Another week begins with the alarm going off and dragging me from sleep. I managed to get a decent night’s sleep which is nice, although as ever, I awake feeling more tired than when I went to sleep. That’s my normality and I’d bet some of you are the same, certainly, the majority of my friends don’t sleep well anymore. Some are in the blue light taxi business, some are serving soldiers in the regular forces and reserves, some are veterans and some have grown up in the more interesting parts of our society.
I don’t have nightmares like some I know. My insomnia started around when puberty hit and I started to feel the grip of mental illness. I’d either lie awake, mind racing through random scenarios and things that were worrying me, or obsessiveness would take over and I’d read a book all night. Now at two days short of 40, I’ve learned how to calm those racing thoughts and not be sucked into the endless movie reel I see deep in my mind, but I still struggle to sleep.
I can be completely calm, mind as still as a millpond and genuinely tired but still not sleepy. I give it an hour and a half of listening to podcasts or some music, see what the time is, recognise it’s just not happening right now, get dressed again and go downstairs so I don’t disturb my wife’s sleep. I sleep like the dead once I’m asleep, but I could breathe loudly, and it’ll wake her. I’ll go for a smoke, enjoying how still the night feels and then huddle under a blanket on the sofa and watch films. Once 4ish comes around, I’ll know if some sleep is possible or if I’m riding the insomnia high for the next day.
My sleep cycle has always seemed to be at odds with a standard circadian rhythm and my body clock tells me that 4 am is a good time to sleep, with late morning a perfect time to wake up. Obviously, I don’t do this as it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the household getting up and going to sleep, although I did stay awake for a couple of days last week in order to reset my system. I’m not recommending that approach, but it works for me when I have to use it.
Some people I know take prescription meds, some use a stiff drink (or 3), some smoke cannabis and others use meditation and mindfulness. I’ve tried all of those over the years so I feel that I can speak on them all, but these are my experiences, yours will differ as we all have different metabolisms and tolerances. From my point of view, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with medicating yourself with a pill, drink or spliff, as long as it’s in moderation. If that moderation starts slipping then it can get interesting for everyone around you, real quick, so be aware of your actions.
Prescription sleep aids don’t mix well with my system. It’s the same thing that I find with a lot of the medications I’ve tried; the side effects outweigh any positive effects. I suffer from chronic sinusitis and headaches, so any wooziness or meds hangover just add to the headaches which then makes the day harder and I also tend to find that meds add to my standard level of depression. There are bound to be meds that don’t do this, but the ones I’ve tried do.
Booze is a favourite for many people. It’s socially acceptable and easily available. As I’m writing this, there’s a bottle on the table of some veteran produced spiced rum that my mum sent for my 40th. It’s too nice to be mixed with anything and I’ll have a couple of fingers at a time, unlike the cheap versions that I’ve mixed with coke or red bull and poured down my neck in the past, a bottle at a time. It’s been two to two and half years since I went man down and I stopped drinking completely the first year. I’ve learnt how much of depressive influence alcohol has on me when drinking regularly and I just can’t take the hangovers anymore. My wife and I might buy alcohol once a month and that’s fine for us now.
Cannabis can be a contentious subject for some, saviour for others. Miracle plant or gateway drug. Everyone that smokes it is a loser etc. etc. Yeah, the switched-on wealthy professionals who are crushing their careers and also enjoy a toke, look like losers don’t they?? You can tell where I fall in this debate, can’t you? For me, it works. It calms me, anxiety goes bye-bye, I work out better, I sleep better, my libido is improved and I’m more creative. I smoke when I can afford it which might be one week in four and yes, if you smoke too much then paranoia can be an issue, but this swings back to “everything in moderation..” The only downside for me is that I’m hungry all the time.
Meditation and mindfulness. Pulled from the NHS website, “mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.” and from the Cambridge Dictionary, meditation is “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.” These things work. They’ve worked for thousands of years but again, it’s not a miracle cure and it requires you to adapt your routines and want to do it, or at least to recognise the benefit that you can reap from these activities. When I start the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) course later this month, I’ll be learning a lot more about mindfulness, so I’ll let you know more as I learn it.
I didn’t include exercise, food and routine above, but I should do. Getting up at the same time each day, having lunch at the same time and generally acting as if Pat is in school, instead of knelt on the floor in front of the laptop on the coffee table, helps him get through his schoolwork and it helps me to structure my day and get done what needs to be squared away. Your body needs to move, so move it. Walk the dog, do the cleaning, follow an online workout, or put a film on and every 10 minutes do some push-ups, squats, and sit-ups. Whatever you do, it’s 100% more than sitting on the couch doing bugger all and it all adds up.
If you’re reading this, telling yourself that there’s zero phys that you can do due to an injury or pre-existing condition, have a search on your browser of choice for “working out with….” and add your injury or ailment. There will be something you can do, even if that’s lying on the floor using some resistance bands. As well as exercise is necessary for physical health, it’s also great for your mental health too. The chemicals that your body produces during and after your workout are great feel-good chems, and the phys should help with sleep too.
There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is used during interrogations to soften someone up. Your mind and body require that time for maintenance and repair of your system and without solid sleep on a regular basis, it will start affecting you. If you’re having sleep issues, don’t ignore the problem. Do some research or speak to your GP, especially if you’re looking at adding supplements onto an outstanding prescription as some chemicals cancel each other out or are absorbed in a quicker or slower rate.
Stay safe and hopefully “sweet dreams.”
Just another blogger