Lying awake in a friend’s bed, as she slept next to me, I realized that this monster – also known as insomnia – had not left me yet.
In my mid-20s, I never thought insomnia would be a part of my life. But two years after my diagnosis – a condition that affects 1 in 3 adults in the UK and is defined by the NHS as being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep more than three times a week – it had become life-changing.
Before going to bed, thoughts about my sleep pattern when planning the sleepover at a friend’s house had haunted me. The fear of not sleeping had become all too common in my daily life, but the thought of doing so in a different environment can also be paralyzing.
This wasn’t exactly the perfect recipe for winding down and relaxing for the night. Going away or staying with friends after parties or the occasional night in even became something I dreaded. Plagued by the feeling that a sleepless night also means a less vibrant body the next day; not to mention compensating for the next few days of poor sleep patterns.
What Happens During Insomnia?
Going through sleepless periods where I hadn’t slept well for four days (the longest stretch ever to date) turned me into a zombie. It wasn’t just staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come, it was doing everything that is usually advised: get up if you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes to do an activity and then settle back down. come, get tired and reset your body clock; reading a book at any hour of the night that felt more like a task than a pleasure; mentally planning extra plans in the week and wondering what your energy is worth; praying over and over for sleep while also trying not to care at all so that it would distract your brain and lull you to sleep; make sure to take all your herbal remedies, but don’t drink too many fluids before going to bed. The list goes on. The main question is how long your life can go on like this.
Insomnia is always there, in the background, even when you’re doing all your daily tasks; going to work, answering emails, and balancing a social life became all the more difficult while running on zero or little sleep. Not “getting enough sleep” is only so often excusable when you can’t meet work deadlines or have to cancel plans because you can’t be there physically, mentally, and emotionally. As such, having insomnia has shown me the dangers of invisible illnesses.
“For women, sleep problems may be worse if they experience hormonal fluctuations, such as changes in their menstrual cycle or menopausal symptoms,” says Dr Hana Patel, GP specialist in women’s health, sleep and Mindset Coach. Since our physical and mental health are interrelated, sleep is therefore influenced by the environment around us. I now realize that my insomnia may have been influenced by my hormonal changes, as well as a lack of vitamin D during the winter pandemic, especially as a woman of color. A vicious circle that all collapsed into each other.
‘During the winter when the daylight hours are less than in the summer, the brain is exposed to less light at night and this means our bodies produce more melatonin (the sleep hormone) which affects us by making us feel tired and ready to go to bed. This coincides with the changing of the seasons. With less sunlight, there is also less opportunity for the body to make vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels are associated with immunity, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, a change in mood,” says Dr. Patel.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also occur during the winter months and affect our mood, which can then affect around 3% of the UK population.
Can you get rid of insomnia?
“But go to sleep now”, “Try to relax” and “Have you tried CBD?” was often advised. But for the many people who struggle with sleep, it’s largely not sleep itself, but lying awake for hours and not being able to fall asleep or stay in a deep sleep.
There were days, weeks, months where I ate well, exercised well, had a great nighttime routine, and even made new sleep-related memories in my bedroom, resulting in sleepless nights that would settle when my body chose to finally fall asleep.
Not only did it make me realize how much our bodies needed sleep in the moments when I couldn’t get it, but it also made me realize how lucky I had been before not even considering it an option every night.
One life lesson I’ve learned through insomnia is to stop trying to control it. Now, when I have a few nights where sleep hormones aren’t released and my insomnia fuels stress and anxiety, the idea that everything is temporary and that true rest will eventually come has helped me the most.
That goes for Haya, 28, who works in technology and is also based in Liverpool. “I suffered from insomnia for a few years, but now I am much better. Some nights I only got a few hours of deep sleep. I didn’t take any medication. What has helped is just letting it be, a better diet, not panicking about the time when it gets late, putting my phone away and trusting God to put me to sleep and praying A LOT!” But for those who have no faith or belief system, Dr. Patel recommends a mix of looking at your environment and health from both a holistic and medical perspective.
What can you do to combat insomnia?
Dr. Patel suggests supplementing in the winter. “With the changing seasons to darker months, consider taking a vitamin D supplement in response to less sunlight and to counteract vitamin D deficiency symptoms, but to get outside and get as much light as possible.” to get.’
You also try to improve your sleep hygiene. “Temperature can affect us and it is advisable not to be too hot or too cold, look at clothes for warmer weather and dress in warm, thick beds at night as this can affect our sinuses and our sleep” , she adds. Consider spending more time outside the home such as exercising, walking, socializing outdoors, all of which can also help improve our mental health.
Certain nuts, milk before going to sleep, fish, nuts and rice can also help. Dr. Patel says to limit your alcohol and caffeine intake and try to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. You can also limit the use of electronic devices near bedtime, blackout blinds and a separate sleeping environment can also help.’ I’ve also found that taking ashwaganda or other herbal supplements containing melatonin and magnesium has helped me sleep better while trying to make sure I don’t eat too much sugar or preservative-rich foods before bed and eat enough fiber and veggies .
Like everything in life that has to be overcome and is still a daily hurdle playing in the back of our minds and coursing through our bodies, enduring insomnia meant we could relate to those who also suffer from a lack of sleep in their life. Listening to how they’re feeling – especially when people with insomnia usually feel like they’re complaining about the same thing over and over – and giving them space to vent. In addition to empathizing with those who are burned out and feeling vulnerable, insomnia has reminded me that being productive is not a reflection of who we are in life. That we all experience silent storms that are not always shouted about.
Sleep medication is a last resort for people suffering from insomnia, but it is also a choice many choose because of the fears surrounding sleep medication. Personally, I’ve talked to my GP about a lowest dosage for those weeks when my body hasn’t been able to sleep and sharing my concerns has helped my sleep health this year, further positively impacting my life.
‘Sleeping pills may be an appropriate measure for some people, and I would recommend talking to your GP about this to find out if a sleeping pill is the right treatment for you,’ says Dr Patel. ‘We also recommend CBT for insomnia, which helps you learn new strategies to sleep better. Treatment may include methods such as stress reduction, relaxation, and sleep schedule management.
Getting through these difficult years of insomnia has taught me more than anything to let go of control and trust my body to reset and figure out what needs to be done when my body thinks it’s best. Most of all, I’ve learned that seeking both holistic and medical help has allowed me to learn more about my body instead of fearing the unknown.
And above all, given my Islamic roots, everything is granted and in God’s hands. Usually our job is to let go and usually by then our body is able to surrender and allow sleep to take place.