Thursday, 4 January 2018

Bittersweet Sleep

I have had insomnia since I was twelve years old. I was getting bullied pretty bad every day at school. The anxiety of knowing what the next day held, what route I could take to avoid my bullies, where I could sit at lunch to evade them, kept me up at night. Of course, I couldn’t really connect the dots at the time, it’s crystal clear to me now. Prior to this, I would wake up eager for the day to begin. I recall walking to school with wet hair and arriving with it frozen solid in the winter, living only two blocks away from my elementary school, and in California, this was quite a feat! I would dash off to school excited to see my friends and find out what the day’s curriculum might be. So, you know, junior high really sucked!

I don’t think my life, or sleeping schedule, ever fully recovered. Even after the bullying stopped, my bullies were a grade above me and thus no longer at my school, my sleep just always sort of suffered. I started to use caffeine for the first time, Pepsi being my beverage of choice then. And then over the counter sleep aids, such as Unisom and Sominex. This continued for years and years, at seventeen they told me that the sleep aids likely stunted my growth, but I still don’t buy that. When I was fourteen, I remember sitting on the floor of my room with my best friend and my dad sitting on my bed on either side of me. I popped a Unisom and swigged it down with Pepsi. Only the bubbles caught up with the pill midway down my esophagus causing me to pass out for a few seconds. We laughed it off pretty quickly but it did give me pause later.

This was the era before Ambien and Lunesta, so it never even occurred to me, or I guess my dad, to go to a doctor about it. I spent the next five years of my life in a near-hostage situation with my abuser living in my family home and when we moved elsewhere it only worsened. Sleep wasn’t even a notion in my head by that point, not when surviving and one day escaping was all I could think about. As my abuser was also an alcoholic and an abuser of many different recreational and prescription drugs, his schedule was as erratic as his behavior, at best. I learned to go without sleep, relaxation, a sense of calm or any semblance of safety. The trauma of surviving would shape my brain and sleep patterns for the rest of my life.

Years later I worked in music and had a flexible schedule, which helped my sleep problems. After I met and moved in with my then-husband, it took years before I would stop waking up in the middle of the night, having to stare at his face beside me to be certain that he wasn’t my abuser. The nightmares were so vivid and intense then, too. I continued to use over the counter meds, leaning most heavily on Melatonin supplements, as I had a fear of dependency that I still have today. So, even if something did work or help, I would stop taking whatever it was for random stretches, to be sure I wasn’t “hooked”.

Soon I had friends who started taking Ambien, but then they also started to share bizarre stories of lost time, strange scenes in their homes the next day, and the infamous Ambien Walrus.  That was enough for me to stay far away from seeking a prescription for my sleep troubles, even in my adult life. I had sort of come to a truce with my insomnia. As my schedule became more reliable, nearing a 9-5 stability at work, I gave up on sleep aids entirely. Instead, I started creating schedule based rules for myself. Like no caffeine after 2 pm…that was a tough one when I worked at a corporate training facility. Ha-ha!

I’ve tried so many things over the years all in order to get a good night’s sleep. I still rely on melatonin (I get gummies now, passionfruit flavor from Target – SO GOOD), and Advil-PM when I have pain, but I’ve also learned that my activities, foods, and how I wind down at the end of the day also impact the quality and quantity of sleep I am able to achieve. Yeah, achieve, because it feels hard-earned at times, ya know? Some other things that I use and have helped me personally (though everyone has their own suggestions and advice)…

Aromatherapy: I use a linen sleep spray from The Body Shop with lavender and vanilla scents
(I am dying to try the new one from Lush, but cannot afford to at this time, let me know if you’ve tried it and what you think)
I use a few drops of peppermint and grapefruit oils in my shower to relax and revive me, depending on time of day and mood

Sounds: The best earplugs I’ve ever used were from a cheap Japanese housewares store called Daiso for $1.50
I absolutely and wholeheartedly recommend the podcast, “Sleep with me” like seriously, it works! It’s just this guy, Scooter, who tells very boring stories. That’s it. It works, I used it for like two years! You can find it anywhere you find podcasts.
Now I listen to the Classical Relaxation Station on Pandora with a sleep timer for 60-90 minutes. It helps, but your mileage may vary.
Lately, when I find that I’m not quite tired enough to get in bed, I’ll put on Planet Earth II on Netflix. David Attenborough’s voice is soothing and I love animals. I have also listened to Alan Watts talks on YouTube while in bed, he had such a nice voice.

Comfort: Pajamas! OMZ! I never got the pj’s thing until I just did. Comfort is everything, and sometimes that means no pajamas at all. I have the constant battle of loving how chemise and camis look versus waking up with both boobs hanging out of one strap/armhole. Ugh! So now I stick with a t-shirt or more snug tank style tops and actual pajama bottoms, which I never used to do.
Sheets also affect our comfort and sleep. For me, microfiber sheets make me feel sweaty, so I stick with 100% cotton.
Your mattress also makes a big difference. I have tried so many, from traditional to pillow topped to Tempur Pedic… now I have a hybrid: part memory foam, part coil, all awesome! Traditional coil mattresses made my hips stiff and sore when I woke up, the Tempur Pedic was awesome, but if the temperature is a concern they can suck (and mine died before it should have). The hybrid gives me the best of both worlds and I’ve had it for two and a half years. Also, consider keeping your room cooler than usual, that definitely helped me stay asleep, though it did take longer for me to warm up and thus relaxed enough for sleep.

Also, consider, if you are able, using your bed/bedroom exclusively for relaxation activities (sleep, sex, meditation, letting face masks dry, etc) and keeping the lighting dim and warm to help aid your bedtime. I recently changed the LED string lights around my bed area (my bed is like built into a wall/box…it’s weird) from white to red, and I gotta say it has helped! Dimming your phone screen or getting an app for sleep purposes helps, too. If I wake up in the night I have a compulsive urge to check the time, so this way it’s not a shock of that bright light in my face. Be kind to your eyes. Having a regular bedtime really helps, too, as your body will start to naturally want to shut down once used to a steadier schedule.

If you are a heavy snorer or know that you wake up many times throughout the night (or have had a partner tell you that you stop breathing), please consider getting a sleep study done. I know there are some stigmas about sleep apnea, but as any medical professional can tell you, it is definitely not just fat people who have sleep apnea. I know just as many thin/smaller-bodied people with c-pap machines that have improved their sleep and quality of life as I know fat people with them. I hope that you will take this seriously, it really does make a huge difference. It will take some time to get used to, but once you find a set up that works for you, you’d be surprised at how much better you can feel day to day when you’re getting better quality sleep.

Most of all, try to make some time before bed to unwind. Journaling has helped me in the past, but I struggle to now. Stretching can also help get your body ready for bed. A nice warm shower is my favorite, and it forces me to pay better attention to my skin care. Sometimes my body is tired but my mind is all a-buzz. This is when reading a book really helps, as I find it only takes a few pages to a chapter to make my eyes and mind feel more relaxed. I also love challenging puzzle games on my Nintendo 2ds as I can control the brightness of the screen and often get frustrated with a tough level and want to switch it off. Ha-ha! A nice cup of herbal tea is a great way to unwind and gives you a chance to get lost in thought as you go through your tea making routine. I love a nice chamomile with a light citrus aroma or zest added. I love peppermint tea, but I tend to use it when I am more stressed than not.

As life so often gets in the way of our self-care needs and quality of sleep, it’s so important to make time for yourself, to soothe yourself in whatever way works best for you, in order to rest your mind and body. You can’t run on empty forever, nor should you attempt it. While not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep to feel rested and refreshed in the morning, we all need sleep. Even when you have a routine, it never hurts to take a look and assess if something can be improved or removed. Your body needs rest to repair from the stresses of the day, and your brain needs that deeper REM sleep to defrag all of the bits of info we absorb with or without trying. I hope you find what works for you. And may we all find our most peaceful slumbers.

Rad Fatty Love to ALL,

<3
S

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