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Problems with Sleep

Sleep— an important function, but not necessarily so easy! One of the body’s most important parts of sleep, (REM sleep) when one dreams, actually makes it harder for me to sleep.

I have had a problem with sleep, to some extent, my whole life. Growing up, the problem was getting to sleep. When I was a baby, my parents would rock me to sleep. When they would put me to bed, I would wake up. Sometimes they would drive me around until I fell asleep. There again I would wake up when placed in my crib.

As a child when I went to bed, I needed a night light. I wouldn’t close my eyes to fall asleep. When I would close them, I would see a sickly orange color background in my field of vision with moving pink circular gear-like objects. To get around that, I would wait for my eyes to droop shut on their own to fall asleep.

During my adult years I’ve had problems on and off with sleep. I see numerous doctors. I was never specifically put on a medication to help me sleep, but one of the meds I took actually helped me sleep as a side effect! Normally it worked well, but occasionally it didn’t. The doctor talked a number of times about wanting to take me off of this med since it wasn’t helping with my anxiety. Later I found out that the medication was being used “off label.” It also caused me to gain weight. Surprisingly, he was able to wean me off of the med, and something amazing happened. It didn’t affect my sleep (either way), and I started to lose weight.

For those who don’t know, the body’s circadian rhythm regulates the person’s sleep and awake cycle. Our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin to help us sleep, but sometimes we don’t have enough at the correct time of day. There is a supplement of melatonin that can be purchased. I tried it, but didn’t find it to be helpful; actually, it caused anxiety. Originally people woke up with sun, and went to bed at sunset. This was before electricity. It would be hard to get much accomplished after dark. To get an idea try thinking about a time you had to use candlelight or a flashlight to do tasks, or fun stuff during a power outage. Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity with his famous experiment, and in the late 1800s Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, which made major changes to what people could do after dark.

My sleep preference is commonly known as a “night owl.” I like to stay up late, and don’t like to get up early. Of course, the world is set to the advantage of “early birds” as most jobs start in the morning. People who work generally don’t have the choice to get up late. School also starts in the morning. Some stores open early, and doctors’ offices often give early appointments.

Insecurity is another issue I have faced when it comes to sleeping. I have noticed that on vacation I sleep much better since I don’t sleep alone. Even on trips during the Covid 19 pandemic, the same fact remains true. On hot summer nights when I was younger, my brother Dave and I would sleep together, and I would get a better night’s sleep (the exception of when we were really young and he tried to keep me awake.) After my maternal grandfather passed away, Dave and I slept together again for months, though we had separate rooms. It made both of us feel better as we were very close to him.

What is the problem with sleeping alone at night? When I am sleeping, I don’t know what is going on. A robber could come to the house. There could be a fire. Some other disaster could happen. I remember one day in April of 2011 waking up extremely early, and discovering there was a tornado warning. It was placed in the middle of the night. Scary! Dad was supposed to go on a trip that day. The warning went off a little after he woke up, and I had a chance to ask him what I should do.

Dreams are another issue. They are associated with REM sleep which is an important stage of sleep. My meds and anxiety can cause a plethora of strange, unpleasant dreams, and even nightmares. Like a normal person (NT), I don’t want unpleasant dreams. Since dreams are associated with sleep, worrying about bad dreams can make getting to sleeping harder.

One November, Mom was visiting my brother in Taiwan, and I had a particularly rough period of time with bad dreams. I had them every night for a couple weeks, as well as during the day. The problem was serious enough that I went to a sleep specialist at CADD (Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.) The specialist came to the conclusion that anxiety was the cause of the problem. She suggested using a blue-light blocker on my computer which I started to use that night. I use the filter to this day. Only after stores and restaurants started to become more Christmas-y (Ruby Tuesday played some Christmas music in mid-November), did I start to relax, and eventually get the dreams out of my system. I was fine by the time Mom came home.

I often take naps during the afternoon. While I’m still alone, it’s daytime and people are awake making me feel that things are under control. For this reason, it doesn’t feel so scary. The idea that other people are awake, makes all the difference in the world. Another difference is that during the day I don’t feel pressured to sleep. It’s just a nap.

With the topic of sleeping at night comes anxiety. Besides the anxiety topics mentioned above, I had a few periods of times where I felt like I didn’t sleep for a couple of days at a time. The two notable examples were once in 2006 and in 2011. The fact that I needed to get sleep caused anxiety which made it harder to sleep. In those situations, once I slept one night, the subsequent nights were easier for sleeping, as I received some much-needed rest. At the Commonwealth Technical Institute at the Hiram G. Andrews Center, I had to take a class about improving performance. One chapter talked about sleep and mentioned that it’s important, and that a lack of sleep could kill you, which is what scared me in the 2006 example. Later I made a mistake about reading about sleep on the computer. From what I can remember, the website stated that if a person doesn’t sleep for three consecutive days, (s)he starts to hallucinate. Combine both sources, and I was petrified when the situation came up again in 2011!

Temperature control in my bedroom was a problem for a long time. My room was the hot spot in the house. Different solutions were tried. I had an air conditioning unit for many years, even though we had central air. It worked well, and I loved it. The biggest problem with this fix was that it was hard to put a “complete seal around the window to keep insects out, and they did come in. Plus, it was heavy for lifting it in and out of the window for the season. Eventually, my parents got tired of the insects and lifting, and decided to have the central air rezoned. Dad had the furnace person come to the house. He added a heat pump, but more importantly, zoned the central air into both the upstairs and downstairs. This helped the temperature upstairs, besides adding heat to the basement for winter time. The problem was the thermostat had to be put in the master bedroom. The issue with this is that the central air upstairs zone still had a range of variance in temperatures. The other rooms upstairs could be warmer or cooler than what the unit was set at. Of course, the temperature in my room would be warmer than it would be in my parents’ room. An example would be if it was set at sixty-eight degrees in the master bedroom (cooler than Mom and Dad like it) it would be seventy in my room (hotter than I like it). My room needed to be in the sixties for comfort, but sadly, it never was.

Another attempt to rectify my sleeping issue was buying me a weighted blanket. They are supposed to help people with autism be less anxious. People with autism have sensory issues, and pressure can be calming. The blanket has been helpful, though it didn’t fix my issue.

Similar to other aspects of my life, the Covid-19 pandemic messed up my sleep even more! I have been lucky that my family and friends have been safe from this putrid virus, but it has emotionally taken its toll on me from the beginning. The pandemic is winding down, and I still haven’t accepted its existence and changes yet.

With the original lockdown, facemask mandate, and social distancing, came a new batch of sleep problems. I would fall asleep at a normal time for me (though later than for many), but I would perseverate on things I wasn’t satisfied with because of the pandemic. I would wake up in the middle of the night, and be awake and asleep on and off until eventually I would get up due to being tired of the struggle. The cycle would start anywhere from three to five o’clock in the morning, and last until I got up for the day. At first, I thought the sun coming up early in the morning during the summer months caused it. I was proven wrong when I had the same problems during the winter.

My window used to have a valance, but no curtains, and the sun would shine in when it rose in the morning. For many years, it wouldn’t have any affect on me. Then in 2020, it did. My parents bought some room-darkening blinds for my window and hung them. It did make my room darker which was helpful, but it still didn’t stop my waking up on and off cycle.

Another problem I had for awhile that came to a head during this time period was my room being too hot. My bedroom happens to be in the hottest area of the house, and I really mind the heat. It can get up to seventy-five degrees (twenty-three Celsius). I used many fans, but it didn’t seem to help lower the temperature that much. During the winter I would open my window, and lower the temperature manually before going to bed. I would still turn the fans on. According to sleeping information, bedrooms should be cooler for sleeping with a temperature around sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit (twenty degrees Celsius). I went to my brother’s vacant bedroom to sleep for awhile during the summer. It was cooler in there, but I still needed the fans. Additionally, to remedy the “sun situation”, my dad further covered the windows, to better block out the sunlight in the early morning.

Last July I got a mini-split for my bedroom which has fixed the temperature problem. I still have a problem with waking up in the middle of the night, getting back to sleep, and staying asleep. It has been pushed back to sometime after five o’clock now.

For Christmas I received a new pillow for a gift. It also was helpful in getting me to sleep the first time, but I still have the problem of waking up in the middle of the night and subsequently having trouble getting back to sleep.

My daily routine now has been getting up sometime between seven and eight o’clock in the morning. That would be fine, other then the fact that I’m still tired. I take afternoon naps daily, and for more than an hour at a time. I’m hoping after the pandemic is over maybe my sleep will shift, but due to so many wrong guesses on my part, I’m skeptical if this will happen.

So, this is a story of what it’s like for me to have insomnia or a sleeping problem. Many people have them, and there are numerous ways of treating them. For me, no really effective way has been found to treat it, though I have been able to change the issue that I have with sleeping. Sometimes I can also get respites for a period of time with the only issue being a longer getting-to-sleep time. This respite can be months or even years, as I’m only counting the major issues as problems. Though falling asleep right away would be nice, a thirty minute to an hour fall-asleep time is an improvement to be appreciated. Even if the fall-asleep time was two hours, it would be okay if I only had the minimal worries from my childhood years (up through age twelve). The night time insecurities I have as an adult are very bad.

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