I was inspired to write this blog after reading a blog by ‘the tudors make me tic’. (the name of the blog makes me smile every time due to the play on words) Thetudorsmakemetic.WordPress.Com
I have insomnia. That’s something I find difficult to say, for reasons that you might not expect. You see I have what I’ve termed as ‘the naughty insomnia’. This isn’t the type of insomnia where you lie awake in the dark for hours unable to sleep, nor is it the type of insomnia where you wake up frequently or sleep badly (though I experience this too). Instead it’s the type of insomnia where you put off going to sleep for reasons of anxiety and issues with executive functioning. I feel ashamed when I say I have this type of insomnia. Because of the fact I struggle to follow sleep hygiene rules I feel like this is my fault. Occasionally this will be triggered further by someone lightheartedly saying something such as ‘you’ve only got yourself to blame’, the odd post online of someone saying that this isn’t insomnia, or even seeing others have success with sleep hygiene techniques.
Previously I’ve called it ‘nocturnal anxiety’ but that is just one of the issues. Here is a long list of the problems I have with sleep.
Delayed sleep phase issues – throughout my life I’ve had difficulty sleeping at a reasonable hour. I never made it to school on time and I’d sneak downstairs to watch TV when everyone was asleep even when I was 5. I also know that my sleep quality is usually better in the mornings. I know this in part because I often fall asleep quite quickly after breakfast.
Issues exacerbated by lack of light.
Due to severe light sensitivity I live in low lighting with the curtains shut. The only natural light I see is that whicu comes around the curtains. It’s not enough to help my brain work out what night and day are, or to prevent things like SAD. I just don’t get the cue that it’s night time and so it’s time to sleep.
Anxiety and being triggered
This is a biggy. I become anxious at night. Additionally if something happens before sleep or during my pa assistance for the evening my brain and body go in to a state of anxiety. If something triggers me (even something small) then I can find myself unable to sleep until 5,6,even 11am. My brain starts telling me I have to stay awake because it’s not safe not to – except it doesn’t do that in words so I have no way of reasoning with it. It’s just a deep sense of dread of sleep along with feeling quite awake and/or becoming less able to identify signals that sleepiness is happening.
Depression – clinging on to doing things in the hours I am more capable
I’m more capable in the early hours. I don’t know how much of it is adrenaline but for example I am writing this blog at 3.40am and although I know theoretically that I’m exhausted, I’m also formulating sentences and ideas so much better than I would during the day. Why sleep when my day has contained so little and yet right now I feel able to do stuff? The motivation just isn’t there. Of course that doesn’t mean there are not repercussions if I do overdo it! Like many people with depression feelings of loneliness and isolation are worse at night. Switching things off makes me feel the most alone.
Resting during the day
I have no choice but to rest during the day. Total silence, total darkness, lying flat. Sometimes I fall asleep, sometimes I don’t but i know it disturbs my body’s sense of when it is time to sleep.
Executive functioning issues – lack of body awareness.
This is an interesting one as it ties in to my experiences of physical illness. I am not very good at knowing how I am feeling both emotionally and physically. I don’t often experience hunger for example (i eat on a schedule), and I rarely experience tiredness in the form of sleepiness. When I do it gets muddled with the sensations of debilitating fatigue. I don’t experience the normal healthy person experience of feeling tired before sleep and then refreshed after sleep. In fact one feature of my condition is unrefreshed sleep and I can actually find myself feeling more tired when i wake up then when I first went to sleep. This again doesn’t help motivate me to try!
Executive function issues – task switching
I also have trouble switching tasks which relates to being neurodiverse. I struggle to just decide to switch to an audiobook and turn the screen off for example. Part of it is forgetting this is an option because I’m hyperfocussed, but also interestingly its these small transitions that are the biggest ‘change’ related anxiety in my day. My brain often just melts at the thought of it. If you think of sleep and rest as a task then in the same way it’s very difficult for me to just switch abruptly from one activity to sleep. Something I am working on is transitioning from one task to another. For example putting a podcast on whilst browsing online, then gradually moving to just listening before sleeping. One of the problems with this is remembering to do it. One feature of neurodiversity and in particular autism is becoming obsessive and hyperfocussed on a topic. I haven’t had a ‘special subject’ as such for a while but when I start looking in to something I get totally engrossed and can do this for hours. The last few nights this has been powerchairs. I know quite a lot about the higher spec chairs available on the market and seating systems available as I’ve researched so much over the years in similarly obsessive streaks. I do the same with health treatment related things (though I can’t read research). This carries the additional problem of being an emotive topic because I am quite unwell at the moment and a powerchair is quite a way off… But my brain is obsessing about finding something that will eventually meet my needs, so that I’m prepared (as if that will somehow move it closer) .
I dont fall asleep whilst doing things
I don’t naturally just fall asleep in front of the screen or whilst listening to something like others do. It’s incredibly rare, no matter how tired I am. I fall asleep quickly when I am not occupied – as long as it is timed right. ‘But this is what sleep hygiene and the no screens rule is for!’ I hear you cry!… Nope. I am working on it, I truly am but right now there are many reasons why I find myself online late at night, some of which I’ve mentioned and some I have not. Crucially I do not know when that magic moment is when I would be able sleep. My best guess is that I am doing things for several hours after that point but due to my anxiety I’m scared to stop when I won’t fall asleep.
side effects from sleep medication
I think it’s possible I’m having paradoxical side effects and they’re keeping me awake after I’ve taken them. Also though I feel absolutely awful when I first wake up on these meds – more so than previously. This leads me to need sleep or else I will feel very ill. This leads to me usually not starting my day until 4pm or 4.30pm as I’ve needed to sleep straight after a (fast as possible) morning routine which perpetuates the cycle of staying awake.
I hope this blog has given you some insight that not following sleep hygiene doesn’t mean someone is lazy, and there could be a variety of reasons why they can’t sleep besides the more widely known forms of insomnia.