Thursday, May 20, 2010

Learning to Sleep Again

One morning six months ago I rose to another dreary day of sleep deprived exhaustion. I was so tired of feeling tired. I have struggled with insomnia on and off for most of my adult life but recently the problem had plumbed new depths.

For almost twenty years I relied on a medication to help me sleep that my doctor assured me I could take safely for the rest of my life. That stopped abruptly when the pharmaceutical company ceased to manufacture it. However, once off of it I felt healthier and stronger. It seemed that there was a link between the medication and the poorer health that I had been experiencing and I regretted I had taken it for so many years. From then on I wanted to abstain from sleeping pills as I realized that all medications have undesirable side effects. Medications can be helpful in the short term but unless absolutely necessary, taking medications long term may introduce new health problems. And in particular, current medical wisdom advises against taking sleeping pills long term.

Thus on this specific day in December, strangled in the web of brain fog and the malaise of fatigue, I resolved that I would find a drug-free answer. I simply refused to live this way anymore. The nights were miserable and the days were even worse. I cried out to God. If this was ‘the thorn in the flesh’ that God wanted me to live with, so be it, but I wasn’t going to accept it without a fight.

I spent the morning browsing the internet for answers. I came across all kinds of ads, gimmicks and websites designed to appeal to sufferers of insomnia. Intuitively I rejected most of them. Then something caught my eye. It was a website for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. It had a link to a Good Housekeeping article and the author drew me in with her well written humorous style and I could identify with her sleeping difficulties. She explained how the drug-free CBT for Insomnia program had helped her and she gave me hope. I examined it carefully. The five week long program is designed and run by psychologist Dr. Gregg Jacobs. It provides instructional material to be read and studied each week and the participant is required to keep a sleep diary which is examined and returned with directions regarding one’s sleep schedule. The cost was only $25. What was there to lose?

The timing of all of this fell over Christmas week. Normally I would wait until after Christmas to start a program of any kind but I craved immediate relief. Fortunately our Christmas plans were low key and I thought this was as good a time as any to get going on it. However, not only did the course span Christmas and New Year’s but also the time we would spend out east with Sarah and Andrew as she was due to deliver her second baby.

In spite of the holidays and traveling I followed the program faithfully; not because I was dutiful or disciplined but because I was desperate. I didn’t see immediate results. I knew it was a process and it could take some time and practice to achieve success. But toward the end of the program I could tell it was working. I had fewer of those miserable, restless nights and zombie-like days and was generally feeling more rested and energetic than I had in a long time.

The program didn’t help me in the way I expected. I had always believed the hype that one needs eight hours of sleep. I thought for sure that I was one of those people. So I assumed that that was what I would get from the program—eight solid hours of good sleep. Gregg Jacobs says no. Some people need less. My program was structured so that I was advised to get no more than 7 hours. But I found that I did fine on that—even 6 hours some nights is all I need. In fact, Jacobs suggests that the ‘eight hour hype’ is promoted by pharmaceutical companies in an effort to sell more of their sleeping pills.

I decided to let a good amount of time go by before I would tell my story. I wanted to avoid premature claims that I had conquered my insomnia. But generally speaking it worked, and I am very happy to enjoy regular good sleep.