Sleep problems?

May 15, 2016

Yes, me too. 

I've struggled with chronic insomnia for almost 20 years. For the past eight, I've been taking medication under a doctor's care. I've tried several different kinds with varying degrees of success, and have tried a couple of times to wean myself off of them, without success. About a month ago, I stopped taking medication again because the particular drug I was taking seemed to be losing its effectiveness. It was beginning to take a couple of hours to fall asleep some nights even with medication.

Now, without medication, it takes me about two to three hours to fall asleep most nights. Maybe one night a week, I will get a break, and fall asleep within an hour.

That's a lot better than about 10 years ago, when I would be awake until around 5 a.m. four or five nights a week.

I really want to find a way to sleep well without medication. Believe me, if I could find something without side effects that worked, I'd be all for it. You get so you're willing to do anything just to sleep. Hey, I'd even give up be tempted to give up state secrets to the enemy if they were torturing me with sleep deprivation. Oh, who I am kidding? I'd spill the beans after only a few nights without sleep.

My problem with insomnia has to do with not being able to quiet an overactive, over-thinking, over-stimulated brain. I've tried relaxation techniques. And sometimes even when I'm not thinking about anything, I can still feel the motor deep inside revved up. It's difficult to know how much is anxiety/over-stimulation and how much of this is biochemical (and to be honest, I don't even know what that means -- I'm not even sure a lot of doctors understand it). I do know that insomnia can feed on itself, and create even more insomnia, something my doctor calls PTSD -- post-traumatic sleep disorder. Not an "official" disorder, just something he's noticed, and I've experienced -- a fear of not sleeping brought on by years of insomnia that can be debilitating and self-perpetuating.

If you have struggled with insomnia, you know the frustration. You get into bed, and instantly think, oh no, what if I can't sleep? Oh no, what if I'm up all night? You try to tell yourself it's okay. You try to relax. You pray. You try to get comfortable. But then it starts. The tossing and the turning. The fluffing of the pillow. You try to quiet yourself and clear your mind. But then your heart starts pounding. You try to go to your happy place. You give yourself over to the Lord's keeping. You toss and turn some more. You give up and just let yourself think about whatever it is that's on your mind, from real worries to innocuous things like what you'll make for dinner tomorrow.  You look at the clock. Two hours have passed. You lay there, physically and mentally exhausted and worn out, but still unable to switch off. Another hour passes. Sound like torture? It can be. 

Unfortunately, insomnia is not well understood. Even though 60 million Americans struggle with some form of insomnia, doctors don't always know how to help. And it can create other problems, including susceptibility to worsening depression and diabetes.

I use a lot of strategies to help myself. Most are recommendations you can find doing an internet search; others are ones I've discovered myself. Here are a few you might try:

  • Avoid naps during the day. I have to admit, sometimes I am just so tired I can't help it, but it really will affect your night time sleep. Last week I took a nap, and couldn't fall asleep that night until 4:30 a.m.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch. I try to keep my coffee intake to two cups in the morning, and drink decaf and herbal tea in the afternoon and evening. Even decaf contains some caffeine, so this may be something I need to address.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. I go to bed about 11:30 p.m., and (try) to get up at 7:30 a.m. I'm trying to get my husband to go to bed with me earlier (about 10 p.m.). I have to go to bed at the same time as he does; having different sleep times is too disruptive for me.
  • Don't eat sugary snacks at night. If I'm really hungry, I have a little protein before bed, like a cheese stick. When I was losing weight I would be hungry every night at bed time. It's better not to be.
  • Take a warm bath before bed.
  • Wear socks to bed. The extra warmth really helps. I also avoid wearing anything on the bottom half of my body (besides the socks) unless it's really cold. Getting tangled up in nightgowns and pajama bottoms is frustrating to a restless sleeper. I just wear a warm top or even a sweatshirt in the winter. Oh, and top off the "look" with a sleep mask. It takes a few nights to get used to it, but it really can help.
  • Don't use the computer after dinner. Okay, this is a big challenge, and one habit I've just implemented since going off medication. There's something about the lights, and for me, all the information stimulation. This has been difficult, as I do a lot of my blog visiting in the evening while my husband watches news and sports. I'm trying to do really calming activities like knitting and reading (nothing too exciting) and even coloring if I find myself worked up about something.

  • Avoid anything too stimulating, exciting, interesting, thought-provoking, worrisome, anxiety-producing . . . yeah, right. Life happens, and I can't avoid it all, nor do I want to. But I do try not to watch the news late at night or get into conversations or read information that may be overly stimulating.

Okay, so these common-sense recommendations aren't resolving the problem for me. I'm scheduled now to go in to a clinic and get a "map" of my brain wave activity. This treatment involves some kind of bio-feedback. I'm praying for a miracle here. I may sign up for an online CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) program. I'll go do a sleep study maybe.

That first one? Difficulty going to sleep? I'll give that a 10.

Years ago, I felt I just had to struggle through with depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. Not anymore. If one thing doesn't work, I'll try another. I would recommend you get help, too, if you're struggling. A good night's rest is such a blessing.

Linking to No Place Like Home.


  1. Have a glass or two of wine :) Seriously, try it. No more than that or it works the other way and can disrupt your sleep in the middle of the night but I have found that on the evenings when I have a little wine I sleep quite soundly. Having said that it does sound as if you have a chronic problem or are one of those people that require very little sleep ( had a client like that once..said that 4 hours per night was all that he needed ) / I do know that hand work such as hand quilting which I do, or something very repetitive is calming and relaxing...I often go onto youtube and find some worship music and just play that while quilting

    1. Wine is not an option unfortunately. I have had alcohol abuse problems in the past, so I won't touch the stuff.
      And no, I cannot go on four hours of sleep!

  2. I am so sorry that you have insomnia. It sounds horrible. I pray that you'll find some kind of natural relief. There are different herbs that are great for sleep.

    Love, hugs & prayers ~ FlowerLady

  3. I also suffer with insomnia. It started around the time that I was having symptoms of Grave's Disease. The overactive thyroid was treated and now my thyroid is under active, and requires daily medication. It seems to me that my insomnia is tied in with either the thyroid disease or the medication I take for it. It always seems that my body and mind always rev up just when it is time to get to sleep. Very annoying.

    I hope you will find a way to get the rest you need very soon.

  4. Hi dear deboraht ,, que terrible sufrir de insomnio ,, yo no me lo puedo imaginar ,,esoero que tengas un bendecido fin de semana

  5. Hi Deborah,
    I don't have that problem now but have had it in the past. Watching the clock always made it worse for me. The other day I read an article on Facebook about making a tea from an organic banana with the skin on it. Ends cut off...boiled for 10 minutes. Supposedly it helps people sleep due to magnesium and potassium levels being very high in the skins of bananas...couldn't hurt to try. The article said that it was more effective than sleeping pills.You could Google it. I do have trouble quieting my mind at times and those nights it does take some time to fall asleep but generally the next night I fall asleep before my head hits the pillow. Hoping you find some relief!

  6. Dearest Deborah,
    Sorry for your consistent problem with this.
    Well, I'm half like you as I'm a very hyper and over active person. I want to finish too many things in too little time so I'm very restless at night.
    Alcohol is no option for me either as that would bring back my high blood sugar levels and I don't want to go there again.
    But I did have another major problem, due to my advancing kidney problems. It seems to be that in the morning at wake up time, the blood pressure ought to be higher than in the evening at bed time... Not mine! I had my kidney ultrasound done and turned in my 3 weeks of measuring my blood pressure morning and evening and it didn't look good. I got kind of scolded over it... I did explain that I'd lived through a very emotional 3 weeks. True! With all the scanning of those 36 photo albums and on top of it my baby sister constantly video calling me for help in explaining who's in the photos she was scanning from Dad's collection. Sure, there were great childhood memories to be shared and she did send them all via but it also did rake up the old hurt since Mom's death and around the 3 toxic siblings. On top of that, on Pieter's 87th birthday, he did not hear a word, no sign at all, from his adopted daughter. So me going to lay my head on the pillow, that did not work out too well. Needless to say that if your night sleep is not good, your blood pressure is off too.
    I've made up the balance of my life and am more than ever determined to cut out all the negative impacts on my life. Just focussing on positive things, on real friends and every day we bike together and doing more things together.
    Trying to eat even more healthy and out of concern for a good night's rest too.
    With my kidney disease I often have morning sickness, so I cannot have breakfast early as I feel nauseating... Not the best start either!
    I cannot have more than one coffee a day, at breakfast and in a demitasse size as you call it. Otherwise I'm way too hyper and over active. That has helped a lot so far and I really stick to it!
    Unwinding for me is really hard... wish we had a build in switch for doing that. My nephrologist told me that at night the metabolism is lower, unless you're African American he said and you don't particularly look like that...
    I felt kind of guilty but how can I help it?
    Just like you did, I also love to read blogs after supper time, it is a relaxing way as I also vigorously did sort those blogs that I absolutely love to read. For the very same reason, for not having to feel stressed or whatever.
    Hope you will find out how to search for that balance. I too have to try harder as I don't want my kidneys to go down to the point that I need dialysis.
    Sending you a big hug and also telling you that you are very brave for publishing this!

  7. You really have my sympathy. I suffered from insomnia for some time, and still struggle with 'monkey brain' at bedtime for no logical reason. I have found that herbal tea, no computer and no heavy dinner all help. I have given up caffeine completely - that was hard. I buy the best decaf I can find. This has made a difference too. I hope you find something that helps soon.

  8. Ah- Deb - I have been an insomniac my entire life. The only times I have EVER slept 8 hours is after a surgery on pain meds.

    Now days I am lucky to get 3 or 4 hours. You mentioned staying awake till 5am - happened to me 3 times this past week. I never EVER nap and I never sleep. I have been to 3 sleep studies. Oh my word I just don't want to take drugs. And I have apnea so when I DO sleep I don't sleep well. It's awful.

    I feel your pain but love you are just getting so much healthier - lifestyle, diet, the works. Keep it up, sweet friend. I wish you peace and rest for SURE!

    Hugs. ♥

  9. PS -

    I fall asleep immediately when I DO go to bed - it's staying awake after sleeping about an hour that does it on nights when I am tired and actually hit the hay.

  10. Deb, I can only imagine what you have lived with all these years, just with a smidget of nights where I cannot get to sleep and am awake for as much as 3 hrs. But those nights are rare for me. I do have an overactive brain that sometimes gets in the way of getting to sleep also but, again, rare compared to what you are describing. I really hope this clinical observation will be the beginning of help for you. Keep us posted.

  11. You are so not alone in this. I tried all the suggestions you list but my body seemed to have its own ideas! I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 12 years ago along with menopause. Either can drive us nuts. Insomnia was one of my problems but it amplifies many others. Two years ago I noticed my head was beginning to shake slightly when I was resting and my family commented on it. I also began to stumble along with other symptoms so my rheumatologist sent me to a neurologist for further tests. After months of testing I know I have a tremor and some neurological tics that will probably worsen but I'm writing this to say I was put on an anticonvulsant med that was originally perscribed for controlling epilepsy but has proved to be effective for pain, depression, and fibromyalgia and other things. It's called gabapentin(neurontin) and it has made such a diff in my life. I started sleeping. I'm suffering less from pain and the depression of fibromyalgia and I'm more in control of my movements. This medication is not an opioid and isn't habit forming. It has been a blessing for me and my family and I'm thankful that I have a good doctor that was willing to spend the time and effort to truly help me. I'm hoping this info might be of some use to you. Hoping we hear some good news from you soon.

  12. I totally can relate to you. I stopped computer after dinner, no sugar at night, and I light a candle, diffuse essential oils and play really soft music on my cd player and set it for one hour. Usually that works for me. I do however, sometimes wake up after only four hours sleep, but most of the time I can fall back asleep. One of my friends had this problem, and sometimes never fell asleep till morning and then she slept most of the day. That isn't good either.
    Hopefully, you can find a solution soon. Lack of sleep is the worst. God bless you.

  13. I'm so very,vety sorry. Exhaustion makes life harder than it should be. Hope help is around the corner for you. Insomnia I understand.

  14. I am so sorry that your nights are such a challenge. I have suffered with insomnia off and on for years, but have found that my "wave machine" (it's a Sony sound machine that replicates soft sounds like gentle rain, the ocean, etc.) has been a life saver. I just turn it on, visualize the waves and sights of a day on the shore and drift off to sleep. This machine comes everywhere with me when we travel. I would recommend it highly. Best of luck with your new testing. Let's hope a solution is found. We're all pulling for you. Rosie @ The Magic Hutch

  15. This may not be an option but when I was in the chronic painful stage of my frozen shoulder and was not able to sleep more than a couple of hours at night the specialist told me that sleep deprivation was a deterrent to my healing and she prescribed a muscle relaxant. I was to take 1/4 of a tablet at goodness I had the best sleeps I have had in over 20 years! Now I don't take them anymore as the pain has almost gone away but it might be something to ask your doctor about.
    I need lots of sleep and think that my daily walks really help too.
    Good luck I know how wearing lack of sleep can be on your system.

  16. Hope the study you mentioned will help and a solution can be found. You have done so well with getting yourself healthy, keep up the good work.

  17. May you receive just the help you need. I have had insomnia from time to time...just as you say, absolutely miserable. I can usually fall asleep easily enough; it's the waking in the wee hours and not being able to get back to sleep. I have used Melatonin, blinking my eyes very slowly ten times. About the sixth time, I just want to keep them closed...that's the trick I guess. I have heard the no screen thing before bedtime and that would be tough. I also find chamomile tea to be wonderfully relaxing. Keep us informed! So many sufferers of insomnia.

  18. Hi Deborah, Oh I know there is nothing worse then watching the clock and tossing back and forth all night. I am so sorry!! This happens to me on occasion when my mind is in overload. I usually turn on the TV to divert my thoughts to something else and I fall right to sleep. I know they say not to do that, but it works for me. I sure hope you can find a remedy without drugs, but overall, you have done so well getting healthy!! Congrats on all you have accomplished. Blessings. xo

  19. Sleep is such a gift - one that I didn't appreciate until I experienced insomnia. I'm thankful that mine is not nearly as severe as yours is. I do hope you can find some relief.

  20. Following my hysterectomy, at the age of 30, my doctor told me to expect a certain amount of insomnia, that it is hormone related and having a hysterectomy is like throwing your hormones into a hurricane. He prescribed me Halcion, which I took for many years, as the insomnia was debilitating. After about 10 years, I weaned myself off and have managed to do OK most of the time since then. Now, whenever I have problems, I can usually take one dose of Nyquil, or an allergy tablet and am able to rest.

    I hope you find a lasting solution. Insomnia is a terrible thing.

  21. Oh, God bless you, Deborah! Several of my family members have to take sleep meds. I drink some Sleepytime tea every evening, while taking a bath. I seem to fall asleep easily these days, but if something is on my mind, I have a restless night. I hope you find something that will work for you. Love and hugs are sent to you!

  22. Shall we form an insomnia sorority and meet up around 1 AM? We can have sleepy time tea followed by a spoonful of peanut butter which is suggested online. I am kidding but Deborah I sure can relate to what you have written. I gave in to taking meds but last week decided the possibility of side affects was concerning me and I stopped the meds. So hard to have a racing mind, a tired body and find sleep totally elusive. Precious Husband is no help at all, he wants me to stop worrying and just take the pill! Will be interested to read what you discover as you seek answers for this terrible dilemma. Off to drink my tea and have some peanut butter :-) By the way I tried the banana thingy and zip - nada. The banana was tasty in my morning smoothy though.

  23. I haven't written about insomnia in a long time but whenever I did it seemed like about 75% of readers suffered from it too. And yes, that overactive mind is most often a culprit. The hysterectomy at 50 for me was the start of it and I began on a Rx sleep aid. Two years ago I cut that down to 1/2 tablet at night but anytime I try doing without it, say on a very sleepy night, I sleep but wake in middle of night with heart pounding. I do know that the nights I don't open my computer or phone that I sleep better, but as you wrote, when is there ever time in a busy woman's life to blog except at night?

    I have slept better since we moved, with only one night awake until dawn and that was when I was too exhausted to sleep. I've made it a practice since the move to get outside early after I feed my dogs. I sweep the terrace in the early morning sunlight because I read that it helps reset your natural melatonin to do this. Just 20 minutes before the brighter midday sun. Maybe this is helping?

    Please let us know what the other steps you're exploring result in. I've been tempted to try those but hated to take the time for it.

  24. I hope and pray that the changes you are making will make a great difference. So sorry you are struggling.
    John has two different sleep disorders: narcolepy and idiopathic hypersomnolence. Without meds, he would sleep no more than 2 hours per night - it greatly affected his health: diabetes, high blood pressure and forgetfulness. Of course, during the day, the narcolepsy makes him fall asleep - that is why he was made to stop driving. In fact, he cannot even cook on a stovetop because he falls asleep so fast. He was studied for 2 years by Georgia's best - Emory Univ. Hospital. No real answers other than he takes Xanax each night to help him sleep. He has had all the brain studies, sleep apnea tests etc. He stops breathing 55 times per hour, which is almost every minute and it has taken a toll on his organs. He also has periodic limb movement disorder.
    John was diagnosed about 12 years ago.

  25. Another thing you and I seem to have in common, Deborah! I know what my problem is and one of them has been solved {night sweats} but I still have an overactive mind. My problem is I have music going through my head. Music has always been a very big part of my life and it may only be a stupid jingle off the TV but if it is catchy, there goes my brain for the rest of the night. Singing hymns and praying sometimes helps but my BIGGEST problem is my bladder. I drink a lot of water and I try to cut back in the evening but I still have to drink some with my meds late at night. I take my last dose at 10:00 PM. I am up three and four times a night every night. Since I cannot use sleep meds for my problem I have resorted to using Gravol which is what they give the older folks in the nursing homes many times. My neurologist told me it was safe so...I hope you find a solution soon. God bless you, my friend!


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