I started writing a book and sleep slipped away. As with any creative work, I didn’t know exactly where the journey would lead, but I didn’t think my path would include insomnia. At first, I frustratingly read a book or stared at a screen, willing my eyes to close. After that, my frustration gave way to tears. I wanted to sleep, but why couldn’t I?
Like many middle-aged people, my life is full stress – financial, family, and professional. Little did I know that lack of sleep was doing far more the making my eyelids heavy. I felt guilty about the irritability and embarrassed by my easy tears. At the time, I didn’t know that lack of sleep changed the way my brain worked. Handling my stressful load was that much harder because my emotional center became over sensitive without the logical part of my mind there to play governor.
For four months, insomnia and I became well acquainted.
Several months, maybe a year after I’d retrained my brain and body to sleep for a normal amount of time, a new diagnosis came my way. One I didn’t expect. When I heard the words “post traumatic stress disorder”, the return of insomnia made more sense. I understood why, and I had a better idea of how to tackle the sleeplessness.
Consistency became my best friend. Well, consistency and an app that led me through guided meditation. A soothing Australian voice became my bestie at 2 AM. While he didn’t always lull me back to sleep, he did help keep the flashbacks in check and calm my racing heart.
But, I started going to bed at the same time every night. My alarm further regulated my sleep cycle by blaring at 5 AM. The regularity helped as much as it could. Then, my bedtime routine became a welcoming friend. Change into pajamas, brush teeth, and listen to my Australian before closing my eyes. I’ll admit – it didn’t always work, but when I followed my routine for, my PTSD abated.
I could keep the tears at bay and breathe deeply when images crossed through unwanted in my mind. Sleep also became a refuge from the stress that comes along with life. It brought comfort, strength, and energy, which I often lacked as I fought my own demons. Sleep became my balance. Some days it remained elusive but, with effort, I found it more often than not.
While insomnia seems to be a frequent visitor to those who struggle with mental illness or disorders, it can also cause them. Because of changes in the brain during sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, and depression are more common in the chronically sleep deprived.
For some, like me, a change in sleep habits does the trick. Others who struggle longer may have an underlying sleep disorder. However, many sleep disorders can be treated by things like mouthguards or CPAP machines to reduce snoring and help improve sleep quality.
My sleep eventually got better along with my PTSD. Though one didn’t cause the other, I still have to be aware of my sleep habits and how it affects my mental health. Rest is more than a luxury, for me, it’s my way to bring balance.