I can tell you one thing about my fight with sleep… I know a lot about how my body appears to work and what does or doesn’t affect it.
As I have mentioned in other posts, I have been dealing with sleeping problems for a very long time. They all appear to be related to RLS and PLMD, but certainly over the course of two-plus decades before that diagnosis(s) was known, I didn’t know what the cause was. As a result, I tried many things to help me get to sleep, I eliminated items from my diet, and I tried other tricks to see if my body would react accordingly.
Here are some of the things I tried or learned along the way (in no particular order):
Caffeine: In the middle of my college days, I was so frustrated with my sleeping problems I decided I better take a look at my caffeine intake. I don’t remember if I was consuming a lot or above average amount of caffeine, but I do know it was part of my diet throughout the day – including at night. So, I gave it up. I gave up my morning and most likely afternoon and evening coffee – all of it. I stopped drinking caffeinated soda and even dialed back soda in general. I even stopped eating chocolate which I love. I thought about what I was going to drink and eat and made sure it didn’t have caffeine. For a year, I stuck to this diet change… and noticed nothing. Well, that may not be completely true, but I was still having trouble sleeping. Now, I do think caffeine can have an adverse affect, so I only have caffeinated coffee in the morning (12-20 ounces), I don’t have a lot of chocolate, and soda after lunch is caffeine free only (though, there are times I screw that up).
Exercise: This one has always been hard for me to understand. There are many a person or study that swears that exercising before bed or at least having it part of your daily regimen will help you sleep at night. The problem is when I was in the best shape of my life in either high school or playing collegiate soccer… I still had sleeping problems. I do know that when I was worn out or had been especially physical in nature during the day, I was more tired. However, I could also end up having a bad night’s sleep as well. And further proof: I recently started riding my bike again and I don’t ride it easy – I get a good ride in. There are some nights my legs are horrendous despite the effort to exercise.
Melatonin and Other Remedies: To say I’ve tried everything might be an understatement. My wife has tried to help by finding things to help me. Before I was diagnosed with PLMD (and then RLS), melatonin and Advil, Tylenol, or whatever with “PM” in the title were tried. I certainly grew more tired from them, but they weren’t helping my sleep. We tried “Sleepy Time Tea” which certainly helped me relax, but didn’t necessarily help me sleep. Then a few months ago when my RLS seemed to be getting worse, which we know it was, my wife got me an over-the-counter RLS medication or pill(s). It did pretty much nothing. I have had other suggestions thrown my way and I have researched them or haven’t had a chance to try them. But every time I try something new and get no results, my impetus to try another idea starts to wane.
Sleep CD/White Noise: One thing that did seem to work even when I was a kid was the distraction of music or white noise. For as long as I can remember, I have slept with a fan and/or music on a sleep timer. It wasn’t full-proof, but it seemed to have the most success. I would notice that if I didn’t have music or the fan in a hotel or another place besides my home – I would struggle to sleep because I would notice everything else. One of the items I went years with playing every night was “Sonic Aid: Music to Promote Sleep.” My wife found it and gave it to me and I quickly found it was very helpful. It also wasn’t fool-proof, but more times than not I was asleep before the music ended within an hour of it starting. Now, my wife would also notice when I was having a rough night if she heard the disk restarted one or more times during the night. And I would know when I was having a bad night when I was listening to parts of the CD I hadn’t heard in awhile. I eventually put this CD on my i-whatever device so I could use it when I traveled and I got a fan to travel with as well. Interestingly, I haven’t listened to the CD in a very long time when I noticed my medications were helping me get to sleep more efficiently.
Everything Gets On My Nerves: When I can’t sleep… everything bothers me. It’s already annoying to hear my wife snore. It isn’t her snoring that bothers me (she isn’t a very loud snorer), it’s the fact she is snoring which means she is sound to sleep while I am wide awake next to her. It’s annoying when she starts snoring within seconds of the two of us talking. But that isn’t all that bothers me. It may get to the point where somehow I think there is too much light, the fan isn’t pointed just right, an unwanted noise here or an unwanted noise there, whatever it is… it starts to bug me because of instead of me sleeping and not noticing these noises… I am wide awake and can’t do anything but notice those noises. Sometimes the white noise of a fan mainly helps me drown out the other noises that will “keep me up” while I am trying to go to sleep.
Can Accomplish Plenty: The one thing I have learned over the years, I can accomplish a lot on no sleep. That’s not saying I don’t make mistakes or can work for days on very little sleep with no problems… there are problems. However, there have been several occasions when I worked in the local TV news business where I could go 18, 24, 36, or more hours straight working and do just fine. I have been in a control room during winter weather coverage non-stop for nine hours. I have been at the TV station for over 24-hours multiple times. I covered a hurricane on scene from a Friday morning until a Sunday night with a handful of hours – if any sleep – and done pretty well. However, the difference between those experiences and what I have gone through recently with my 10-day, drug-free period was the simple fact you can get some sleep ahead of time to prepare. My recent ten-day (or night) experience was preceeded by little or no sleep already. But if I know I am going to work or do something for a long time with no breaks or even sleep, I can get into a groove and get it done. I already had to learn to work and live my life on very little sleep… so big turns at the wheel, as it were, became second nature.
Now as I stare down the future unsure what medications or instructions I will need to follow to tackle my RLS and PLMD, I hope much of what I learned or experienced can be left in my past. I hope I can get to a point of decent sleep without having to resort to numerous tricks to get even a little bit of sleep in a night. I hope I don’t have to call on my body and brain to fight through the haze of no sleep and keep plugging along. I want to sleep. I want to feel rested. And to get those I need to find a better remedy than what got me into this mess in the first place.