Saturday, January 28, 2012

All Night Long...

My sleep schedule used to be so messed up. To say that I had insomnia would be the same as calling a hurricane a light summer shower. Before the Crohn's manifestation, I could sleep full nights with no issues. Even when I lived in Alaska and the sun was up almost 24 hours, all I had to do was close the shades and I could get a good "nights" sleep. When the Crohn's Disease hit, that is when everything changed. It wasn't an instantaneous change, but a gradual change in my night-time routine.

The first thing to disrupt my sleep was the pain. We have all been there. A great dream in a deep sleep is occurring when out of no where something releases that 50-ton wrecking ball with spikes in your gut. If you can show me anyone that can sleep through that, I will show you a dog that teaches collegiate English Literature. Hyperboles aside, that pain caused the start of my sleep deficit. I can't tell anyone just how tired I was, I would pass out only to be jolted awake by the pain. Then I was finally diagnosed with Crohn's Disease.

Many people blame the medications as the cause of their insomnia; they are only partially correct. I really do believe that the pain is the initial cause of any sleep problems, everything after that just compounds the issue. The medications helped with the pain, but I had never paid back that sleep deficit. Even with the pain somewhat managed, the medications were now playing havoc with my system. Sleep was still an elusive commodity that my body couldn't seem to acquire. Before the medicine, I was able to at least fall asleep -- or pass out from exhaustion -- for a small amount of time. After the medicine, no matter how tired I felt and no matter how much I lay down, my body wouldn't even sleep for a short amount of time. I found myself awake until 2am-3am in the morning doing homework or odd tasks around the home trying to make certain that I didn't wake any of the other 5 people in my family. I would eventually fall out at that time, but then I would have to be up for high school around 6am. The mental and physical fatigue was over-bearing. I was at a point where I needed something to help with the situation.

At this point, I started to add stimulants, like caffeine, into my diet. I started drinking a lot of Coca-Cola throughout the day in order to keep me moving. The sugar and caffeine high kept me moving and helped me to ignore the need for sleep to a point. The stress of no sleep was too much for my body and I found myself having a lot of mini-flare-ups all the time. I would curl up on the floor in some of my high school classes due to the pain that I would experience or just lay down in random places because of the pain and sleep deficit. Had I not been at the top of my class, I am sure I would have been labeled more of a trouble-maker instead of just a mental-case.

This layering of treatments for symptoms continued for years. There were two events that changed my perspective and illustrated to me my need to change. The first was my resectioning. I knew at that point that I had to change something and get more sleep. The second event was the near-failure of my liver in 2004. The doctors were all looking for ways to treat the symptoms that their tests showed; but after research I could see that a lot of the problem was also on me. The caffeine/sugar overload, the lack of sleep, and a specific reaction my body was having with a certain drug had all come together to a crux. My doctor had found a means to negate the reaction with medication I was taking, but the rest was up to me.

It was at this point that I cut the majority of the caffeine and sugar out of my diet. I was in HELL! The insomnia was still plaguing me and I was insufferable to be around due to the withdrawal. I was always laying down trying to sleep and it just wasn't working. I was reading so much on insomnia at this time and how to correct it. I read several things that stuck with me: 
  1. Lay down at the same time every night, get up if you don't fall asleep within 30 minutes.
  2. Wake up at the same time every morning without fail no matter how tired you are.
  3. Make the room COMPLETELY black.
  4. No caffeine after 2pm if you drink caffeine in any form.
  5. No naps allowed until the sleep has regularized.

I started following these rules to the letter. To say that my life got much worse before getting better was a ridiculously large understatement. I was at a point where I was useless. I couldn't tell if it was working, but I refused to give up. I decided to take an extreme measure and I stayed awake through one night. I then went to bed at 9pm almost 48 hours after I woke. I slept through for the first time in years. I kept with my schedule and followed my rules. I finally started to see results; I was sleeping a somewhat normal schedule. This took me over 6 months and there were times that my Crohn's would revolt. 

I can now sleep through the night. I do have hiccups every now and again where I experience some form of insomnia, but it is because I broke some of my rules during that or the previous day. I very rarely ever drink coffee after 2pm and drink mainly water and tea. One thing to add to this, something I learned through several theses I wrote on color and light, is to be careful of light in the blue and green spectrum. This light approximates daytime to your body and can actually keep you awake. Yellow lights are better since they approximate a light of dusk or dawn, but can still keep you awake. If you must have a nightlight, try purple or pink on very low wattages; these will be less likely to register on your body's sleep machinery.

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