My Least Favorite Insomnia Pattern - Up and Down, Up and Down

As a nearly lifelong insomniac, I’ve experienced several different stages or symptoms of my sleep disorder. I’ve struggled to fall asleep. I’ve struggled to stay asleep. I’ve struggled to fall back asleep when I wake up during the night. I’ve struggled with getting good rest and I’ve struggled with feeling rested.

Finding myself in an up and down season

When I get into bed at night, I’m exhausted. I usually can fall asleep within 30 to 60 minutes of laying my head on my pillow, and that first round or two of REM sleep is usually pretty deep. But then, the pattern I hate begins.

I’ll wake up, sure it’s the middle of the night, and check the clock. 11:50 p.m. Then my internal monologue begins:

How is this possible? I’ve surely been asleep for more than an hour, right? Okay. There’s still plenty of good sleeping time ahead. Close your eyes. Relax. It’s all good.

Then, I wake up needing to use the restroom. No problem, it’s just a quick trip. I intentionally don’t turn on the lights. I try not to think about anything outside of my business. And when I’m finished, I get right back into bed. I try not to check my phone, or even look at the clock, but I notice that more and more time is passing and I’m still lying awake in bed.

I finally doze off, and I wake up to the sound of my toddler crying out. She settles fairly quickly, but I don’t.

My brain is awake and therefore I am too

When I finally fall back asleep, my rest is interrupted. My husband rolled over which nudged our dog, who must’ve heard something out the window in the distance, and barked a few times. Seriously, people? My husband remains undisturbed, my dog settles in again, and I am left watching them both. Thinking about how nice sleep would be.

I get comfy under the covers and just as I’m about to drift off, I notice I have to go to the restroom again. Is this because I drank too much water before bed? Or is this just my 34-year-old post-baby body? I may never know, but I do know that if I don’t get out of bed to fix it, I’m going to get too uncomfortable to fall back asleep.

Okay, I took care of that. I check the clock - 3:10 a.m. My alarm is set for 3 hours out. That would be a good nap, a decent chunk of rest. Except… I can’t fall asleep. I try all of my routine strategies, but my brain is turned on. I’m thinking about my to-do list and the day ahead and all of the things I wish I’d gotten done yesterday.

Finally, I get out of bed

With a certain finality to my night, I grab my laptop and head to the kitchen. I turn on a small light, grab a snack, and sit down to brain dump. Maybe if I get everything off my mind, I’ll be able to rest a little before the day begins.

I write furiously, first in a notebook and then on my keyboard, and look up to notice the sun rising. It’s 5:50 a.m. and I know my daughter will wake up in the next hour. My eyes are feeling heavy, and I have a choice to make.

Choosing between trying again or staying up

Honestly, the choice of living with insomnia that I struggle with the most: Do I try to lay down and have a quick power rest, or do I shower/caffeinate and power through? Which will get me further in my busy day ahead?

Usually, I choose the latter. Sometimes, it involves 2 trips to the coffee shop during the day, but most often, it allows me a decent level of functionality both at work and as a parent.

This pattern is newer to me

I hate it. I feel like my brain never shuts down completely, that there’s no real rest and no way to catch up as the days fall into each other. If you’ve struggled with this pattern before, how did you break the cycle? What helped you either to wake up less or to fall back asleep faster after waking up? How did you ever find rest? How long did it go on for?

The only thing that I've been able to do is choose patience. By giving myself grace, I try hard to recognize that it's not my fault I'm so tired, that I'm doing the best job adjusting to the curveballs of living with a sleep disorder, and that this is only a point in time, not forever.

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