For almost as long as I can remember, I have not slept very well. Since high school at least. There have always been reasons: active mind, depression, studying, chronic knee problems (pain). I pretty much was resigned to the fact that sleep and I were never going to get along.
Of course later in life with a full-time work and the like, my fight with sleep was problematic. It probably didn’t help I ended up working in television news broadcasting which had crazy hours and shifts that while consistent were also not normal. In my 14-years as an intern, then part-time, and eventually a full-time producer, I worked every conceivable shift at the station.
For the longest time I got off work between 11:30pm and 12:00am which meant I was more of a night owl. I’d go out to the bars with colleagues or friends after work to unwind … because what else are you going to do at that time of night! My fights with sleep were a little less important considering I didn’t usually have to be anywhere until 2 or 3 the next afternoon, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have my struggles. There would always be a moment where my struggles would come to a head and I would go a couple of night without sleeping – or only a little sleep.
Those struggles just kept getting worse and when I started moving around shifts (4am – 1pm; 2:30am – 1:30pm, 11pm – 8am, 5am – 2pm, 9am – 6pm, 10:30am – 6:30pm, etc.) it started to become problematic. Then enter a girlfriend turned fiance turned wife and a social life of hanging out with friends at the neighborhood bar to unwind or just lounge around my apartment sleeping (or not sleeping) was no longer a real option. Real life was here and sleep had to figure it out. Right?
My wife was and has been amazing. She did what she could to help. She looked into medications or supplements, researched homeopathic ideas, bought me a CD that seemed to calm me down, took data, shared her thoughts, etc. Some things seemed to work, others were a bust, but she kept trying.
Then thanks to a new show I helped create my schedule at work shifted again. Prior to my first shift, I tried to go to bed and hopefully get to sleep my 8pm so I could be up, out the door, and to work by 5am. I didn’t sleep – or at least I didn’t think I slept. I seemingly went 36 hours without any sleep (how I got through that first shift is beyond me – though coffee and working long hours during major events in a newsroom tends to give you the mindset of pushing through). I was exhausted after work, but I didn’t drink any caffeine after mid-morning and I didn’t take a nap. I was going to sleep that night, damn it! And I did; I crashed!
That’s when everything changed.
The next day, my wife was excited to tell me something. When she got home from work she explained that when she came up to bed the night before I was kicking up a storm. She spent the next hour taking data (she’s a Behavior Analyst after all). I was kicking every 15 seconds on average non-stop. Now she was on the hunt. She started researching spending half the day at work online. Her answer, her theory: Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. Her next mission: find an expert and find a solution. And she did.
A few months (?) later I was walking into a sleep research office about 75 miles from our home. We talked to the doctor and a sleep study was scheduled. The sleep study revealed what my wife had seen. The doctor presented the findings the next morning, “your wife is absolutely correct.” I had PLMD and now we started talking medication and treatment.
My fight with sleep was a real one. My body kicked so often and so violently, It would keep from achieving any kind of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) which is considered the deepest part of anyone’s sleep and thus I wasn’t getting any meaningful rest. On the worst nights, it basically kept me from sleeping – I would maybe get ten minute cat naps all night long. I had been diagnosed and treated for depression (wouldn’t you be depressed if you didn’t sleep!), diagnosed and treated for chronic patella tendonitis in both knees (real, but not the cause of these problems), and encouraged to kick any and all caffeine (I actually went completely caffeine free for a year – no help), but PLMD was in control.
I couldn’t have been happier. I now had a cause and I could see a bright future with a treatment plan that would allow me to sleep better and feel more refreshed.
That was nearly seven years ago. Since then the medication has been constantly adjusted and I have plenty of good nights. I also discovered that I also apparently was suffering from Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). PLMD and RLS do go hand in hand, but PLMD seemed to be my biggest challenge.
I was also diagnosed with insomnia induced anxiety or anxiety induced insomnia (which came first: the chicken or the egg?). I’m not an anxious person, but after two decades of not knowing whether I would sleep or not, I became anxious when I hit the bed.
But I now had the advantage. I knew what I was battling, I had a doctor who was an expert in the field, and I had a plan of attack. I was going to win this thing… or so I thought.