-portrait everyday for a whole year and upload them. They’re not available to the public anymore (don’t ask) but I have the whole archive to look at.

Before this photo was taken, I was in pretty good spirits. My oldest child, C, was 2 1/2 years old and had been sleeping through the night since she was 10 months old. She was a normal baby in the newborn phase where she wouldn’t sleep. Then we paid the price and sleep-trained gently and it worked. Getting a full night’s sleep every night was blissful once my body knew how to do it again!

Then this happened. We moved onto baby number 2! I had a rough pregnancy but nothing life-threatening to me or the baby (who is now a healthy 2 year old). Still, my friends will tell you that I was miserable. Sick for 18 awful weeks. I hovered on gestational diabetes throughout my third trimester. And then there was the hip pain that kept me up every single night. No matter what I did — pillows, stretches, exercise, yoga, rest — the pain was relentless. I was sleepless from this point out.

Taking care of a 2 year old while pregnant is one thing. Doing it while miserable and sleep-deprived is another. But I made it through. I won’t lie. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I never want to do it again. Two children is enough! And I love these two, so I’m lucky in that regard :)

We cruised into newborn phase again, sleep-deprived even more than usual. I hadn’t slept well in 9 months, then we threw a baby into the mix. My second child was not as amenable to sleeping as the first. She didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was 15 months.

9 months of no sleep + 15 months of newborn-phase no sleep = a really long time.

My brain was mush. I was constantly forgetting things, so tired I couldn’t exercise, and then I picked up writing. Writing added a sense of professional accomplishment to my life but it also caused anxiety and made my very-tired-and-forgetful-brain work overtime.

So there I was, fall of 2011, and it had been 2 years since I had slept well. I tried not to complain. We still had a small toddler. Parents had been through worse! I was averaging 4-5 hours sleep per night. FOR TWO YEARS. It was debilitating. Then we took the plunge and sleep-trained the second child. It took a while but it worked! Sleep was attainable!

But it wasn’t. Ever since the second child started sleeping through the night, I’ve had insomnia. I lay in bed and don’t sleep. Sometimes I fall asleep for an hour or two here and there, but it’s not much. It’s maddening! Most mornings when the alarm goes off, I want to cry.

Some nights are better than others. I’ll get a sleep sprint and sleep for a stretch of 4 or 5 hours. Or I’ll give in and take a sleep aid like Unisom or Tylenol PM and get a whole 9 or 10 hours of luxurious sleep. But I can’t do that all the time because I wake up groggy and hungover and need a gallon of coffee to even function.

I’ve tried most everything. Relaxation before bed, laying on my acupressure mat, reading to quiet my brain. Alcohol, no alcohol. Changed my diet, less sugar, no afternoon caffeine, more protein, only eating between 9am and 9pm. Taking vitamins. Herbs and supplements (melatonin didn’t work for me, coffea cruda, calms, magnesium, Vitamin D at different hours of the day). Exercise (although there’s not much of that because I’m at the point in sleep-deprivation hell where I’m very uncoordinated). Next up on my list: valerian root and talking with my doctor AGAIN about maybe going on meds.

I’ve had it. I just want to feel moderately well-rested, get exercise, take care of myself and my family, and write my books without my brain being totally absent. I mean, right now? I read over revisions of what I’ve written and I don’t remember a lot of it! Only on the 4th or 5th read-through do I remember things.

I’m sure a lot of people will come here and suggest things that have worked for them and please know that I will read every comment and consider your advice. But also please know that I’ve tried so much and been sleep-deprived for so long that I may actually forget that I’ve tried those things. It’s been a long road. I hope none of you are suffering like I am. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

P.S. I want to read this through about ten more times and make sure it’s fine but I’m not going to. Insomnia makes me revise and revise and revise. I’d rather hit Publish now and actually get something up on the blog than let it sit because my addled brain wants to double-triple-check it.


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Category: Personal
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