The Need to Sleep

Sleep deprivation can be a dangerous thing. I know that if I go without enough sleep (which to me is 7 hours or less a night – we all have our own comfort zone) I feel as if I have a hangover (I don’t drink alcohol but can keenly remember back in those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end what it is like). Sometimes I feel as if worrying about insomnia causes insomnia. It has been a major challenge in my life and also in the lives of most of us who were sexually abused as a child. My father raping me in the middle of the night when I was thirteen resulted in for most of my life the fear of falling asleep. It was a double edged sword. I knew if I didn’t get enough sleep my life the next day would be difficult. But my sub-conscious mind feared that if I fell asleep something horrible was going to come over me, suffocating me like a steamroller.

During those years I used sleeping pills (not a good idea for more than one reason but the main one is that most adults who were sexually abused when they were young are also suicidal). Twice in my life I woke up in a Psychiatric Ward after having taken an overdose of pills. I had many solutions as to how to cope with the day after a lack of sleep. I drank a lot of coffee, which meant I was guaranteed to have trouble sleeping that night as well. I redid my makeup a couple times a day, scrubbing my face, entreating it to wake up, I chain smoked, I furiously brushed my hair and massaged my scalp. Mostly what that did was annoy other workers who wanted to use the bathroom that I was hogging.

Once I completed recovery I rarely had a problem with insomnia and once I retired I just slept in. No problem. But periodically I have a bout of it again. Sometimes I can pinpoint why, a worrisome problem, too much salt, phone calls shortly before I turn out the light and other things that most people are not troubled by. Some medications can result in insomnia. Talk to your doctor about this to see if he needs to make a change.

Despite the mood swings, grogginess, and lack of focus associated with chronic sleep loss, several potentially dangerous results happen as a result of long-term sleep loss and sleep deprivation (normally defined as six hours or less per night).  According to the University of Chicago Medical Center to research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  • High blood pressure
  • It can negatively effect your DNA, by disrupting and restricting healthy gene activity in genes responsible for essential biological functions—such as circadian rhythms, lowers immunity, negative stress response, dysfunctional metabolism, and more
  • Increases the risk of Type II diabetes
  • Heightens the risk of heart disease; your chances of dying from coronary heart disease (CHD) from too little sleep almost double.
  • Increased obesity
  • Increased aging; a full night’s sleep is your skin’s best friend
  • Increased risk of stroke

It’s been said that more than fifty percent of us suffer at one time or another from insomnia, especially the elderly.  I had always thought that one of the blessings of growing older was that you’d now be able to get all the sleep you want.  Not so. For a variety of reasons the elderly suffer a great deal from this problem. Ironically enough I read once that the single most important ingredient required in longevity is plenty of sleep.  Over the years it’s plagued me to the point of desperation.  Many a night I have been unable to sleep for hours because of worrying about insomnia.  If that doesn’t make you crazy nothing will.  What to do? No one has a magic formula.  Some things work and some only work for a short time. If you type insomnia into Google it will take you to a wealth of websites that are informed and may present a solution. Although I have blogged on this before I would like again to reacquaint you with some of my own.

  • Keep caffeine intake to a minimum.
  • Use salt sparingly, if at all.
  • A hot bath with a good book, soft music, and a lighted candle (white for serenity) has a calming effect before bedtime.
  • Eat early in the evening and avoid large meals at that time if possible.
  • Always retire at the same time.
  • Avoid the use of prescription sleeping pills if at all possible. They only compound the problem as your body becomes dependent on them and can no longer fall asleep on its own.
  • Establish a comforting and stabilizing ritual prior to bedtime, i.e. lay out clothes for the next day, brush your teeth and bathe, set the clock, read something bland for a few minutes before turning the light out.
  • Avoid intense and worrisome phone calls before retiring, as well as any late-night dealings that may encourage stress (paying bills right before bed time will usually insure tossing and turning).
  • Don’t exercise to excess in the evening- a short walk perhaps to ease tensions. Keep in mind that daily exercise, especially the kind that elevates your heart rate, improves sleep.
  • Make sure the room temperature is comfortable.
  • If you begin to toss and turn, get out of bed and fix a glass of warm milk or non-caffeine herb tea. Since insomnia intensifies once you begin worrying about it, anything you can do to distract yourself, eliminates the problem (especially emptying the dishwasher).

And for entertainment value I’d like to share a poem I wrote one night while suffering from insomnia.

Insomnia is a room

Where all my torments dwell.

They lie in wait to persecute

And make my life a hell.

At night they march in front of me,

While I sort them one by one.

They permeate my mental state

Then make me want to run,

And hide beneath a willow tree,

Where grass lies at my feet,

And ruminate on nothingness,

Until I fall asleep.

A word to the wise. If you have not gone through recovery from child sexual abuse I highly recommend that you start now. Regardless of your age it can change your life from misery to being the happiest person you know. I highly recommend you getting a copy of Repair Your Life, 2nd edition and begin working the program. Information on how the program works and how to order your copy are on our website at www.thelamplighters.org.

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