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Insomnia in the Hospital

Having insomnia is hard. It's hard no matter where you live, where you try to sleep, how you work, and who you are. Sometimes we find ways to sneak in some sleep in different places, or in a different part of our routine, and I always feel really encouraged by that - like I should wear a sticker that says I beat insomnia today!

However, in my experience, changing any of the variables in my sleep routine makes my insomnia more difficult to manage, not less.

Why is it difficult for me to fall and stay asleep in the hospital?

Over the past many months, I have spent a great deal of time in the hospital, leading up to and then recovering from surgery. I have learned first hand that the hospital, for me, is a major trigger for my insomnia, and once I am off my routine by a night or 2, it takes an inordinate amount of time to reset and return to some sort of sleeping baseline.

Here is what I have noticed:

  • It's never completely dark in the hospital, even if all of the lights are off.
  • It's never ever silent - the IV machine in your room constantly churns, whirls, and sometimes beeps (when it's empty or temperamental), which can be a new noise to get used to; then there's the consistent background noise from the hallways - doctors, nurses, patients, visitors, and it can be very hard to block this out.
  • Then there's the barrage of interruptions - techs who must take your vitals, nurses who have updates or need to give medications, tests that need to be run, doctors who have questions, etc. This seems to happen around the clock, regardless of what you were admitted for.
  • Pain, nausea, anxiety - any symptoms that brought you to the hospital, or are contributing to why you're in the hospital, plus any additional anxiety surrounding them sure makes it hard to get comfortable and sleep.

All of these things together put me "on guard" and make it more difficult to rest in any capacity, let alone to get a good nights sleep.

Recommendations and tips for sleeping in the hospital

Here are some small recommendations which have helped me to get back to a baseline and get some rest in the hospital. Please note, none of these are solutions, and none restore my home sleep routine - they're simply aids in the process.

  • A good, room darkening weighted sleep mask
  • Comfortable ear plugs - either the type that hides the noise, or the kind that you can play music through
  • A comfortable blanket - something soft and/or slightly weighted can help with anxiety and other mental struggles of not being able to sleep.
  • Something soothing to listen to - either through headphones or just ambient music in the room
  • A conversation with your care team - this last hospitalization I knew I was going to be inpatient for a while, so I asked my nurse to write in my chart that I struggle with insomnia. This helped to reduce things like extra evening interruptions, as well as grouping together anything that did need to be done in my room during one or 2 visits rather than spread out over several.

If you have had to stay in the hospital, how have you managed your insomnia? I would love to hear any tips or tricks I have missed!

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