Sleepytime Tease: On the Elusiveness of Sleep Balance

sleepprobs

I’ve never been great at sleeping.

Okay, I take that back. I’ve never been consistent with sleeping.

I can remember going to bed as a child and having the difficulty falling asleep. I’d be up late listening to my parents watch TV, reading under the covers, or tossing and turning. Sometimes I would fall asleep fine, but wake up at four or five in the morning and putter around on the house. Sometimes I didn’t need the sleep and was fine on just a few hours, sometimes I was exhausted and couldn’t sleep any longer, and sometimes I felt the urge for huge blocks of uninterrupted, non-restful sleep. That is the depression sleep. All night insomnia followed by a day of napping that left me even more exhausted as I rolled into another night with no rest.

By my late teens I figured out my depression sleep. It is partly why I used meth as a teenager. I didn’t care, kind of wanted to die, and I could never sleep, but was exhausted. Hello, drug use. I would stay awake for several days and then smoke pot or drink myself into a fitful nap. Coming off drugs was the worst; I longed for sleep and no matter how much I slept I still ached with exhaustion. When I was in jail I used sleep as an escape and could sleep about 15 hours a day (there is a difference between jail and prison, btw. In prison you have tasks, therapy, a schedule. Jail you just sit and wait). It wasn’t restful, but it was escape.

Having a baby and going to college full-time complicated my sleep pattern. I might nap during the day in between classes and then stay up all night writing a paper. Eventually I got to where I slept very, very little. Three hours a night on average. I did fine on so little sleep, until I didn’t. Eventually, I would crash into depression and miss class and work to sleep. And therein lies the problem. I know my sleep issues when I’m depressed. What I was wholly unprepared for was hypomanic sleep issues. That three hours of sleep a night in college that was enough until it wasn’t? Hypomania. When Sam and I first started dating and I could hang out until 3am and then make it into work at 7:30? Hypomania. If you look through this blog you’ll see several times when I would wake at 4 in the morning and bake, write, or read. That, too, was hypomania. See, I wasn’t taking a nap in the afternoon and I wasn’t even going to bed early. It is one thing to go to bed at 9 and wake at 4. It is another thing entirely to go to bed at 11 and wake up at 3 completely refreshed AND to continue to that for WEEKS AT A TIME with no tiredness. In these periods of little sleep I can also trace other hypomania behaviors: rampant promiscuity (before Sam), heavy drinking, depleting my savings account and maxing out credit cards, an increased need to be social (in fact, finding it unbearable to be alone), taking on way too many projects or extra roles, angry outbursts along with breaking things or hurting myself, recklessness and poor decision making. Going through my old journals has really highlighted this hypomanic issue and at first it boggled my mind. I knew about depression, but this was eye opening. I didn’t know to watch for hypomania.

How do I know when I am entering hypomania? How do I know If I am bordering on instability?

Sleep. Or rather, a lack thereof.

I should be getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night and I’m really striving to do that. What I find is that I have no problem falling asleep, but I am constantly waking. I’d really like to avoid going on more medication, so I have to work really hard at figuring out this sleep thing. Not too much sleep, but certainly not too little. Sleep issues seem to be my first indicator I’m either headed towards depression or barreling towards hypomania.

Here are a few things I’m trying and this blog post will help keep me accountable.

  1. I’m tracking my sleep in my bullet journal. Last month I wrote down the amount I slept the night before on my daily page, but my new layout will help me make comparisons.bujosleep
  2. Exercise. I’m not talking going to the gym or fitting workouts in. Right now I’m walking a loop through the library every 30 – 45 minutes. Seven loops equal a mile (our library director measured it) and I should be able to get in a minimum of two miles each day doing this. I’m also opting to eat lunch at my desk while I work and then go on a 20 minute walk outdoors.
  3. Decreasing caffeine. You all know how much I love coffee. I’m no longer drinking coffee or soda after 2 pm. I do find that I need something to get me through the melee of cooking dinner, chores, and putting the kids in bed, so I’m allowing one cup of tea in the afternoon. After 6 pm, caffeine is right out. I can stick to warm milk or herbal tea if I need a hot drink while I read.
  4. Setting a bedtime and a waking time. My goal is to go to bed at 10 pm Monday through Thursday and 11pm Friday through Sunday (I work on Sunday nights). My goal is to wake at 6 am each day. Once I get in the habit of sleeping 7 hours a night I can wake up a bit earlier. I reserve the right to nap on the weekend, but for no more than an hour.
  5. Turning off electronics: This one will be hard to do. No electronic devices or TV after 9pm. Not even Candy Crush.
  6. Keep evenings calm for a while. I got myself all in a tizzy and super excited about the Iowa caucus. I didn’t sleep much that night! When I go out at night it really takes a while for me to settle down. If there is an activity going on past 8 in the evening you can count me out. Except, of course, for the night I work.
  7. Establish an evening routine. There is quite a bit I need to accomplish in the late afternoon and evening: dinner, kid wrangling, laundry, prepping lunches, showering, etc…. I’d also like some time to myself to work on crocheting or read. My goal is to finish chores and get my shower before the kids go to bed around 8. I’ll have about an hour to chill and then at 9 (10 on my later nights) I start my bed time routine: a cup of herbal tea and journaling, brushing my teeth, peeing 57,000 times, and then hopping into bed for a few minutes of reading.

I’m hoping these coping skills will help me create a healthy sleep balance. I don’t want the huge buckets of sleep when I’m depressed, but I really need to stay away from the very little sleep of hypomania.

I’m open to any other suggestions for sleep assistance! I’m not using supplements and medicine though on the recommendation of my psychiatrist.

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6 comments

  1. I’m having problems to sleep the whole night lately. I know it’s stress, it has happened to me before. Also, I’ve been having nightmares. But it really help me to turn off electronics an hour before sleeping and eating a light dinner.

  2. Gawd, I wish I had suggestions. I used to be good at sleep but I’ve gotten less good at it. Or that’s the way it feels anyway. I’m really impressed with the way you’ve worked this into your bullet journal for comparison, and your self-awareness and plan.

  3. Oh, this resonates with me. Lately I’ve had a horrible time – some of it was adjusting back to real life post-holidays, some of it probably hormonal. That said, your list is exactly the sort of thing I do. The days I get my 30 min walk in are the nights that I sleep better. And the screens! ugh! I can’t be in front of a screen close to bedtime unless I turn the brightness WAY down, and even then, it seems to keep me up for a while. I don’t fully understand it, but it’s amazing the difference it makes. The only thing I’d add to your list…a healthy dose of laughter each day. We apparently release some good-for-us-chemical when we laugh that also positively affects our sleep (don’t remember where I read it, but it has helped). I don’t think the laughter has to be close to bedtime – funny stories at dinner time? – take turns seeing who can tell the funniest story? Humorous books? Whatever you can think of to add a little levity to your day. Hope you start getting consistent sleep soon!

  4. Good luck! I struggle with sleep issues as well. I have started meditating right before bed. It helps calm down my brain to allow me to fall asleep. I will do the same when I wake up in the middle of the night. Every little bit helps.

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