About two years ago, I suddenly stopped sleeping.
It really was (almost) as dramatic as it sounds. I had never experienced sleep issues, and then one night I just could. not. fall. asleep. The next day, I brushed it off as a fluke. “Guys, I literally had zero minutes of sleep last night,” I texted my roommates, worried I had kept them awake with my hours of Netflix. Unfortunately, that first night was NOT a fluke, and ever since then, I’ve been fighting my body’s unpredictable sleep routines.
I go through phases when I can’t fall asleep, phases when I can’t stay asleep, and — these are my least favorite ones — phases where I can do neither. It’s a pretty miserable situation, and not one I would wish on my worst enemies.
When I was working at my office gig, I was able to adapt pretty easily. Luckily for me, I think I may be genetically predisposed to run on a low tank. My dad is a surgeon who misses lots of sleep on nights when he is on call, and my mom has also struggled with sleep for the last few years. Even when I was exhausted, I was usually able to pull myself together, get to the office, and go about my day without other people noticing that I was struggling. I found that sticking to an early wake-up time for the gym helped me stay motivated and kept my energy up. Even though I was functioning pretty well in my day-to-day routine, I knew that what I was dealing with was unhealthy. I would regularly experience three day periods during which I would get just nine hours of sleep TOTAL. I was making my schedule work, but I felt like I had been hit by a truck most of the time.
It’s been my experience that when you’re not sleeping enough, people tend to assume that you are somehow putting off sleep, or prioritizing work, TV, or other things ahead of the rest your body needs. Because my former company published Arianna Huffington’s book The Sleep Revolution, I was lucky enough to attend a presentation of hers during which she talked about her mission to help Americans get more sleep. Appropriately, I had slept for only a few hours the night before, and I was DYING for the fabulous Arianna to fix my problems. While her book is amazing, her message was mostly about how to make sleep a priority in your life — and believe me, it’s a MAJOR priority in mine.
One of my biggest goals when I left my job to go out on my own was to get myself healthier, with sleep being a major focus. I’ve read too many articles about the long-term consequences of not giving your body enough rest, and I am way too active to not be able to shut down and relax on a regular basis. Taking care of myself through good nutrition and exercise is so important to me, and it has been beyond frustrating that something that feels out of my control is making me feel so unhealthy. Since I’ve been working for myself, I’ve been able to adapt my work routines to allow for bizarre sleep patterns (when they happen) and still sneak in a nap if I need it. It beats dragging myself to the subway like a zombie, but it’s still not where I want to be.
Unfortunately, the only thing that’s been consistently helpful over the last year has been an over-the-counter sleep aid. I’m not proud of it, especially as someone who tends to avoid taking a lot of medicines, but it’s been almost necessary through all of the ups and downs of the last few months. At my doctor’s recommendation, I tried several more natural remedies (melatonin, etc.), but I have very sensitive skin, and I had terrible allergic reactions whenever I took them. Ultimately, taking an over-the-counter pill every few nights was a whole lot better than feeling miserable, especially when I was planning a wedding or trying to figure out what to do next in my professional life.
I had hoped that leaving my old job and finding more contentment in my daily work would magically solve my problems, and while I do tend to fall asleep a lot more easily these days, I still only get 3-4 hours per night most of the time. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in a cycle where I alternate one rough night with one night of my medicine.
Managing my exhaustion with medication is not something I want to continue doing, and now that I’m more fully adjusted to my “new normal,” I’m ready to FINALLY get my body back into a natural sleep cycle and throw the pills away. I’ve decided to stop taking my sleep aids cold turkey. Four nights in, things are going okay — not great, but okay. My hope is that over the course of a few weeks, my body will start to fall back into a healthier rhythm of rest. Although there is always plenty of work to be done these days, I now have the luxury of making my own schedule, which I hope will go a long way in making this happen.
Not sleeping is HARD, and I am so jealous of all of you who can close your eyes and doze off without a thought. If you have any tips for me on how to overcome this, please send them my way! And if you see me looking a little extra sleepy these days, please be kind : )