Since you are reading this, I am going to assume that you’ve experienced this torturous miserable condition. I’ve always been an excellent sleeper till I had my second daughter. It was as if I completely lost any ability to sleep and with a colicky baby, I needed to sleep. Badly. I was promptly prescribed Ambien, extended release Ambien, Trazadone, etc. Few worked if any and only for 2-3 hours. I would take 2 Ambien pills and get 3-4 hrs of sleep and that morning hangover, ugh, that was miserable. I saw a slew of doctors, had my thyroid tested over and over; I saw every healer, acupuncturist, anyone that thought they would be able to help. Meanwhile, I had 2 children and a husband who needed their mother and wife back. Sleep, though, remained elusive. I slept a few hours, then stayed up for a few, then slept. 2-3 yrs into it my hair started falling out, all of a sudden I had melasma all over my face and while I had never been a particularly patient person, I definitely wasn’t one then. I’ll save you from all the little stories, I am sure you have a few of your own. It is a cruel cruel thing to be stripped from your ability to function normally.
I tried a sleep center where a nice man nicely explained that I should keep a set schedule and not drink coffee at night. I knew all that. It didn’t help. I kept thinking I surely have a condition and once the doctors find it, I will be cured and instantly start sleeping 8-9 hours a night. Nope. Every year I’d gear up to fix this, see bunch of doctors and then give up. Last year I was begging my primary to help me get better as my girls had stood by the wishing well and both threw in coins and wished mommie could sleep again. “NO, mommie is too tired to xxx” is something they heard too often. Primary recommended antidepressants (I was crying), I didn’t take them. I didn’t need a band-aid, I needed sleep. Very very very expensive endocrinologist found some problems but nothing that explained my insomnia. And then I came across something called Sleep Restriction Therapy.
SRT has been around for awhile, go ahead and google it to get extra info, but I can tell you very scientifically that it sucks ass but absolutely works IF done right. It works better than Ambien in several studies and more importantly, gives you the chance to have the tools to do something about which I hate to tell you can very likely be something you’ll have to deal with for the rest of your life. Back to SRT, remember when you sleep-trained your babies? You’ll have to teach your body now how to sleep because your body can coast on few hours here and there and quickly adapt to doing so. The basic idea is this: you will severely restrict your sleep time till you have brought your body to complete and utter exhaustion. You need to take yourself down. It is exactly as much fun as it sounds. Imagine your normal sleep patterns in your brain as a river. For whatever reason, the neurons are out the river bed, flowing all over the place. When they cross the river here and there, you sleep. But what you need to do is FORCE all this mess back to the river bed. So lyrical. Here’s how:
It will take 2-3 weeks in my experience to work but if you are half-assing it, it wont work as well and eventually you’ll be not sleeping again. Ground rules: NO NAPPING. You can have 2 cups of coffee in the morning and that’s it. You must work out every single day. Cardio is great, even if its only 20 min. Tell everyone you are doing it so it will be too embarassing to back out. If at possible, take the first week off from work. I managed to drive around etc but it was really hard.
Week 1: you will only be in your bed from 12 pm (or 11:45) to 5 am. No reading etc in your bed, you will only to go there to sleep. Set an alarm and drag yourself out at 5. Go to kitchen, turn on every light (you need to get your body to wake up and think its daytime, during the winter, it will still be dark and depressing outside). I thought that’s fine, I don’t sleep anyhow, I’ll just watch TV but OMG I could not stay awake! Don’t even plan on sitting on the couch as you will fall asleep. Read, do laundry, chores, whatever. I would go out at 11 pm in the rain to walk, otherwise I was falling asleep. Take cold showers. Whatever you do, stay up.
First few nights were absolutely miserable. I was pretty muchawake in bed the whole time and fell asleep right before alarm went off. IT SUCKED. So bad. And here’s why you need to tell everyone – you will become so grumpy that you’ll sorely test everyone’s patience. You’ll be dizzy and tired and angry. Eye on the prize though! If you are sleeping through without waking up for at least 2 nights, you can add 15 min to your sleep time, go to bed 11:45. IF you sleep through from 11:45 to 5 am for 2 days, add another 15 min. But 15 min, not an hour!
Week 2: for most, week 2 is much much better. But here’s a catch, if you sleep from let’s say 11:30 to 5 am, you will be tempted to go whole hog and go to bed at 10 pm (you will be tired and it will be SO tempting) and sleep till you wake up on your own. Sounds so good but you will mess up this whole thing and the torture of week 1 will be for nothing. Baby steps. Easy does it. Keep doing 15 min adds and wait a few nights before making any changes. If you wake up at night or can’t fall asleep, limit sleep again to 5 hours but no less than 4 hrs.
I’ve seen reviews where people complain about SRT not working because it made them feel awful (duh!) and because they didn’t get better sleep but didn’t quite follow the rules. You can’t take a recipe, add some random ingredients and omit others and expect a stellar outcome. Obviously, go rule out other issues but for most, in my humble and untrained/uncertified opinion, this works. It did for me after 5 years of chronic debilitating insomnia. My hair is growing back. My husband likes me a whole lot more. My kids are happier.
But here’s a fly in this ointment. It is likely a permanent condition. Meaning that even though you’ve wrestled this river back to its bed and are enjoying 7-9 hr sleep, insomnia will come back. After 6 months of blissful deep sleep, feeling tired and going to bed and promptly falling asleep, we sold our house, bought a new one and had to stay with friends for a few weeks, my sleep patterns got all messed up again. So I am back to retraining myself. But at least I know there’s something I can do about it.
Good luck my friends!