As I lay awake in a friend’s bed while she slept next to me, I realized that this monster — aka insomnia — hadn’t left me yet.
In my mid-twenties, I never thought insomnia would be a part of my life. But two years after my diagnosis – a disorder that affects 1 in 3 adults in the UK and is classified by the NHS as not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep more than 3 times a week – it became life changing.
Before I went to bed, thoughts about my sleep pattern had spiraled me into planning a sleepover at a friend’s house. The fear of not sleeping had become all too common in my day-to-day life, but the thought of doing so in a different environment could also be debilitating.
This wasn’t exactly the perfect recipe to wind down and wind down for the night. In fact, it became something I dreaded going out after parties or staying at friends’ or the occasional sleepover. Plagued by this feeling that a sleepless night also means a less vital body the next day; not to mention making up for the next few days with poor sleep patterns.
What Happens During Insomnia?
Persistent bouts of insomnia, where I hadn’t slept properly for four days (the longest stretch in a row to date) turned me into a zombie. It wasn’t just staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep, it was doing everything that’s usually recommended: getting up if you don’t fall asleep in 15 minutes, doing an activity just to calm yourself down, to tire your body and restart clock; reading a book at any time of the night that felt more like a chore than a pleasure; mentally plan any additional plans for the week and ask yourself what your energy is worth; praying for sleep over and over again while trying not to bother at all so that it would be distracting and lull your brain to sleep; Make sure you take all of your herbal remedies, but don’t drink too many fluids before bed. The list goes on. More than anything, it makes you wonder how long your life can go on like this.
Insomnia is always there, in the background, even when you’re doing all your everyday chores; Going to work, replying to emails, and balancing a social life became all the more difficult when getting by on zero or little sleep. “Not getting enough sleep” is just as often excusable when you can’t keep work deadlines or have to cancel plans because you can’t be physically, mentally, and emotionally present. As such, insomnia has shown me the dangers of unseen diseases.
“For women, sleep problems can be worse when they’re suffering from hormonal fluctuations, such as changes in their menstrual cycle or menopausal symptoms,” she says Dr Hana Patel, general practitioner for women’s health, sleep and mindset coach. As our physical and mental health are interconnected, sleep is therefore influenced by the environment around us. I now realize that my insomnia may have been affected by my hormonal changes, but also a result of not getting enough vitamin D during the winter pandemic, especially as a woman of color. A vicious circle that all influenced each other.
“In winter, when daylight hours are shorter than in summer, the brain is exposed to less light in the evening and this means our body produces more melatonin (the sleep hormone), making us tired and ready for bed. This, in turn, matches the changing of the seasons. With less sunlight, the body also has fewer opportunities to make vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to immunity, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and mood swings,” says Dr. patel
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also strike during the winter months and can affect our mood, affecting around 3% of the UK population.
Is it possible to get rid of insomnia?
“But go to sleep already”, “Try to relax” and “Have you tried CBD?” was often advised. But for the many people who struggle with sleep, most of the time it’s not sleep itself, but either lying awake for hours and not falling asleep, or staying in deep sleep.
There were days, weeks, months when I ate well, exercised right, had a great night routine, and even made new sleep-related memories in my bedroom, only to result in sleepless nights that would acquiesce if my body decided , finally falling asleep.
Not only did I realize how much our bodies needed sleep at times when I couldn’t get one, but it also made me realize how lucky I was before that I hadn’t even considered it every night.
One life lesson insomnia has taught me is to stop trying to control it. Now, when I have a few nights where no sleep hormones are released and my insomnia fuels stress and anxiety, what has helped me the most is the idea that everything is temporary and that real rest will eventually come.
That applies to 28-year-old Haya, who works in the technical field and also lives in Liverpool. “I had really bad insomnia for a few years but it’s much better now. Some nights I only got a few hours of deep sleep. I didn’t take any medication. What has helped is just letting go, eating better, not panicking about the time when it gets late, putting my phone away and trusting God to allow me to sleep and LOTS of prayer!’ However, for those who have no faith or belief system, Dr. Patel mixes looking at your environment and health from both a holistic and medical perspective.
What can you do about insomnia?
dr Patel suggests winter supplementation. “As the seasons move toward darker months, consider taking a vitamin D supplement to respond to less sunlight and counteract vitamin D deficiency symptoms, but to get as much light as possible. “
You’re also trying to improve your sleep hygiene. “Temperature can affect us, and it’s wise to be neither too hot nor too cold, mindful of warmer-weather clothing, and put on warm, thick linens at night, as this can affect our sinuses and sleep,” she adds . Consider spending more time outdoors, e.g. For example, exercising, going for a walk, or socializing outside can all help improve our mental health as well.
Certain nuts, milk before bed, fish, nuts, and rice may also help. dr Patel says you should limit your alcohol and caffeine intake and try to regulate your sleep/wake cycle. You can also limit electronic device use near bedtime, blacking out blinds, and having 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 fall asleep while trying to make sure I’m not eating too much sugar or foods with lots of preservatives before bed and eating enough fiber and vegetables.
Like everything in life that has to be overcome and is still a daily hurdle playing in the back of our minds and running through our bodies, the ongoing insomnia has meant being able to relate to those who are also sleep deprived and have lived their lives. Listen to how they’re feeling — especially when insomniacs usually feel like they’re complaining about the same thing over and over again — and give 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 go through silent storms that aren’t always shouted about.
Sleeping pills are a last resort for those suffering from insomnia, but it’s also a choice many endure over turning to sleeping pills based on fears. Personally, talking to my GP about the lowest dosage for the weeks my body was unable to sleep and sharing my concerns has helped improve my sleep health this year, which has continued to have a positive impact on my life.
“Sleeping pills can be an appropriate course of action for some people, and I would recommend talking to your GP about it to find out if a sleeping pill is the right treatment for you,” shares Dr. Patel with. “We also advise CBT for insomnia, which will help you learn new strategies to sleep better. Treatment may include methods such as stress reduction, relaxation, and sleep schedule management.’
Enduring those difficult years of insomnia taught me more than anything to let go of control and trust my body to reset itself and figure out what needs to be done when my body thinks it’s best. What I have learned more than anything else is that seeking both holistic and medical help has allowed me to learn more about my body instead of fearing the unknown.
And above all, because of my Islamic roots, everything is natural and in God’s hands. Our job most of the time is to let go, and usually by then our body is able to surrender and allow sleep.