Making Life-Changing Decisions with Chronic Insomnia

The direction of my life changed in the summer of 1981, and not for the better. Ive written about when my insomnia started in 1979. After two years, it controlled my life with its iron grip and kept me in a continuous headlock. Today, as I look back over my life with insomnia, it seems that about 95 percent of the decisions Ive made have turned out to be wrong for one reason or another. I consider the decision I made that summer to be one of my all-time worst, as youll read about in a moment.

I graduated with my associates degree in May of that year. Several times during the spring semester, Id stopped by the Air Force ROTC detachment to talk about going back in the service as an officer. The process of getting into ROTC was simple: I had to score at a certain percentile on the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test and then take a physical. I passed both. I also had to supply them with a copy of my DD Form 214 showing that Id been honorably discharged from active duty, and a current transcript.

They told me that my score was high enough to apply for pilot training. That caught me by surprise. Me, a pilot? I really couldnt see that happening. From my perspective, pilots were intellectuals who majored in math or electrical engineering or some other brain-draining curriculum. I wasnt in that league. I was an automotive major; monkeys could be trained to work on cars.

The sergeant responsible for helping me attain successful admission into their program looked at my transcript and said, Look at all of those As. And I said, Its automotive technology. Anybody can make As. Itd be different if I were a chemistry or a biology major and had lots of As. That would really mean something. Then he said, But youve excelled in your chosen field. I didnt say it, but I thought So what? Its a low-level curriculum designed for those who have difficulty learning from books. Granted, my automotive training was before on-board computers. Its my guess that automotive curricula are more difficult today with computers controlling nearly every aspect of an automobile.

So I was enrolled in Aerospace Science for the fall semester of 81. Id be a second lieutenant in only four more semesters. Wow! I couldnt wait. Id be on my way to a good 20-year retirement, as a major at least.

Back then, however, I had a phobia about writing. The service manager, Larry G., at the dealership where I worked the summer of 79 went through the universitys vocational education program, the same one that I was going to take after I completed my automotive degree. He told me that one of his courses required him to write an 80-page research paper. So I changed my major for my bachelors degree from vocational education to industrial technologyanother bad decision.

After I was admitted to ROTC, and after I was registered for the fall semester, one of my automotive instructors told me that a new K-Mart was openingin my hometown, actually. The automotive service manager, Petera graduate of the same automotive tech program as I, was looking for qualified applicants to staff his department, and if I was interested I should apply before the positions were filled. So I did. Peter hired me, and I started immediately.

Now for the life-changing event

The reason why alludes me now, other than for the medication I was taking illegally, but I changed my mind about enrolling in ROTC and dropped it before the summer was out. What a stupid, stupid choice. Ive beaten myself up over that decision ever since. I chose a $5-an-hour job as a K-Mart mechanic over Air Force ROTC and a commission as an officer. And, on top of that, once the fall semester started, I discovered that I couldnt stand industrial technology and withdrew from school three weeks into the semester, forfeiting one semester each of my GI Bill and my Illinois Veterans Scholarship.

Also, I hated my job at K-Mart and quit in August. Thats the only job Ive ever quit on the spot. I told the new service manager, Todays my last day, and Im not coming back. I loaded my tools in my father-in-laws Ford F-150 and left.

So, there I was. No longer working, no longer in college, and, worst of all, I would never become an Air Force officer.

Ive told this anecdote to say thismy insomnia played a big part in my life that summer. I couldnt think straight. As Ive written about in a previous post, Id recently discovered that my dad had a prescription for dalmane, the same drug the Veterans Administration doctor had prescribed for me two years earlier. My dad got his medicine for free because he was a coal miner in the United Mine Workers of America union. With my discovery, I would grab a few pills every time I was at my parents house. They knew I was taking them; I wasnt stealing.

I was taking the drug illegally, however, because I didnt have a prescription for it; I hadnt sought a doctors counsel for more than the 30 pills of my original prescription. Dalmane has a long half lifeas much as a hundred hours or moreso I was compounding my problem with each pill I swallowed.

But the dalmane was making my situation worse instead of better. It made me sleep, but it also made me angry. It changed my personality and behavior from a level-headed, quiet guy to a deranged monster ready to fight. I hated life and everything and everybody associated with it. With dalmane, I was a walking time bomb ready to explode at any moment. I was taking this drug at the same time I was making major life decisions. Not a good thing to do. I would go on to take dalmane illegally for another eight years.

Insomnia simply sucks the life right out of you regardless of your station in life. It doesnt care who you are or where you live or work. Its powerful in ways that the ordinary, successful sleeper cannot imagine. If Ive learned anything in the intervening years since that summer, its this: Decisions made early in life can definitely affect you later in life.

Trouble Sleeping?

In this modern age of constant bombardment by stimuli, more and more people are finding that they are having trouble sleeping. There are several causes for this. Emotional distress, changes to routine, napping during the day, lack of exercise, lack of exposure to natural light, medication side-effects, excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine or nicotine, and even watching television or reading can all contribute to insomnia.

Those discussing sleep problems will first look for emotional distress. Anything that a person is worried about, that is causing concern or stress, could keep them awake. Put simply, we have all had nights of tossing and turning in bed because we were worried about something, be it finances, relationships, work, or some worry over basic needs such as shelter, eating, clothing, or family. These factors could all keep us awake.

In some instances, seeking counseling with a professional could help relieve these worries. Another solution could be simply talking to a friend or spouse who would help relieve the worry or stress.

Getting a new job or going back to school or any change to our routine schedule could affect being able to sleep normally. Jet lag or anything that disrupts the bodies natural system could contribute as well. A new job start time may cause you to get up earlier or later than you were previously used to. So could taking new school classes earlier in the morning. To get back to a routine, a person may need to get back to a set schedule as soon as possible. This means going to bed and getting up at the same times each day so that the internal clock gets reset to this new routine.

The body seems to respond better to natural light than to artificial lighting. If someone works in an environment where all they see all day is dim lighting or fluorescent lighting, they may have trouble sleeping at night. Some people wake in the dark, work all day in artificial lighting conditions, and then go home at night in the dark as well. The body may be craving the stimulus of natural sunlight. So a simple solution may be to get out during the day at lunch to go for a walk in the sun outside. Studies have shown that people getting exposure to natural sunlight in the afternoon sleep better at night. Also, exercising two to four hours before bedtime may help release stress and tension in the body, allowing for more restful sleep.

The next factor to look at as possible causes to insomnia are stimulants. Those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol may find that it is difficult for them to get to sleep or stay asleep. Smoking before bedtime could also be a factor, because the nicotine found in cigarettes is a stimulant. A stimulant is defined as an agent, especially a chemical agent such as caffeine, that temporarily arouses or accelerates physiological or organic activity. Drinking beverages high in caffeine content such as coffee or soft drinks earlier in the evening or too close to bedtime could keep you awake later. Soft drink labels on the side of the can or bottle disclose the caffeine content in the drink.

Medication side-effects may also contribute to insomnia as could eating habits. Indigestion or the eating of spicy foods could cause stomach discomfort that could lead to problems with falling asleep or cause a person to wake up during the night.

Reading before bed can be a good aid in falling asleep, because it can take your mind off of your days worries and focus your mind instead on the story. But if the story causes the reader to feel confused, worried, threatened, or angry, then that reading could instead cause insomnia. The same is true for watching television. Watching a program that causes positive emotions will help with sleep more than shows with violence or high volumes.

An aid to falling asleep could be listening to soft instrumental music or even nature sounds. Some drug stores or pharmacies even sell music players that will play earth sounds of nature. These soothing tones help calm the brain and cause it to focus on restful relaxation. It is also important that the bedroom is sleep-friendly and only used for sleep. Comfort is important, so make sure bedding, sleep attire, and room temperature are all optimal for sleep. If the room is too cold or too warm, it may cause trouble sleeping. Any outside noise of unwanted light could be factors as well.

Insomnia is characterized by taking more than 30 to 45 minutes to fall asleep, waking up many times each night and not being able to go back to sleep, sleep that is unrefreshing, or waking up too early.

Another factor in sleep habits is aging. Older people are thought to be lighter sleepers because they tend to enter into deep sleep less as they get older. During the night, people experience cycles of R. E. M. (Rapid Eye Movement) or shallow sleep followed by non-R. E. M. Or deeper sleep. Older people spend less time in non-R. E. M. Sleep which may cause them to sleep less and wake up earlier in the morning.

There are other possible serious health conditions that could need to be diagnosed by a health professional. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing for up to 10 seconds at a time multiple times during sleep. There are remedies for this condition including sleeping with the aid of a machine called a C-Pap machine.

Narcolepsy is a condition where the brain causes the person to fall asleep during the day, possibly without notice and/or multiple times throughout the day. Another condition, called parasomnia, causes people to partake in activities during sleep such as walking around, rearranging items in the room or home, consuming strange foods they would not normally eat, or other odd behaviors. This condition is usually treatable as well.

We live in an age of computers, cell phones, video games, and lots of noise and light. Our lives are full of stress and worries. Sometimes we drink too much or do not eat right. Our schedules may change or we may undergo some sort of change to our environment. Our emotions might get the best of us at times. All of these things may be factors that cause us to have trouble sleeping. But in most cases with some effort, we can battle our insomnia. So if you are still awake later and do not want to be, you could always try the age-old remedy for trouble sleeping- counting sheep.

How to Deal With Sleeping Problems

Sleeping problems affect 14% of the population. There are different causes and reasons for sleeping problems. Here are some causes that might be affecting you:

  1. To much stress .To much stress can be a big problem for a lot of people in todays modern world. Causes can range from work problems, school problems, home problems, or money problems. They of course are not limited to just those areas.
  2. Being unable to stop thinking Another thing that might be keeping you up at night could be that you cannot stop thinking as youre trying to fall asleep. This can be very detrimental to falling asleep and even getting a good nights rest.
  3. Eating the wrong kinds of foods Its true there are certain kinds of foods that will keep you up at night. These foods oftentimes act as stimulants and once they get into your bloodstream they stimulate your body and keep it awake.
  4. Avoid drinking caffeine before bed Any kind of caffeine will is a stimulant. It goes into your bloodstream and will keep you awake. Drinks with caffeine in them include: coffee, tea and soda.
  5. Avoid smoking cigarettes before bed Cigarettes have nicotine in them. Nicotine the same as caffeine acts as a stimulant and will keep your body from falling asleep.
  6. Certain Prescription Drugs There are certain drugs in the market that are actually causing sleeping problems in some people. Consult your doctor if you think you are one of these people who is having a hard time sleeping at night because of certain medications.

These are the things that could be affecting you as you try to fall asleep. There are also ways that can make falling asleep a lot easier. Here are some tips for falling asleep sooner and getting a better nights rest:

  1. Turn off all the lights Light acts as a kind of stimulant to the body and when there is light that is getting through your eyes your body thinks that it is still awake. This of course will inevitably cause sleeping problems in the long run.
  2. Avoid alcohol as a sleep aid While it is believed that alcohol helps you fall asleep faster. It also makes you more restless as you sleep. This equates to getting less quality sleep and so as you sleep you may wake up feeling like you didnt get any sleep at all.
  3. Relax before trying to fall asleep Relaxing is very helpful when trying to fall asleep. When you are asleep your muscles are in a state of relaxation. Sometimes problems with sleeping can be because you cannot get your muscles to relax. In order to relax your muscles focus on relaxing them. Pick a point in your body and focus on relaxing that point. When you feel that it has reached a good relaxing point pick another point and relax that area. You do this until your body is totally relaxed.
  4. Get exercise Exercise can improve the quality of your sleep. The reason is because when you do not exercise your muscles you are essentially leaving them a lot of excess energy that has not been burned off. This energy is then converted into fat cells. When you tire out the body a little however it wants to sleep. This helps you sleep better and wake up incredibly rejuvenated!
  5. Slow down your thinking Too many times we are kept awake because the brain does not want to stop thinking. The good news is however that there are many different ways to slow down thinking. One way is to meditate. You will feel calmer and more relaxed as time goes by if you start a regular dosage of meditation.
  6. Avoid exercise 2 hours prior to sleep time The reason for this important rule is because when you exercise your body knows that it is awake. There are endorphins as well as other things that kick in while you exercise and make you feel pretty good. Essentially exercising 2 hours before falling asleep will make you feel too awake to fall asleep.
  7. Prescription Medication If you have tried everything you can think and still cannot get a good nights rest it may be beneficial to consider prescription medication. While many turn to it as a last resort it often proves to be the thing helps people fall asleep faster.
  8. Dont focus on worries before bedtime This can obviously cause a lot of anxiety and worry before trying to fall asleep and will not help you fall asleep or help you have a good nights rest. It may even keep you awake depending on the level of stress the worry provides you.
  9. Get a comfortable bed One of the most obvious reasons for not getting a good nights rest can be caused by not sleeping on a comfortable enough bed or mattress.

It is also important to know that under eating can cause a lack of sleep as well. There are certain foods that you need to eat on a daily basis. For example having too little sugars and fats in your body can make you have sleepless nights. This is your bodies way of telling you that you need to feed it better.

When you sleep it gives your body and your brain rest time to recuperate and repair itself from the days demands. Without sleep a person who has been awake for 24 hours is said to be the equivalent of slightly drunk. This can obviously become a problem very quickly. The effects however will more then often wear off after a person has had their fair share of rest.

Getting sleep is very important. A lack of sleep can cause a variety of mental as well as physical illnesses. This is why it is important to consult your doctor if you are having a problem sleeping at night. The average person sleeps 33% or 1/3 of their life. The normal amount of sleep to have is around 6-9 hours daily depending on the individual. Without a certain amount of sleep the individual will be able to function on a level less then what they are capable of functioning on.