Saturday, 10 December 2016

Sleep Issues - Trying to doze off whilst the imaginary monsters watch from the shadows

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while but its always been difficult to get past the first couple of sentences. This week I finally hit a point where I thought it was time to finally type it all up, in the hope it maybe helps someone else who's been in the same place as me. 

I've never been a good sleeper, ever since very early childhood. When I was tiny it was night terrors that terrorized my parents, and as I went through primary school I was plagued by horrible nightmares. It got so bad my mum bought me a picture of a unicorn to "watch over" me, if I woke up I was to check, and if the unicorn was still there I was fine and could go back to sleep. 

I remember long, sleepless nights in my early teenage years but no distinct nightmares. The only one I really remember from the between 16 and 19 is when I got home from a night out and dreamed there was a clown curled up on the arm chair in my bedroom. After all the problems thought that seems pretty tame.

In 2011 I went through a really rough patch. I hated my job, my (then) relationship wasn't in the best place, my living situation wasn't great and I lost a loved one. It was like my body just gave up on sleep. I was awake for weeks. Sometimes catching an hour or two around 5 am, or when I got in from work, but never anything concrete. Knowing what I do now, I should have headed straight to the doctors. But at 20, and already being in a bad place, I had no idea how to look after myself or asses the situation and work out what might be triggering it. That was maybe the single worst episode in my life. 

Five years on and I like to think I take care of myself a bit better. I'm in a much healthier place mentally and know how to watch for potential problems and try and sort them before they become a big deal. I still have a lot of issues with sleep though and recently they've manifested in a new and horrible way. 

You know that feeling when you're drifting off to sleep then suddenly feel like your falling and wake up with a start. Well I've been getting that but instead of the falling feeling its been the mental image of  something horrific in my bedroom, the most note worthy examples being a giant spider with the mouth of the vampires from Blade, a four foot china doll with no face and, winning an award for most terrifying thing ever, Ronald MacDonald with Edward Scissorhand's hands. 

I don't know why this started happening, but its a royal pain in the arse. On top of that I've started developing really bad restless leg syndrome on the left hand side of my body if I haven't slept well, or am tired and unable to sleep. It's violent and highly noticeable, which can be awkward if I'm out and about. Also I've twitched really violently and accidentally kicked my boyfriend a couple of times when we've been on the sofa or just getting into bed. Not good. Luckily he understands it's involuntary and I'm not trying to knock lumps out of him.

 I've come up with some steps that seem to help me sleep, reduce my sleep anxiety and help with the restless leg syndrome a little. I thought I'd type them up incase they help someone else that might be facing similar problems.

No fluid after 8pm
This sounds like a step for old people but it really helps. Not drinking means I'm less likely to wake up during the night for the loo and I don't have to try and fall asleep again, cutting the risk of potential issues a lot.

No screens for half an hour before bed
Set an alarm, do a final check of the email and then turn them all off. A quiet activity such as knitting or reading seems to really help calm me down and get me ready for sleep. If I don't have to be up the next day I'll just knit until my eyes feel really tired and I can't concentrate any more, if not 30 minutes is usually enough.

Get into a routine with the necessary tasks
Ever lie in bed and wonder if the door is locked, the cookers off and if you blew that candle out? I've gotten into a routine to make sure all these tasks are done and checked. It sounds crazy and a little obsessive compulsive, however it really helps put my mind at ease knowing everything is done. 

If you can't sleep don't force it
This is a really big one. I don't want my bed or bedroom to be a place I'm stressed as I need it to be restful. If I'm struggling to sleep, I get out of bed and go to the living room. Once I'm there, I'll keep it to lamplight and go back to knitting or reading until my eyes feel heavy and I might be able to sleep.

If you need to sleep with the lamp on, leave it on
This was something I found very hard to accept, and I've had countless nights where I've laid in the dark, stressed and awake. I'm not scared of the dark and admitting that occasionally the anxiety about sleep will kick in at the level where I need a "night light" was really difficult. However once I did, and got a full nights sleep after a really bad start, it just made sense. I will have bad nights, I don't think I'll ever get a full week in my life, but if I can get it down to one bad night, and I still get six hours sleep that bad night, then I'm totally OK with that.

In less than two weeks I turn 26 and its taken me this long to get to the point I admit I have a problem with this and come up with a strategy to help deal with it. I now keep a track of how many bad nights I have, I'm trying to see if there's a trigger for it in my day to day life. Also if I ever hit 3 bad nights in a ten day period I'm going to the doctor. I don't know why I've picked that number but I have and I'm sticking to it.

Do you struggle sleeping and have anything you find helps? Please let me know, I would love to hear what you do and see if theres something I could do better?

XOXO Scruffy 

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