Thursday, February 17, 2011

All About Idiopathic Insomnia

More Musings of a Chronic Insomniac: Insomnia Makes Me Cheesy

Whenever I tell someone I have idiopathic insomnia, I get one of two responses:
1. A lecture on improving my sleep hygiene (cut out caffeine, exercise more, follow a set sleep schedule, don't nap, take melatonin, reduce screen time, etc. - been there, tried that!) 

2. "You are an idiopath!" (idiopathic actually means "a disorder with an unknown cause")(and on a side note, I've apparently been hanging out with mean people)
I  have never been able to sleep well. Not just now, as an adult - never! Even as a baby, my parents say I was awake constantly. In fourth grade, my teacher, Mr. Carberry, suggested to my mom that she take me to a doctor because I yawned from the moment I entered the classroom until the time I left, every day. He had never seen a student who was as consistently tired as me. My mom brushed off his recommendation, as she knew I went to bed at the same time every night, with plenty of time for a good night's sleep. However, even though I was in bed, my typical night was spent tossing and turning, or simply lying with my eyes closed, completely awake.

It wasn't until I was older that I realized just how different my quality of sleep is. Sexy Nerd falls asleep the instant his head hits the pillow. If he wakes up, it's only a temporary glitch in his slumber, even if he gets up and comes back. It's so unfair! Practically every night, I either never fall asleep or I sleep in short intervals (example: asleep 10pm-11:30pm, asleep again 3am-5am). I've tried Ambien - sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn't. The same goes for melatonin pills, lavender-filled pillows, Benadryl, chamomile tea, Tylenol PM, sleep masks, soft music, Simply Sleep, and a long list of other things that help most people fall asleep.

Something that kinda, sorta helps a tiny bit, occasionally, is to change where I'm sleeping. I may try to sleep on the floor, in the guest bedroom, or even just facing the opposite end of the bed (Sexy Nerd has rolled over to give me a kiss good morning several times, only to be surprised he is kissing my foot!). Compared to a person without idiopathic insomnia, I still don't sleep well, but it sometimes makes a difference. Thank goodness Sexy Nerd is a heavy sleeper!

Despite this being a problem I've literally had forever, people are always surprised when I say I didn't sleep well, or at all, the previous night. They are especially surprised, and perhaps a little skeptical, when I have the same answer to their "how did you sleep last night" question, day after day. So, in an attempt to clear up some of the confusion, here are a few basic facts on idiopathic insomnia, straight from The American Sleep Association:

* It is known that idiopathic insomnia exists without the detectable presence of other sleeping disorders, medical problems, medication or substance use or abuse, any underlying behavioral problems that could cause poor or unfulfilling sleep, and any psychiatric disorders.

* It is not the result of poor sleep hygiene. 

* Idiopathic insomnia often occurs nightly, and may include short sleeping times, numerous nighttime awakenings that cannot be explained, and difficulty falling asleep even when the body feels sufficiently tired to do so. 

* This happens without the presence of any stress that may cause a similar scenario in others, no psychological or neurological disorders, and no medication or substance use.

On the rare night when I do fall asleep quickly and actually stay asleep, it is the most wonderful, fantastic, perfect thing!

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