I never used to have sleep problems, not that I remember, anyway. But when I developed asthma, in my thirties, for about a year and half I was up till 3 or 4 in the morning coughing and hacking, until we finally hit on the right regimen to manage it. Then after that, I was up till 3 or 4 in the morning because I was taking theophylline, which is in the same pharmaceutical family as caffeine, with similar effects. Then I became a gigging musician who frequently had to drive home after midnight; while I have the welcome ability to stay awake while driving, even when I'm tired, when I get home from such a drive it takes me a long time to reverse the effects of whatever it was that allows me to stay alert. Then came menopause, and nearly 3 years of springing totally wide awake at 3am, no matter what time I went to sleep. Now, my ability to fall asleep is frequently compromised by aches and pains and gout as well as respiratory infections, so all in all, I do not have an easy relationship with Morpheus.
But that's not the only problem.
I've always been a secret eater, much to my great shame. I remember the most humiliating moment of my young life being when the cleaning lady found a paper bag with empty cookie boxes in my closet and told my parents, who took away my allowance and made me come right home after school so I couldn't buy extraneous food. In my adult life, I've done most of my eating for other than hunger reasons late at night, waiting till everyone else in the house is asleep. This frequently means staying up well past the point at which my body wants to go to sleep.
Over the past five years, as I've dealt with a lot of the underlying issues that have kept me from successful weight management, my urge to eat inappropriately has lessened a great deal, and as a result I've been able to sleep much better and more easily. But there are times still when I get into bed at a very reasonable time, feeling tired and ready to sleep, but the minute I hit the mattress, my knee and my ankle and my toes all start to hurt, and/or I start coughing, and within minutes I'm wide awake and feeling anxious and completely stressed out about not being able to fall asleep. Meditating and listening to soothing music don't help, nor does focusing on my breath, so I end up feeling like a rotisserie chicken until I finally feel compelled to get out of bed and head for the kitchen. Food still soothes, most of the time, and quiets something in my brain (something about seratonin) so that I can finally fall asleep. If it doesn't soothe, it helps pass the time until I get so tired I can't help but fall asleep.
This is obviously not an optimal situation. Recent research has suggested that lack of sufficient sleep can contribute to weight gain (or failure to lose weight) through a number of mechanisms. Sleep deprivation can also contribute to feelings of stress, and hamper one's ability to problem solve or be mindful. And last night I got first-hand knowledge of another benefit of a decent night's sleep.
I've been plagued, since I arrived on Sunday, with a lot of ankle pain and pain in my knee, presumably the result of being much more active, especially on stairs. I've also had some break-out gout pain in my big toes, and some asthma. The net result is that when I lie down in bed, everything starts to hurt. And, as I described above, I start to agitate about not being able to sleep or wake up early and can't fall back to sleep, etc. etc.
Of course, since I have been doing a lot of strength training since I've been here, I had acquired a whole lot more aches and pains and stiffness. In fact, by dinnertime last night, I could barely get up out of my chair to hobble back to my room. So when bedtime came around, I decided to take a tramalol, which is one of the few painkillers I can take that doesn't interact adversely with my blood pressure. I usually take it only when I am in such discomfort that I can't sleep, and it seems to allow my muscles all to relax. Consequently, I slept really well, and this morning it was like magic -- all the muscle aches and pains were gone. Better living through chemistry!
Clearly, I need to do something about my difficulties with sleep. While I don't see a clear way ahead at this particular moment, I am confident that with the help of the folks here and my own prodigious problem-solving skills, I'll figure it out eventually. Until then, I have to do whatever I can to keep the sleeve of care from ravelling further.
A hui hou.