I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence or whether I’m looking out for them for some reason, but these past few weeks I’ve come across several articles on the topic of sleep deprivation and how important it is for our health to have a regular sleeping pattern. Like this one for example. Or this one.
I personally have no trouble believing that sleep is a vital aspect of our wellbeing. I have a bit of a difficult relationship with sleep myself, you could maybe call me an occasional insomniac. As a child I was already a bit of a difficult sleeper in the sense that I had trouble with ‘switching off’, so it would often take me an hour or maybe two to get to sleep. Later, I think it was at the end of my second year at university, I started getting fits of what I’d call insomnia. For me this means it either takes me ages to fall asleep (as in I finally drift of around 5 AM), I don’t sleep at all or, and this is quite a recent development, I sleep so lightly I still feel like I haven’t really slept when my alarm goes off in the morning. I know there are people out there who can function on 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night, but I am definitely not one of them. Sleep deprivation for me means lack of concentration, headaches and general oversensitiveness. I mean, when I’m really really tired I’ll cry at stupid ‘saying goodbye at the airport’ TV shows (I hope that’s not just a Belgian thing) or randomly when I’m sitting on a train full of people (trust me, this can get a bit awkward).
As for the reason behind my insomnia: I think it’s usually stress, most of the time latent one but it can also be about a problem that’s consciously bothering me. At least that’s what triggers it, after a while the ‘oh no I won’t be able to sleep, I’m going to be so tired tomorrow’-thought pops up and then it just turns into a vicious cycle. Annoyingly, my insomnia always happens when I want to be really well rested the next day and, most of the time, have gone to bed extra early. I’m afraid that on first days of work, during job interviews and long journeys I might always have to function on few or no sleep at all.
I’m not the only one with this problem though. A lot of people I know have sleeping problems of some sort and it makes me wonder why. According to my dad people used to sleep better, now I don’t know if this is actually true or the fact that he is saying these kinds of things is just a sign that the old man is getting, well, older. Why are there so many of us lying awake at night? Is it because there’s just more going on all the time? Are we spending too much time in front of some sort of screen (ipod/pad/phone?) in the evenings? Do we have too much stress, or too little so we have create a new issue (as a sort of ultimate first world problem)? I think it might be all of the above.
Sleep deprivation seems to be really unhealthy, so we should probably try to do something about it. The best remedy is probably finding out what the underlying problem is and tackling that. Treating the cause not the symptoms kind of thing. But sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is keeping you awake. What works for me sometimes is just banning all electronics a few hours before bed and reading a book instead. What also helps is accepting the fact that when you’re having an insomnia episode you will be tired the next day, but you will survive anyway. Even if this doesn’t get you to sleep, it will at least make you feel less anxious and therefore make lying awake more bearable. There are also things like camomile tea and lavender baths that might help you relax. At the moment I am taking some melatonin (I’m not a biochemistry-wizz but it’s basically a hormone that plays an important role in the circadian rhythm) supplements and this seems to help me keep a steady sleep cycle. It may be just a placebo effect, but even if it is, it works for me. What fellow-insomniacs recommended me to do is to get out of bed and do something else when you’re feeling restless and then just wait till you get sleepy again. I never seem to do this for some reason, maybe I’m just too lazy. If there’s any other sleep strugglers out there with some good tips and tricks, don’t keep ‘em to yourself. Us insomniacs should support each other.