Insomnia. Nearly everyone has dealt with it at some time in their life. It robs you of your energy and stamina, takes your days and tries to make them in to your nights. On an average night, 30 to 40 million Americans have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or wake earlier than they would like and cannot get back to sleep. These are the major symptoms of insomnia, the most common category of sleep disorders. Although many people with insomnia may accept their symptoms as a part of life, poor quality sleep takes a toll. Studies show that people with insomnia are more likely to become clinically depressed, suffer from poor concentration, and have accidents. (A direct quote from a website titled HEALTHY SLEEP)
I have had something called Chronic Insomnia for years. I've tried meditation, extra exercise, no TV, no caffein, no meat in my diet, watching my weight, not watching my weight, laughing and crying, professional counselors, consultations with MD's, PHD's. I tried to console myself that, according to articles in major publications, I was in an elite group of highly intelligent, creative people who did not need as much sleep. (Bunk!)
The truth is I would rather not be in that so called 'elite' group. When I sleep well, at least eight hours straight through, I am an entirely different person. I stay focused, achieve more, laugh, think more creatively, work at a higher level.
When I don't sleep I'm cranky, listless, cry at the oddest times, loose my place on whatever project I'm working on. I forget things and give up rather than seeing the failures as an opportunity to learn and do it better the second time around. And I am envious, deeply so, of family members (two legged and four) who simply lay down and sleep when they need to.
Being up by myself is hard, lonely work. The world is quiet and here I am, again, angry and frustrated and so tired it hurts. I follow all of the rules. I get up, go sit somewhere else and meditate, read, breath and stretch, try to turn it around and see it as an opportunity to have extra time to myself. I go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time and avoid naps. And so on and so on and scooby, dooby, do on. And I miss sleep again the next night. It goes on like that until I make the decision not to drive anywhere because I'm afraid my ability to be safe is jeopardized. I don't want to be responsible for hurting someone else because of my lack of rest and sleep.
My work as an artist, a story teller, a horse woman, and even partner to my husband suffers for my lack of sleep. I just can't think! There's a good reason that sleep depravation is an acknowledged form of torture. And it's worse when I begin to think I'm doing it to myself. I can do my best to override that idea by thinking it through, but sometimes I'm so tired emotions take over and I convince myself I'm a failure. It isn't logical thinking because I truly can not think clearly when I'm that tired. And getting caught in that negative loop does nothing but make it worse. It's like those crazy turkeys you see chasing each other around and around and around a tree. I'm one of the turkeys and the others have the names of "failure" and "frustration" with a few others joining; "exhaustion" and "anger". And around we go, trying to catch up with each other in a never ending parade that makes no sense.
And then I read an article about light. There are enumerable websites and articles on sleep or lack there of. I love the Google Gods for this. I read and read and began to experiment with light. I'm an artist. I'm hyper sensitive to color and light, have synesthesia (I hear colors . A 'bad' color will even make my teeth hurt. ) and poor lighting makes my eyes hurt. Gives me an advantage as a designer or artist and a disadvantage in a world full of bright light at night.
For a while buying good lightbulbs was problematic. Here in the States it was illegal to buy or sell incandescent bulbs. The only thing available was ugly fluorescent light bulbs. It was either a searing blue, sickly green or yellow green or an irritating pink. I tried scarves over the light shades, painting the light shades, anything I could think of to make the flickering, ugly lights easier to live with. Nothing worked. Of course I spent more time on the internet trying to find solutions. That meant I was looking at the essentially blue colors that come from a computer screen. I was making it worse.
The blue light from the gadgets, ugly flickering lights from the bulbs, were keeping me up. It was interrupting my natural circadian rhythms. Movies, as much as I love them for an escape, were adding to it. And reading wasn't helping either. I needed light to read.
What I really needed was the natural, golden light that comes from the sunset and fire, to relax by at night.
And I needed the bright, natural clear blue light that begins the day. I needed to go back a few hundred years to a time more suited to my circadian rhythms. Since I couldn't go back in time, I went to the local big box store and started hunting for amber colored lights.
I found them too! There are amber colored LED lights being produced in response to the horrible colors of the so called energy saving fluorescents. LED's are pricey, about $8 per bulb. I worked with my budget and began to buy them two at a time on each paycheck. We've now replaced every bulb in the top part of the house except in my bathroom. That's the one I'll work on next. I'm using candles in the bathroom. Just between you and me, it's not a bad option for people of a certain age. It softens your face, giving you a better image in the mirror to look at.
It's working too. It's taken about three weeks but I'm now averaging almost seven hours of sleep a night rather than the barely three I was dealing with. (That's an average. Means I had several nights of no sleep or only an hour or two every week!) I'm writing again, setting up a schedule to begin work/play with my horses again, painting, and re-entering the world too. I'd isolated myself as the insomnia got worse.
Here's a list of the things that DID work :
1. No electronics after 7 PM. I do not look at a computer, iPad, or smart phone. I also dim the phone to sepia at sunset. I turn the pings and dings off and repower electronics in a room other than my bedroom.
2. My bedroom is for sleep, period. There is no desk. I no longer sit there and draw or journal at night. If I can't sleep I get up and go to another room until I'm yawning and sleepy again. And I sleep with the windows open unless it's really cold (like below 20 F) or super hot and humid (above 75 F).
3. There is no clock in the bedroom. The blue light was keeping me awake. Yes, I'm that sensitive to blue light. And I don't want to know about the time either. Our world runs on schedules, schedules, schedules. Enough with the keeping track of time, at least at night.
4. We keep the house set at 63 F during the winter months. I usually turn the heat off during the day and open doors and windows. I also spend as many hours as possible outside in the fresh air, at least three every day of the year. A good part of the time we let the temperature drop below 60F in the house at night. We all sleep when it's cool. Cold is even better.
5. Noise is a tough one to control. We have teenagers living next door who have loud vehicles, an ATV without a muffler, loud talking and laughter. I turn on a small fan to try to give a 'white noise' to balance it out. And sometimes I complain, but that's never very effective. I love the natural night sounds. They relax me. I think it's safe to say I'm a country person, not a city person. The sounds of traffic, people, sirens, confusion is bothersome. I'm going to do my best to stay in the country. But there are ear plugs that will help. I can't tell you if they're comfortable because I've never tried them.
And a purring kitten sleeping next to me. Best comfort sound there is, purring. And a sweet smelling puppy. (All of my animals keep that designation even when they go grey and need help getting on to and off the bed).
We still have no TV, a huge relief. And I sometimes go for days without reading the news also. I stay away from loud, slam bang shoot em up monster type movies and I put a stop to the texting stuff early in the evening too. I don't eat meat, stay away from caffein except for my Chai early in the morning. Meditation and self forgiveness is a huge part of my life. If I'm raggedy because I didn't wash my hair or wore the same pair of jeans from the day before, I let it go. If my house is not as neat as I usually want it to be, I let it go. I don't buy stuff. It's just stuff. If I want something I go through the process of looking at it, filling out the order forms and then I put the catalog to the side and let it be for a week. I usually find out I didn't really need it. It was just stuff.
Am I sleeping? Better than I have in years.
Oh...sugar. I'm still not using sugar. I bought some to make a pecan pie for Thanksgiving, ate a piece and jittered out of my skin for hours. No sugar is definitely part of this too.
Try the amber colored LED bulbs and turn off the electronics. Use good candles to eat by. If you absolutely have to work, get some good amber lensed blue blocker eye glasses. They're next on my list so I can wear them if we go out in the evening or visit a friend's house. I love this new rested me! If anyone asks about the glasses I'll smile and be enigmatic about it. I am an artist after all. Might as well use that status.
I am, ever yours, Nancy, sleeping again and smiling because I want to, not because I have to