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Up all night – Dealing with insomnia.

*This blog post has been written during lockdown due to corona virus. All the stuff I’m saying in it applies to normal life, I understand it’s very difficult when you’re not able to keep a “normal” schedule or go out and exercise etc. I’ll try and put a side note on the parts that I think are affected by corona!*

This is part of my “dealing with chronic illness” series! Or it will be when I sort the other ones out that I want to be part of this series!

Insomnia is described as an inability to sleep. Now, lots of people have problems sleeping every now and then, heck, I was up until 4am last night because I couldn’t sleep (hence this blog happening!). Insomnia is a bit more than just not being able to sleep though. Insomnia can be broken down into 5 categories:

– Difficulty falling asleep
– waking up lots during the night
– not being able to get back to sleep
– waking too early
– very un-refreshing sleep.

16 million adults in the UK are said to suffer with some kind of insomnia, that works out at roughly 1 in 3.

Causes of insomnia:

– Anxiety, stress and depression are the biggest culprits for insomnia. People with MH problems tend to lose more sleep than healthy people. At the moment with the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a massive spike in insomnia cases with people being worried about either catching it themselves or someone they love being affected by it.
– Noise. If your bedroom is noisy at night, be it from within or outside the house, this can cause insomnia, cause let’s face it, how many people would be able to sleep if there was a party going on in the next house?

– Unsuitable sleeping environments – If you are lying on a floor in someones house after a house party, you’re guaranteed to not get a good nights sleep. It’s just common sense. Make sure you have a proper environment to sleep. Even if you’re camping in a tent in the middle of the peak district, you need to have some kind of mat or airbed and a sleeping bag. A dedicated area for you to sleep in is important. How many people do you know that go to sleep lying on a kitchen floor with tin foil as a duvet? Not very many I’d imagine. if, like me, you spend a large amount of time in hospital, you’ll also find it’s almost impossible to sleep properly. There’s always lots going on, even at night. You’ve got fellow patients (unless you’re lucky enough to get a side room), nurses coming in and out regularly to check on you and check your blood pressure etc. This isn’t a suitable sleeping environment, but you have to try and muddle through. I’ll talk a little bit more about how to deal with insomnia in hospital a little later on in another blog.

– Recreational drugs, alcohol and caffeine all can cause severe insomnia. Many drugs, such as ecstasy and methamphetamine are going to keep you awake all night as you ride the high, then come crashing down to earth again when you hit the comedown phase. This is a massive problem for people who use recreational drugs, and you’ll find a lot of them, even those in recovery and sober, will tell you that they will still struggle to sleep. But a lot of it is down to mental health problems as well. But we don’t need to go into that bit. Caffeine is a massive stimulant, and lets face it, we’ve all drank something highly caffeinated when we’ve needed to stay awake for something important. While I’m at uni, I can go through red bull/tea/monster at a fair rate. Not the best thing to do, and I’m aware that I’m a total hypocrite!

– Medications – A lot of prescription medications can cause insomnia. Sometimes it’s not the actual effects of the medication, but the side effects. Salbutamol (ventolin for easy sakes, or a blue asthma inhaler) can cause shakiness and a fast heart rate. I find if my heart rate is a bit fast, I can hear it in my ears and it’s been known to stop me sleeping for hours until the side effects have worn off.

– Pain – Pain is a massive contributor to insomnia. I have a few friends who could testify to that, and having spent a long time in a lot of pain with Avascular Nerosis in my hips (again, another blog!), I barely got a decent nights sleep for about 3 years. If pain is something that you’re finding is keeping you awake, that’s a marker that you need to be seeing your GP to find out what’s going on.

Dealing with your insomnia.

There is a lot of ways to deal with insomnia, it just depends on how yours affects you, but most cases of long term insomnia are actually treatable without medication.

Insomnia Dos and don’ts.

Dos

– Keep a sleep schedule. Go to bed around the same time every night and try and get up around the same time each morning

– Relax an hour before bed. Try to spend an hour chilling out reading/chatting or just chilling out an hour before bed. Your body will thank you for it!

– Try and keep active during the day. During lockdown it’s very difficult if you’re not allowed to leave the house to keep active during the day, specially if you’re not well enough to get out of the house, but there’s LOADS of things you can try doing if you feel up to do it on YouTube. Yoga, tai chi and things like Wii Fit are really useful at the minute.

– Try and make your room as dark as possible. Close your curtains and turn off the lights when you’re about to go to sleep. This helps your body clock know that darkness means sleep.

Insomnia don’ts.

– Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine 6 hours before bed. For most people this would be no more booze or coffee after about 5 or 6pm depending on when you go to bed. I know a lot of coffee addicts who would have a problem with that, and being a university student, I can hands up admit I don’t stick to that rule, ecspecially if an assignment is due in. But you can only try your best!

– Eat loads before bed. Having a heavy meal around bedtime is a bad idea. You go to bed feeling bloated and full and it’s just not a comfortable way to be trying to get to sleep.

– Exercise before bed. Exercises releases a lot of hormones that get you hyped up. It’s what gives you the energy to exercise! You don’t want to be exercising before bed, as I said above, relaxing an hour or so before bed is really important because it makes your body realise that it doesn’t need to release the energy to keep you awake.

– Nap. Napping during the day if you’re struggling with insomnia is a bad idea, as much as it might feel otherwise. You’re much less likely to be able to get a full nights sleep if you’ve had to nap during the day. Obviously I do understand there’s a lot of people with chronic illnesses that really do need to nap during the day, and I’m as bad for it as well. When I’m not well I tend to nap during the day, purely because my body tells me I need to. But because of my whacky body, I do manage to sleep pretty well most nights. As with everything I say on here, there is exceptions to the rule, and I don’t want people coming after me with pitchforks because they’re angry from not getting their nap!

– Live in your bedroom. A lot of the advice about insomnia will tell you that spending a lot of time in your bedroom during the day is a bad thing, and that bedrooms are for sleeping in. So try and sit in your living room/lounge/wherever you can chill out during the day. Even if it means dragging your duvet and pillow into the living room and building a nest in your living room, it’s better than spending all day in your bedroom. As above, there are exceptions to the rule. I’m also bad for this one and spend a lot of time in my room. I am getting better at trying to drag myself into my living room and watching telly or farting around on my computer. But yea, try and not spend a lot of time in your room during the day.

Treating insomnia

A lot of this is stuff we covered in the “dos and don’ts” but it doesn’t hurt to just go back over it.

– Practicing good sleep hygiene:
– bedtime and getting up time about the same everyday
– bedroom for sleeping
– no alcohol or big feeds before bedtime. Night caps aren’t a good plan!

– Warm drinks at bedtime (not coffee or caffeine drinks!). Drinks like warm milk and hot chocolate release a chemical in your body called trypotophan which makes a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin acts in your brain to make another hormone called melatonin which makes you feel sleepy. So warm drinks before bedtime is definitely something to try if you’re struggling.

– Mindfulness or Meditation. A lot of people swear by mindfulness and meditation around bedtime to help them relax. I use an app called “headspace” which has dedication meditations to help with sleep. Definitely worth a try if you’re struggling to get off to sleep.

– Medication is something that I think anyone with insomnia thinks about at some point. But it is generally prescribed as a very last resort kind of thing. It’s really easy to get addicted to sleeping tablets and I find they leave me a big groggy the next day. Doctors will always try and use every other trick in the book before prescribing sleeping tablets. So don’t get your hopes up if you got and see your GP looking for sleeping tablets if you haven’t tried the things listed above first and given them all a good chance to work.

When to see your GP.

– If you’ve done absolutely everything I’ve listed above and you’re still not sleeping right, then it’s time to go and see your GP.

– If your insomnia has been going on for more than about 4-6 weeks.

– If your insomnia is accompanied by other changes in your body.

– Making it so you’re unable to manage daily tasks due to exhaustion, like school/work/uni.

These are all good reasons to see your GP about your insomnia, but sometimes there’s just no simple answers as to why you’re not sleeping. And that gets frustrating, but it’s then that practicing things like good sleep hygiene is crucial because you’ll be making it harder and harder to get to sleep.

My hypocritical bits

– So as much as I bang on about sleep hygiene and things to do to help, I can be the biggest hypocrite going. But there’s lots of reasons why people can’t follow, or seriously struggle to follow the advice. People with severe, chronic illness or mental health problems are most likely to spend a lot of time in their bedrooms. And that’s OK. It’s a lot to take in. But following maybe one of the pieces of advice at a time is the best way to help you. Like maybe introducing a warm drink at bedtime? Doing that for a bit and then going on to trying to not have any alcohol for a few hours before bed. The important bit it that you’re trying!

– These are strange times we live in, and as a result people’s routines and ways of living have been thrown up in the air and scattered all over the place. There’s very little to do during the day and people get bored. Those of us who can’t work are getting more and more fed up and some people have TVs in their rooms and find themselves lying in bed watching TV, or like me, sitting on their bed colouring in/playing the PS4 or blogging. But that’s something I’m aware I need to get better at.

So, to do a bit of a recap

– You need to get about 6-8 hours sleep a night.

– If you’re struggling to get to sleep, practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed at a reasonable time and not playing on your phone for ages first.

– Have a warm drink before going to bed.

– Don’t have any caffeine about 6 hours before bed.

– See your GP if it’s been a problem for more than about 4 weeks and you’ve tried all the advice I’ve given above!

*Everything I’ve written in this blog comes from personal experience and some googling. I’m not a health professional in any way. Everyone is totally different and have different situations that may make it difficult for you to follow any of the advice given. Don’t feel obligated to do what I say, you’re your own person!

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