Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Allusive Dreams

I have insomnia. I don’t mean occasionally having difficulty falling asleep – I mean severe chronic insomnia. In recent years it has become worse. During my last few years at work it was so bad I would sneak out into the parking lot and try to nap in my car. A futile act of desperation; napping is also sleep – I can’t nap either.

I have suffered through this all my life. I can still recall as a youngster my mother putting me down for a nap. She would nap; I would lie in my bed and make tents out of the covers and play quietly. When I was a Boy Scout, I recall being on camp outs where I would be wide awake most of the night hearing the other kids sound asleep. By the end of the camp out I would be exhausted.

High School was hell for me. It was always so difficult for me to sleep that I would go to bed before my parents. I was probably the only teenager in the country who would get up and ask my parents to turn the TV down. But to no avail – the next morning in class I would be sitting at my desk drowsy, my eyelids heavy, my head nodding off, jerking me awake as I caught myself. My high school grades were lousy; it was a miracle that I was accepted to college.

My wife, like most people I know, goes to sleep moments after putting her head on the pillow. It annoys me to no end. I try not to glance at the clock, but torment myself nonetheless: 1:22 AM, 2:43 AM, 3:06 AM and I am still not asleep. I am so drowsy and tired, but being tired and drowsy does not equate to being able to fall asleep. I believe that some “software switch” in my brain is broken. I fall asleep when I reach the point of sleep deprivation when the body can no longer remain awake. Then, my body having sensed the minimum amount of sleep I need to survive, my brain wakes me again. I go through the day with a sleep deprivation “hangover”. It is hell.

I turned to the Medical Establishment for help. I have been to psychiatrists, psychologists, and even a physician who specializes in Sleep Medicine. The latter put me through a sleep study. But sleep studies are designed to detect Sleep Apnea. Like the Saturday Night Live routine about the Greek restaurant where, no matter what you order, they give you a Cheeseburger; they are only trying to answer one question, do you Apnea: yes or no. They gave me a sedative so I would actually sleep. In the morning they showed me how my body wakes dozens of time a night without my knowing. I felt like I slept great and just wanted to keep getting the sedative. Instead they ordered a CPAP machine for me.

I spent hundreds of dollars on this CPAP machine. It was like having a vacuum cleaner hose attached to my face. It takes me hours to fall asleep, now I had this uncomfortable contraption on me. It worked – to the extent that the device wouldn’t allow me to sleep. It now lies in the closet gathering dust.

The physicians and psychologist have had me try just about everything; Blue-Blocker glasses, Alpha-Wave generators, Melatonin, and all kinds of behavior modification techniques – you name it. I am actually one of the few people on whom the knock-out sleep drug Ambian doesn’t even work.

One psychologist even suggested that I “…just think happy thoughts”. I canceled my next appointment.

After a year of intensive medical intervention I have resigned myself to the fact that I was born with this condition and it is incurable. I sometimes fall into some very unhappy thoughts about seeking permanent sleep, but those quickly disburse. But I confess; were it possible to sell my soul to the Devil, I would trade it in a heartbeat to be able to sleep like a normal person. I am so tired.


kara said...

remind me to tell you about some of the night terrors brendan's been woken up to lately. i think the sleep issues might be genetic.

BLOGitse said...

ooops, that must be very, very draining!
I'm like your wife and I get up very early - like this morning at 4.
I'm bright awake and ready to start thinking! Because I feel fresh my brains start working even if I or my body would like to relax and stay in warm bed.
I hope you have a good day today! :)

Charlie said...

I can't even begin to imagine what life-long insomnia like yours would be like. Awful, Robert, awful.

Mary Witzl said...

I've got the same thing you've got, Robert, though I don't think I suffer quite as badly: I generally get about six hours of sleep a night, but they are almost never in one block. I wake up several times every night. Some nights I only get two or three hours. When that happens, it's tough.

The only thing that has worked for me is exercising to the point of exhaustion. I used to jog three miles, swim one, do many sets of weight-lifting, all in one day. When I did this, I slept FANTASTICALLY. Sadly, I developed early arthritis and can no longer use this method of sleep induction. One thing a friend of mine told me has helped: some people just aren't supposed to sleep as much as others. It's tough when your partner falls asleep within seconds and gets a long, satisfying sleep every time; you get so envious!

Yoga stretches and lavender oil help me a little -- really. Also calcium supplements, but make sure they're the more expensive capsule type or you'll end up with a different problem.

Hang in there! You aren't alone.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kara going to bed on an inflatable mattress and finding myself on the floor on a vinyl "pad" after two hours does not help.

BLOGitse Yes, it is like partially recharging one's cell phone only to have it die in two hours.

Charlie Indeed, it is probably as close as I come to having a disability.

Mary Exercise helps... I am told that swimming is good for those with arthritis. Still it IS a bit irritating to hear my partner nod off so darn quickly !!

Mary Witzl said...

Even if I swim a mile (which I frequently do) it's nowhere near as soporific as all that running and weight-lifting I used to do! But it's better than nothing. And I can get A LOT done during all that time I'm not sleeping. No cloud without a silver lining, if you'll pardon a cliche.