To better understand The Sleep Insomnia Chronicles, it is best to get a background of my insomnia by reading earlier excerpts such as Episode 1. In my last excerpt, I discussed how my insomnia wrecked my relationship with my former fiancee to the point she became my former one. The Sleep Insomnia Chronicles #6, I discuss how I regained my sleep and retrospect what I have learned and lost from this last debilitating spell.
My fiancee has now moved on and found love and happiness with another man. I will concede that I’m wistful that I lost the love of a good woman because I did not grapple with my insomnia better. I hope she may find happiness with him. With that being said, regret is a difficult thing which which to bare.
The Sleep Insomnia Chronicles #6
If you are unfamiliar with The Insomniac Chronicles, in the Fall of 2017, while living with my former fiancee and her 4 children (plus our newborn), I was hit hard for 3 months with acute insomnia. 30 minutes to 3 hours of sleep per night. Why? An overactive, neurotic mind to be succinct.
It began two years earlier when I saw my ex-wife on a date with another man about one year after our divorce. I wasn’t jealous or hurt that she was dating. It was more related to the fact that this man could be caring and safeguarding my children in the future. It is difficult for women to understand this concept, for if the woman is the custodial parent, her new partner/husband would be with the kids 27 days a month. The effect a step mother would have is negligible since as non-custodial parent I only have my kids on alternating weekends.
This idea kept me up that night to the point where I didn’t sleep at all. As the fear of another man tending to my children abated, it was the nightly fear that I would not sleep that didn’t subside.
I catastrophized that I would not sleep another night. And it was this petrifying worry that fueled the insomnia. I fretted “If I don’t sleep 4-5 nights in a row, I will be forced into a psychiatric ward where they will shoot me up with drugs so I may sleep. If not, my lack of sleep could kill me in 2 weeks.” My mother suffered from similar issues and has been hospitalized for it so I anticipated that I, too, could be going down that road.
This fear of never sleeping again fueled neurotic, OCD tendencies. In my mind, I felt I needed a checklist of perfect actions to occur for me to have a chance of a modicum of sleep.
- The room had to be dark and cold.
- I couldn’t share my sheets because the ruffling of pillows and sheet could wake me.
- No one could enter or exist the room.
- I had to have two fans on, earplugs, have drank my chamomile tea, and have worn my blue-light blocking glasses since dusk for me to sleep.
If ANY of these aforementioned actions occurred, I convinced myself I wouldn’t sleep. And I didn’t….
For two years, I took Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) classes to work on sleep hygiene and sleep restriction. (Click HERE to purchase this program.) I tried relaxation therapy if I couldn’t go to sleep or if I awoke in the middle of the night. I reached a point where I was getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night prior to moving in with my fiancee and the arrival of our baby girl.
So let’s go back to 2017. I convinced myself I couldn’t sleep unless I fit the foregoing criteria. So needless to say living with someone who needs this criteria would be difficult. My ex felt she needed to go to sleep at the time I did, could not read or watch TV, and had to be perfectly still in bed to be a good fiancee to ensure the optimal chance for me to fall asleep. Though she was understanding, it inevitably led to tension. It was expected and I didn’t blame her. She complained of being a prisoner in her own bedroom.
I eventually felt the best thing to do was to move out of our bedroom to sleep on a mattress on the floor of our office. At first I would go there in the middle of the night when I awoke or if I couldn’t go to sleep at all. Eventually, I convinced myself that it was better for me just to start the night in the office. In the office, I could control the aforementioned needs. No one would interrupt me, the two fans would be on to drown out white noise, etc.
But the thing is you can control the extrinsic factors, but it is pointless if you don’t work on the intrinsic ones. It was my mind that was the problem. So even in the office I had problems sleeping, thus the 30 minutes-3 hours a night. My mind would still race; I would still catastrophize. I felt my arms had to be in a certain position to sleep. I had to have a podcast on at just the right volume to have any chance to sleep. Too high….keep me up; too low…it wouldn’t be loud enough to distract my thoughts from the anxiety.
Loss of Lover
Needless to say, my relationship suffered. No one wants to live with a lover with whom they can’t share a bed. With someone with whom you have to walk on egg shells. The resentment built. I felt guilty because I knew she was right. I explained to her that this infernal insomnia was not something I wanted; it was a disease. I told her to be patient. But as the months went on it didn’t dissipate. I eventually told her that she deserved someone better. She agreed.
In retrospect, I never fought for her. I never told her “I will do whatever it takes to conquer this because you deserve someone better.” I wouldn’t wake up at night to care for our infant. This caused resentment, understandably so. My inaction of caring for the baby demonstrated that my insomnia was more important than my fiancee, our daughter, and our future.
My insomnia affected other aspects of my life. My decision-make suffered. I made poor decision in my personal life and career. I wasn’t as articulate….my eating deteriorated…my workouts were suboptimal. I was cranky and cantankerous. My social life dwindled because in my mind I felt I had to be in my office by 9:30pm to have any chance of sleeping. The thought of staying out late petrified me to the point where I was convinced I wouldn’t sleep at all.
Eventually, as I mentioned in previous excerpts, I moved out of our house into my own residence. At the beginning I slept on the couch because any time I tried to start the night on the bed I wouldn’t sleep at all. As a acute insomniac, you get sleep where you think you can get it. I then transitioned to couch until 2-3am and then moved up to the bedroom.
After about 5 months, I forsook the couch and started the evenings in the bedroom. If I couldn’t sleep or woke up in the middle of the night, I would move to the love seat in my bedroom (not too comfortable for a 6’1’’ guy) or go downstairs to the aforementioned couch. I moved around to different places because that is what is recommended in CBT-I. Don’t associate one place with insomnia. If you can’t fall asleep in 30 minutes in a given site, move to another and/or engage in an activity until you get sleepy.
During this time, I began to go out late again. Sometimes with friends…sometimes on dates. I knew I needed to overcome the insomnia and not let it control me because if I let it continue to control me, I would never find a partner again. No partner wants to be with a man who won’t share a bedroom with her. I also knew I needed to do it for my own health. (Studies link chronic insomnia to early death, cancer, higher rate of infections, heard disease, diabetes, and more.)
Read NPE Article on Easy Ways to Biohack Your Body To Sleep Again.
When I went out late and got back home I had the mindset now “I might not sleep much, maybe 2-3 hours, but it’s okay. I’ve already endured a period of insomnia where I was getting that amount or less a night and I’m still here. So if you don’t sleep, you will get more sleep the next night. And if you don’t it’s okay. You won’t end up in a psychiatric home.” This has helped.
Now, I go to sleep when I want. I get into the position that I want. And I generally sleep like I did before the insomnia spell began 2 years ago. Perhaps one night out of every 14, I have a tough night but I know it is a glitch and it is no big deal. I have the tools at my disposal to deal with this insomnia. I won’t let it control me again.
My only test with which I need to conquer is to share a bed with a woman overnight. I need to see if the moving and sharing of the sheets and bodies (or the idea of it) would keep me awake. I’ve only done it once in the last 9 months, with my former fiancee, and I slept okay. And that was in a queen bed. Still, that would be the final obstacle to conquer.
My former fiancee and I entertained the idea of reuniting, partly because we still have feelings for each other and for the sake of our daughter. But ultimately, the trust could be re-established. I couldn’t instill in her mind that the insomnia would never come back; and if it did, I had the tools to combat it. I would never leave our bed again. Ever…
It is meant to be. I learned a valuable lesson. A bitter pill to swallow. I sacrificed the love of a good woman for this dreaded insomnia. Our relationship was the causality. Regret is a horrible burden to carry.
A. Gregory Luna
Read the other Sleep Insomnia Chronicles.
Episode 1: The Origin
Episode 2: To Drug or Not To Drug
Episode 3: Legit Treatments versus Placebo Effects
Episode 4: Couch or Bed?
Episode 5: How My Insomnia Ended My Relationship
Sleep Insomnia Chronicles #6