The Thing About Sleep

I’m going to step out of the closet and tell you one of my most deeply held neuroses (I say "one of", because there are, in fact, many).  I have some major issues with sleep.  And while I may make light of it sometimes (as part of that laughter-is-the-best-medicine theory), it is, in fact quite serious, at least to me.  Here’s the whole story.

I’ve always been a night owl, even as a child.  I have many memories of lying in my bed as a little girl, terribly anxious over the fact that I couldn’t sleep.  I would wake up my mom in the middle of the night and ask her to sit with me while I battled insomnia, and my mother, angel that she is, would do it. 

College, strangely enough, was the only time in my life since puberty that I remember feeling rested.  That season of life is perfectly suited for staying up until 2 or 3, and sleeping until 10 or 11 for carefully scheduled afternoon classes.  It was heavenly.

Shortly after I was married, I began taking melatonin each night, a commonly used (and safe) sleep aid.  I took it every single night.  I had pretty good success with it and was finding my sleep beginning to normalize.  Until, of course, that Great Disturber Of All Reasonable Sleeping Patterns….motherhood.

I don’t suppose I really noticed the sleep disruptions that much during the early years of motherhood.  I was so generally exhausted that it was hard to tell if my problems were caused by insomnia, or by the demands of my kids.  Certainly the mommish tendency to leap out of bed at the slightest sigh from a child is NOT helpful to an insomniac.  But when I heard my friends talk about how they "fell into bed exhausted at the end of the day", or were "asleep before their head hit the pillow"…well, I’ve never been able to relate to that.  Sleep has never come easily to me, no matter how tired I might be.

Fast-forward a few years. 

I’ve shared before my battle with severe anxiety and depression.  What I did not share, in the interest of brevity before, was that that particular episode was "launched" by an extreme episode of insomnia.  At one point, I went 48 hours without sleeping.  My doctor prescribed Ambien, and it worked, but I was so afraid of becoming hooked I didn’t allow myself to depend too much on it.  Within days of the onset of the insomnia, the bottom dropped out, and my battle with anxiety was on.

Now, my head knows that most likely, the insomnia was simply the first major symptom of a much larger problem.  The insomnia did not cause the panic attacks, they simply were the first in a long string of symptoms that let me know I had some major issues going on in my body. My heart isn’t so sure.  For now (and maybe forever?) the "discomfort" of not being able to fall asleep always triggers in me that instantaneous panicky thought: is it starting again?  It’s an irrational thought, but there it is.

Nowadays, the extreme insomnia from those hard days is gone.  Left behind is the "typical" insomnia that often plagues night owls like me.  But because of my strange history with my sleep battles, what would be a simple speed bump to others is a massive road block to me.  As a result, I will do whatever it takes to avoid feeling that oh-no-I-can’t-sleep feeling.  I take Ambien in very small doses, but I take it often.  Very, very often.  This bugs me, even though my doctor has assured me that the small dosage I take is not physically addictive.  It’s certainly psychologically addictive. 

Add to that my tendency to stay up very late–I guess I figure if I wear myself out I’m less likely to be unable to sleep, and you have the recipe for one very tired momma in the mornings.  Even my kids notice it.  In fact, what prompted me to write this post is a conversation with my seven year old yesterday; he told me I "look droopy" in the mornings.  Last night at bedtime he prayed, "God, please Mom go to bed early so tomorrow she won’t look like she normally does in the morning."  (Let’s ignore the insult in that and just move forward with the sweet part, okay?) 

I don’t even really know why I’m telling you all this.  My tendency is to think I need to wait to post about something until I have it all figured out, so I can seem all wise and profound.  The truth is that  I’m smack in the middle of this.  Hello, my name is Shannon and I don’t sleep well.  I take too much sleeping medication.  And I stay up too late. There, I said it.

I think it’s very likely that the issue of sleep will be a thorn in my side the rest of my life–a nightly reminder of how much I need to depend on God for even the most basic of life functions.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing it with Him, and reading what He has to say about it in His book (see here, and here, and here, and here, among others).  He and I will sort it out one day, of that I’m certain.  And I’m sure the lesson in it will be yet another example of His teaching me to stop trying so hard.  To be still.  To rest.

To sleep.

39 thoughts on “The Thing About Sleep

  1. chilihead says:

    My friend, I sympathize with you. You know that we practically share a brain so it should be no surprise that I share the lifelong insomnia with you. And I take Ambien. Or Excedrin PM. Or Tylenol PM. Or whatever sleep aid is closest.
    I always think it’s brave when you post about real things happening in your real life. It makes many of us realize we aren’t alone. So…thanks.

  2. Amy says:

    In addition to the tylenol PM, etc. Benedryl can work really well to help you sleep.
    As for the anxiety, can I recommend _Feeling Good_ by Dr. David Burns. It has been very helpful with my own depression/PPD.
    The link came out wrong, but they have it at Amazon.

  3. Shannon in Arizona says:

    Thank you for sharing….like Chilihead said…it is brave when you post about real things happening in real life. It makes us realize we aren’t alone.
    I have the same problem…mine is different in the way I toss alllll night long. I hear everything and if woken more then twice for longer then a min or two I am up for the rest of the morning or night. During the day I am so tired I can fall asleep while standing or even making a sandwich for the kids. I find that after I stand for a few minutes at a time I then have to sit and sleep for about 15 min to a half hour. Pretty much tired allll the time. When my husband is home I will take about 3 to 4 naps and sleep great at night. Sooooo who knows………..Thanks again for sharing

  4. Kim :-) says:

    Hi Shannon… coming out of lurkdom to tell you that I could have written much of this post. I am going thru a season of sleep right now, praise the Lord. Years ago during my 3rd pregnancy I was unable to sleep for the last 20 weeks and it threw me into a horrible episode of depression that lasted for months after my son’s birth. The next pregnancy I took Celexa which didnt help me sleep but worked for the depression. In my 5th and 7th pregnancies I took Ambien… everynight. You cant take it when nursing so I figured that I’d be up anyway so it was fine to be addicted to it. (BAAADD mommy!) All that to say, I feel your pain. It is M I S E R A B L E to not get sleep. Have you heard of that new drug they have now that is supposed to be non addictive and you can take it as frequently as you want? Cant remember the name but the ads are everywhere “you dreams miss you!”
    Thought I would mention, too, that in my sleep-deprived, depressed state scriptures about sleep mocked me: “The Lord grants sleep to those He loves…” made me feel very hopeless. I wish I had a better answer for that but just wondered if you had ever had that happen.
    Sorry for the looong comment. I feel your pain!

  5. Cmommy says:

    Shannon, I wish I could sing-a-lullaby for you tonight ;-)…has music ever helped you move into drowsiness at bedtime? I saw a pillow that can hold an iPod–you can customize lullaby music or eBooks and not disturb your bedmate or destroy your eardrums!

  6. Everyday Mommy says:

    You are loved, Shannon.
    It seems that these struggles are chemical in nature and thus require treatment with medication. I see it no differently than my brother, a diabetic from the age of 3, who controlled his diabetes with insulin. You must control your insomnia with medication. Rather than resenting the medication, praise God for it, as I praise Him for you.

  7. Gina says:

    I have the same sleep issues, but things have been slowly changing.
    First, I’ll go out on a limb here, hoping I won’t be bashed or judged, but I started having a glass of red wine before bed. I hate the taste, but I’d rather do something that may be good for my heart than continue on my Tylenol PM route. And it REALLY helps make me sleepy. Such a great feeling! I don’t drink it every night, but only when I feel I need it.
    Second, I used to pray for God to help me go to sleep. It never really worked. So I started praying for God to make me a morning person. Now I hate getting up early, I mean HATE IT, but I hate not sleeping and waking up to chaos because I sleep in in the morning and as a homeschooling mom, it’s easy to do. And the last couple of mornings I’ve been waking up at 6:30, 7:30pm
    So there you have it! Another insomniac on the way to finding…YAWN…sleep.

  8. barbie says:

    I have only struggled with insomnia during my last trimesters of my pregnancies and it is really horrible. I am so sorry to hear this is on going for you! You seem to have a good approach about it—seeking God that is. And I would agree with Everyday Mommy that sometimes medication can be the blessing you are looking for. May God give you peace in all this!

  9. Emma in Australia says:

    Coming out of the woodwork to say that I know exactly how you feel. I am generally slow to go to sleep and a very light sleeper. I take over the counter sleep aids very rarely, because it’s so hard to wake the next morning. It hadn’t dawned on me that the sleep (or lack of) and my depression were linked! Thanks for your post, it’s nice to know we are not alone.

  10. Nikkie says:

    I can totally relate. I have some pretty nasty sleep issues going on too. I’ve always been a night owl but when it was time for me to sleep I never had a problem until a few weeks ago. Now I could be totally exhausted and not go to sleep for hours. Its very difficult with a one year old who gets up at the crack of dawn. I haven’t tried sleep aids yet, I’m still trying to see if excercise and removal of caffine will do the trick.

  11. MJ Shore says:

    I have been an insomniac for as long as I can remember. I had health issues as a child and the sleep patterns, or lack thereof, seemed to follow me into adulthood. It has been worse since my daughter’s death and the addition of her young twins to our household again. I am usually up til the wee hours, fall alseep, or crash, on the couch or in my bed (My husband works night shift) and after 2-3 hours of restless slumber I am fully awake and unable to go back to bed. Most people can sleep because they are tired. Sounds simple.. am I tired? Yes! Does that help me sleep.. No! I can fend the physical maladies of no sleep with coffee and concealer make-up, but the mental stress of no sleep can be both blatant and sneaky. I stay away from medication because I come from a family full of addicts and am fearful of the addiction issue and of not hearing the children if they need me. I am sorry I don’t have any helpful solutions.. in the wee hours that sleep evades you.. know you are not alone!

  12. Heather says:

    Shannon, this post illustrates what I love about reading your blog…you are real and you aren’t afraid to be yourself. That, my friend, makes all of us feel like we know you and love you…therefore, I will pray for you and with you.

  13. Lindsey says:

    Shannon, thank you for sharing. I’ve been wound tight as a tick the past few months with job/money/health issues and I’m pretty much fine all day. Then nighttime dawns, bedtime rolls around, and I almost have a panic attack. When I do get to sleep, I wake up in the mornings antsy and nervous abut something, although not always clear WHAT.
    It is awful. I’ve been eating tylenol PM but it has gotten to the point that doesn’t help.

  14. Paulette1958 says:

    I too had the battles with sleep, until it was effecting my depression as well. I do not like to take meds at all but I am on ambien as well for a year now. I do not feel remotely addicted to it. I believe that is a mindset we have because our brains believe we are not ok if we have to take medicine. I have even skipped a couple doses here and there and it does not affect me.
    I can see where I used to be on many meds I did have to take. When I worked through the issues I had which for me did involve panic around going to sleep, I was able to get off ALL my meds except the ambien.
    You will not become addicted, unless you over use it like 2 or 3 pills because 1 doesnt work. That is the way people become addicted, not by a minimal dose.
    I believe that there are several factors to the insomnia. I will pray for you as you deal with this. I know for me as I am on my journey to sleeping it is getting SO much better. I so appreciate your openess about these tough issues.

  15. "Maggie" says:

    I think “thinkers” must have more trouble sleeping. I wonder if that puts most of us in the “blogger” category. I don’t have trouble sleeping, but enjoy non interrupted thinking so much that I could easily live my “life” from 11-2 or 3 when it’s quiet enough to pray and think and read and write.
    It’s been a real challenge to build other parts of me to the point where I can surrender that without feeling lost. Certain seasons, I just need to be alone, and that’s “my time”. My husband is my accountability and “needs” me to go to bed with him. I usually resent my time being usurped, but am so grateful for him as my balance in those times…pulling me back to center and some normalcy.

  16. "Maggie" says:

    I think “thinkers” must have more trouble sleeping. I wonder if that puts most of us in the “blogger” category. I don’t have trouble sleeping, but enjoy non interrupted thinking so much that I could easily live my “life” from 11-2 or 3 when it’s quiet enough to pray and think and read and write.
    It’s been a real challenge to build other parts of me to the point where I can surrender that without feeling lost. Certain seasons, I just need to be alone, and that’s “my time”. My husband is my accountability and “needs” me to go to bed with him. I usually resent my time being usurped, but am so grateful for him as my balance in those times…pulling me back to center and some normalcy.

  17. His Singer says:

    Ah Shannon, you’re singing my song!
    First of all, I suffer from hereditary migraines, as did my grandmother, mother, aunts, and cousins. Two of my three kids suffer from them as well.
    It ain’t all peaches and cream, if you get my drift.
    One of the first things my neurologist ever asked me was if I suffered from depression. When I told him I did, and that I’d been on medication for it for years, he wasn’t the least bit shocked. Seems as though over 90% of the people who have migraines like these also have some form of depression. It’s a chemical thing. Here I’d been beating myself up for years because every time I went off of the meds I’d become a basket case. Come to find out there’s a medical reason for it. I’m not just certifiably nuts.
    Insomnia goes hand-in-hand with the depression. The meds I take for depression didn’t help it, so I talked further with my doctor. After trying several different meds to help that, they finally settled on Ambien. I got so paranoid about it being addictive that I started cutting one 10 mg pill into fourths and taking only one of those every night. You’re right, it is psychologically addictive, but I look at it this way – I’m SLEEPING and getting REST that my body needs. I don’t feel drugged in the morning, and I’m not dead-dog tired all the time like I was before.
    I firmly believe God gives us healing in different ways. Sometimes it isn’t through the means WE see fit, but through HIS plan. That may include medication, whether we like it or not. I am just thankful the medication is there to be used, rather than having to suffer through what I don’t have to needlessly.
    And, after a very long comment, that is all I have to say about that.

  18. Shiloah Baker says:

    It is SOOOo nice and refreshing to know that I’m NOT alone in the sleep deprived state I live in! I’m pregnant with my seventh baby right now and I have long, wearing days. In the early evening I’m so tired. By the time its dark out I am wide awake and I stay up soooo late every night.
    As I type this is 12am! I lived with melatonin when I’m not pregnant. I’ll drag my semi-tired self to bed every “morning” around 1ish. I can’t just “fall” asleep (ever), but after reading an hour or two I finally can get to sleep! Its terrible!
    I’ve had issues with being a night owl since I was a kid too! My siblings and parents were all out by 8! Eight! Sometimes I’m just serving dinner at 8! I’m a mess, I guess! LOL My friends all make fun of me, but they know that its ok to call me late at night if they have a problem, because like no one else in the world (it seems), I’M AWAKE!
    Hugs, I feel your pain!

  19. Chappyswife says:

    Shannon~ I, too, have had insomnia my WHOLE life. I understand how hard it is to get up in the morning. Don’t feel bad for taking medication. We are so fortunate to live in a day and age when it is available to us. I pray that God will give you rest and peace.

  20. Heather says:

    Wow, it looks like you hit a nerve with that one. Isn’t it awesome how God uses our own struggles to help others. I generally have no trouble sleeping, but my husband does. He has serious bouts of insomnia and it affects the whole family. Currently he is going to bed at about 5 pm and waking around midnight. It makes things pretty hard on the kids and I though at least he is getting a good night sleep and able to work, which is often the problem when he has insomnia. It is really hard to do creative programming when you have only had a couple hours for a week.
    Our prayers are with you.

  21. peach says:

    So glad you don’t wait until you’ve got everything all figured out before you post, dear Shannon. God chooses to use us in the midst of our struggles to show how He is ultimately in control of our outcomes. If we had all the answers and waxed profoundly on every topic, He would be left out of the equation.
    Thanks for sharing what looks to be a common struggle. I am waking up from the fog of my own Tylenol PM routine (took it too late last night and now have the accompanying hangover).
    I plan to find a new doctor soon who can help me get back into a bit of a normal sleep cycle, too. Will be praying for all of you who seem to be awake with me through the night watches.

  22. Barbara H. says:

    A friend and I were talking a while back about being transparent and how, if we feel that we need to always act like we’ve got everything all together and never have a struggle, we’re not real and aren’t helping anyone. So, I thank you for being real and transparent.
    I haven’t had trouble with insomnia except on occasion. But I do have issues that cause anxiety and then make the issues worse and cause more anxiety (happens to be related to…ahem…bathroom issues. Physical problems led to anxiety.) So I understand the cycle that that can cause and the wondering if anyone else in the world has to pray about things that other people don’t seem to have a problem with, like hoping that they won’t need to go to the bathroom while taking their child to school. It’s better, with the Lord’s help. But it’s not “cured.”
    Thanks for sharing.

  23. melnel says:

    It’s interesting how God gives to each person their own set of challenges. I for one have always been blessed with zero sleeping problems–I can sleep whenever I want to and I always wake up chipper and refreshed. But God’s given plenty of other problems and trials and strength builders in place of insomnia. While they’re different challenges, it still makes possible compassion and sympathy for the challenges anyone else faces. And isn’t that a blessing in and of itself?
    Just think, with your children praying for you, how can God refuse to bless you? šŸ™‚

  24. Christina says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your insomnia. This is something I suffer with occasionally. I also have ADHD (only diagnosed two years ago) and very slight anxiety although I have had the occasional panic attack. I am also a teeth gritter, which I do in the day, and which my dentist is not thrilled about. My friend also suffers from insomnia, like you, more often then me. She takes Ambien and it really helps. She told me it gets worse during perimenopause, so this leads me to believe somehow hormones are involved. Of course the doctor will probably say it isn’t so, but the doctor doesn’t know what not sleeping is like most likely. Anyway, don’t be afraid to take the medication if you need it. I truly believe that God gave us helpful medicines for people who really need them. I wouldn’t worry about taking it either (I know that is easier said then done with anxiety issues), because God will make sure you are taken care of. Have you tried anything else? I hope you get some sleep soon.

  25. Aubrey says:

    Just a few comments. I think depression, anxiety, and insomnia are exceedingly common problems, and I’m glad you are not afraid to talk about it. I think too often, people in the church are ashamed to admit they have these kinds of problems because of the stigma that is often associated with it in churches. But these problems have part of their basis in the physical body, just like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
    In medical school we are taught a lot about “sleep hygiene,” that is, good habits to help people sleep. You may have already tried these, but I thought I’d suggest them just in case no one has talked to you about this.
    1. Your bedroom should be used only for sleeping or, ahem, sex with your husband. Do not pay the bills while in bed, or do anything else in your bedroom that could stress you out.
    2. Make your bedroom as relaxing for yourself as possible. Make it quiet, dark, and the kind of place that calms you down. Also, if you have a TV in there, you should take it out. Watching TV in bed is not good for sleep habits.
    3. Exercise. I know that as a busy mom, you may not have time, or maybe you already exercise, but regular exercise can help people sleep better. Even if it’s just going on a walk with the kids, or a good friend, any kind of exercise should help. Plus it’s just good for your overall health.
    4. Try not to do anything at night that will overstimulate your mind.(maybe blogging and reading a lot of blogs at night gets you excited and awake, and that could have an effect on your sleep.)
    5. Try to have a good nighttime routine that will help calm you down. I often read at night as a way to calm my mind down. (I’m sure there are some books that might be too stimulating, but I think overall reading can help bring you down.) Maybe take a bath, or drink something soothing.
    6. Watch caffeine intake. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks in the afternoon.
    Again, hopefully your doctor has already told you all this stuff, but I thought I’d add it just to make sure. And I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of taking medicine. I honestly think that God has allowed science to progress in such a way that treatment for these diseases is much better than previously and if it helps you get the sleep you need, it is good. And certainly God is able to grant rest, and I hope he gives it to you.

  26. dcrmom says:

    Wow, Shannon, that is tough. I have had very limited experience with insomnia, but I know what a vicious cycle it becomes, psychologically. I would share your fear of using the Ambien but also know that I would use it, as I have used sleep aides in the past when I’ve needed them and know the huge relief they provide. Thank you for sharing now and not waiting until you feel like you’ve figured it all out so you can seem “all wise and profound” – lol, you crack me up. I am so sorry that you struggle with this and pray that God will give you peace and rest as you seek Him through this. ((hugs))

  27. Addie says:

    I have struggled with sleep issues my whole life as well. Very often that is where the devil slips fear and anxiety into my heart. I understand, and I’m glad to know that you are able to take a little something to help. Thankfully we live in a day where we have that option. And yet at the same time, it’s obvious that you are using it responsibly. And that more than in medication, your hope is in the LORD.
    Thanks for your honesty. We all appreciate it!

  28. Aunt Murry says:

    I have not read the other comments so if this is a repeat, I apologise. Have you ever thought about having a sleep study done. Yes, you would have to be away from your family for one night but it might give you some good insight to your sleeping problems.
    I have sleep apnea. I have mixed which is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. It’s a long sorid tale but one I will be happy to share if you would like.
    I just think you would be happier taking the meds if you knew the reason why. St Francis has a great sleep center. That is where I had my initial diagnosis.
    If you have any questions, shoot them my way!

  29. HolyMama! says:

    next time i see you up commenting on blogs way past bedtime, i’ll just pray.
    i’m glad you shared, shannon. (and that prayer…? oh my gosh that’s cute!)

  30. Natalie Joy says:

    Thanks for sharing your struggles with us. It makes the rest of us who usually feel alone and abnormal, a little more normal. I have been worried about my oldest going to kindergarten in a couple days because it means I have to be up EVERY morning and have him there by 8:20!!?!!
    You should get the mug I just got for myself today at the Hallmark store. It says “Beware the sleep deprived mom.” My poor hubby could only laugh.

  31. Pass the Torch says:

    Shannon, you’re in my thoughts. I don’t have problems with sleep, so I’m feeling very grateful after reading your troubles. I think you’re brave to talk about it here. I don’t know if I could open up like that. But I’m glad you did.

  32. Kelli says:

    Shannon, I’m coming out in the open, just for you. I’ve been “away” for a few days- things, ya’ know.
    I really have no light to shed for you – but, I can send you a hug. At 11:30 MT and hope you are resting. I know it’s tough only cause I know what I get like when I don’t sleep. Like now. Ugh. I’m not nice.
    Just sharing it with someone, I believe, if a huge step. And see, we’re all still here. Can’t scare us off- and darn it, now we can pray. Specifically.
    I’m going back under my rock for awhile. But, I’m hugging you. Real tight.

  33. Susan P. says:

    Shannon, this is the first time I have commented but it really hit so close to home. I was going merrily about my life and then it “hit.” What?? The first panic attack. Since you suffer from them I need not tell you the terror involved. After the attack I was terrified of being alone and also sleeping. I was afraid to go to sleep. I was beyond exhaustion and thought I was going “nuts.” I think the whole thing was I had such a fear of the panic attacks returning that I was afraid to let myself relax. I was living in a constant state of fear and didn’t even know it. I finally had to seek help because I couldn’t function anymore. I was given some medication for help with the panic attacks and also something to help me sleep. It worked so well, I literally felt like I had a “second lease” on life. Before I felt hopeless and after getting the help I had hope and joy again. My point is that there are medications out there that can help you and are not addictive. I had always feared the addiction thing too but it got to the point where I HAD to do something. Just wanted you to know you are NOT ALONE and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  34. thebizofknowledge says:

    I stumbled upon this site as I was in the process of doing some online research. You are a very brave woman to look for deeper reasons for insomnia and see the link between other episodes in your life.

  35. Allthings2all says:

    Surf’n’Turf: 6-SEP-06

    Well I don’t do memes very often but recently did two in a row! That was not only fun but also provided a way to get to know some of you better. There are some more that have been posted so I’m looking forward to catching up with those. Thanks to eve…

  36. Nancy says:

    I found this through Catez at Allthings2all. What a lovely and honest post. I am sorry you are struggling with this — I know how important sleep is to me in order to function correctly. I hope you find the peace and rest that you need.

Comments are closed.