My Love/Hate Relationship With Insomnia

(Before I even start the rest of this post, I will note that Day 2 on the treadmill desk is a bit disorienting. My fingers are hitting the keys all wrong and it’s frustrating. So I started this on the treadmill…and then cheated and finished the rest off… On the upside, I logged another 1.75 miles this morning.)

I didn’t really have much of an idea when I got out of bed this morning. (I didn’t have much time to think about it – I needed to move extra fast thanks to an app that requires me to scan a QR code to turn the alarm off – and the code was still on my computer…and my computer was conveniently close to the treadmill. Hmmm…) But I saw a tweet from Donalyn that made me think, “I could write about that…”

I don’t know how much I have shared this continuing saga of being up night after night in this space, but it’s true. I tried to capture my sleeplessness for the record with my handy-dandy Fitbit, but it doesn’t always accurately report that I’m awake if I am still. But it does mark how many times I probably wake up – anywhere from 6 to 20 times a night. 

I don’t think it’s that my mind is racing or anything else. Unlike being a super-early-riser (I actually like being up at 4 or 4:30 in the morning…it’s nice to have that quiet to start my day), I suspect that I’m hardwired to be awake in the middle of the night.

A number of years ago, I stumbled across this short TED Talk and I felt like so much made sense.

At about 3:00 into this video, Jessa Gamble makes this statement about people’s sleep habits when they are not exposed to any artificial light at all: They go to bed around 8 pm and sleep until about midnight. Then they wake up from around midnight until 2 am for this kind of quiet, meditative time spent in bed. 

When I first saw that, I thought, “Wow. Has this woman been following me around?” That is exactly what it feels like. That middle of the night time has been exactly like that.

That was a few years ago when I first saw that and I began to approach that middle of the night waking with a whole different attitude. It was the time where I thought through my plans for the day, read, dreamed up ideas to write about… Those couple of hours were not misspent on worrying about getting enough sleep after that. 

Soon after this my doctor decided to switch my medication to prevent my migraines. There were problems with what I had been on so we needed to change to something else. The something else had a handy side effect of making one drowsy. So we decided it would be best for me to take it before bed. 

No problem, right?

Except that in less than six months, I was back in her office complaining that I missed that quiet time in the middle of the night. The new medication was messing with my “insomnia.” We lowered the dosage and seem to be doing just as well with controlling my migraines, but I never really got back to where I was with that sleep cycle thing that I grew to love. 

Now I might wake up and be awake for 5 or 10 minutes at a time many times over the course of the night. No sustained and predictable window of time like it used to be. 

As frustrating as it is, I don’t think it will be like this forever. But it’s like this right now. 

That RIGHT NOW is intimidating and unless we have the history of experience to know and remember that things can and do change. 

Which, of course, ties back to my beginning. Making changes – getting my butt on the treadmill or making time to write or taking steps to reorganize/reprioritize/restructure the way I spend my time – is uncomfortable. And it’s hard…RIGHT NOW. But I have made changes before and managed to stick with them until they weren’t so hard. It just takes time. And a change of attitude. 


5 thoughts on “My Love/Hate Relationship With Insomnia

  1. My story is not exactly your story and yet, you know from our shared Twitter Streams, I am up early and writing. My brain works best in the morning, when the house is quiet and (in particular) the kids are still asleep. I actually cherish this quiet time (like, right now as I am writing this – the soundtrack is our heating system on this frigid cold morning).
    I sleep light at night, too, waking to any sounds in the house. I put it down to survival mechanism because I don’t want to admit that it is probably old age creeping into my head, which is full of ideas and possibilities in the middle of the night when I have no place to put them.
    Good luck with finding new rhythms, and sleep when you can get it.
    PS — I don’t think I have made a stop here for my 50 comments at 50 blogs over 50 days. I’m losing track of where I have been (more old age). Anyway, thanks for all you do with blogging, tweeting and managing the Nerdy Book Club.

    • I love your 50 comments at 50 blogs in 50 days. You are always so good at encouraging others – if you’re this good at encouraging us online, I can imagine that your students are supremely blessed to benefit from this face to face, in real time. :)

      Much gets accomplished in the wee hours of the morning. I like it when the guys sleep in and that quiet time gets extended just a bit.

      Those ideas that creep up in the middle of the night sometimes are real gems! I hope you’ve got a notebook nearby or a phone – some place to record them!

  2. I liked that Jessa Gamble video as well. I have always been a night owl and find it impossible to reliably sleep at anything like a sensible hour. For decades I have tried to fit into the 9-5 and only recently gave up. I would like to try and switch to a fully biphasic sleep pattern. I do notice that if I get 4.5 hours of sleep during the night then I can be awake until the afternoon but be useless if I don’t get a little more sleep. However, if I do sleep then I only need about 20 minutes to feel fully refreshed and ready for an 8 hour work day! Before 3:00pm my work is often a real drag and I feel very confused.

    I would certainly be interested to hear if you get your previous pattern back, and if you find a technique to control it. Biphasic does sound like a good way to go.

    • I think the biphasic sleep pattern that they see people default to was more what I’ve done (and just realized I did it over break and on these snow/cold days off…but at later, less compatible with school hours…sleep five from 11-4, up for two, sleep for three) – sleep for about four or five hours, up for one or two, sleep for three or four more. I know my dad told me about about someone who worked third shift who would sleep four hours, go to work, come home and sleep four, then get up and have his day. Those couple of hours in the middle of the two sleeps are really productive times. Good for thinking and problem solving. And reading. :) I think if I would want to do it all the time, I’d almost have to go to bed at 8 at night. I might try it and see what happens…

      • I think it is often the way that society is structured that makes ideas like biphasic sleep difficult in the long run. As you say with school hours you would need to get to sleep at 8:00pm which I think for many is not realistic. Most people would want to spend some time with their partner, go out occasionally or watch a film on TV in the evening!

        I am currently just trying to sleep when I am tired enough to do so and see if any type of pattern forms, but I am minimally self-employed and so have that luxury for the time being.

        I would be interested to know of your experience of switching to a biphasic pattern if you do try it.

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