I TOLD MYSELF . . .
I Told Myself That I wouldn’t Write About This. . . but, here I am, about to bore my gentle readers to tears over my tale of woe, and seeming success.
Anyone out there with insomnia? You might be the only ones who won’t be put to sleep by this post.
Almost one month ago, after decades of dealing with insomnia, I went for a sleep consultation at a nearby hospital. The doctor called my condition ‘Pure Insomnia,’ though I’m not at all sure about its purity. She said I was a poor candidate for spending the night hooked up to various things because I’d never fall asleep. I didn’t have sleep apnea because I didn’t sleep. She suggested Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
CBT. Of course, I was familiar with the term, but not the actual practice. It was torture for the first few days. Waterboarding looked like a fun way to pass the time.
How hard could it be to change a life-long habit? Hard. Maybe the first few days for a heroin addict, or an alcoholic, to go without their substance of choice might be more painful, but my experience was undoubtedly similar to physical and mental withdrawal. My end-of-the-day reward, my life-long habit of reading in bed, was about to be ripped from my life. I would not be permitted to snuggle up to a book in the comfort of my memory foam mattress and the nurturing love of my pillow. For three hours, 9 PM to midnight, I paced the floor outside the door of my bedroom, not allowed to enter lest I fall into temptation, and bed. I struggled mightily, not knowing what to do.
I carried on like this for a few nights until my husband suggested a movie. That passed some time. Knitting helped. But for some reason reading outside of my bed at night never felt right.
As I said, that was one month ago. I’m doing better now.
I don’t think that reading in bed caused my condition. After all, I’ve read in bed since I could, and that was early. I was the flashlight-under-the-blanket type of kid, unable to get up in the mornings because of the adventurous life I led before dawn. But, when insomnia began because of some cruel twist of fate, the reading habit exacerbated it. I’d lie in bed for hours after lights out waiting for sleep that never showed up. I’d lie in bed in the mornings hoping to catch some z’s and couldn’t. I’d lie in bed for ten hours to get 3 hours of sleep.
What the CBT did, through forced sleep deprivation (amusingly called Sleep Restriction Therapy), was to limit the time I could be in bed. An amount of sleep time was determined using hard, cold calculations, and a predetermined rising time set. For me, it was midnight to bed, and 6 AM to rise. Yes, 6 AM even if I didn’t sleep! Well, if I could sleep for the whole 6 hours, I would have twice as much sleep as I was getting, so I leapt at the proposal.
The first few nights, even after strenuous pacing, and pulling out my hair, I slept as usual. Lousy. Then the forced sleep deprivation took hold, and I slept almost the whole 6 hours.
No napping was allowed.
No lying in bed if I wasn’t sleeping.
No breaks, like sleeping in on the weekends. I was in the army now, my hand behind the plow.
CBT is not for the weak. But it is for the determined.
If, after every seven days, my actual sleeping time increased I’d be permitted to add 15 minutes to my allotted time. You have no idea how I look forward to that little reward. Like a prisoner in solitary who watches for the hand with the tin plate at the door slot, I looked forward to the hands of the clock moving toward my new bedtime. At the end of this week, I can hit the sack at 11 PM.
Still no books in bed, but I’m getting used to reading sprawled out on the sofa, fighting off sleep till I’m allowed to close my eyes in the sanctity of the bedroom.
Now, I don’t want to wake you if you’ve fallen asleep reading this, but I’m done.