After I had my ACL reconstructed last December, (2014) I experienced a 6-week bought of insomnia. It started the night before I was supposed to go back to school. I had my surgery on December 16, 2014 and didn’t go back to teaching until classes resumed in January after New Year’s Day. I can’t speak for everyone who has had surgery, but I can honestly say it was the worst thing I’ve ever physically been through; and I’ve had 2 children via induction. I had to spend 6 hours a day, during Christmas vacation on a Continuous Passive Motion machine stretching my knee to gradually increase flexion. I couldn’t do anything for myself for 2 weeks; I had to be waited on like an invalid. I couldn’t get off the couch by myself, use the bathroom, shower, or get in & out of bed alone. My husband (thank God for him) had to help me with it all plus go to work and take care of the kids & the house. Being a very independent & active person this was hard…much harder than I thought it was going to be.
I spent a lot of time watching TV, using my computer., & not doing much for exercise other than PT. There was nothing else to do. I had to sleep in my huge post-op brace (which I lovingly referred to as “leg jail”) so needless to say I wasn’t sleeping well at all to begin with and I was drastically off my usual routine.
I knew I was nervous the night before I had to go back to school. As a wellness teacher I need to be pretty mobile. I do a lot of walking & standing and I was worried as to how I was going to do it. I remember the weird feeling as my heart started to race as I was in bed. I thought, “that’s weird, my heart is beating like I’m exercising.” After a few minutes it dawned on me that I was experiencing anxiety. I got around 3-4 hours of sleep that night; it was awful. Every night I would go to bed at 8:30 and still be awake by the time my husband came to bed at 10:30. I decided that I need some help so I bought some OTC sleep medicine (basically it’s Benadryl). Two weeks later when I finished the bottle I realized that I couldn’t fall asleep without it. You ever notice on the back of these types of medications it says something like “if using this product for more than 2 weeks, consult your physician.” Considering it was pushing a month I decided to call my doctor. I’m paraphrasing: OMG get off the Benadryl! It’s worse for you than Rx sleep aids! It will be hard, it will suck, but you have to come off of that cold turkey.
So cold turkey I went. I was officially in detox. The irony in this whole insomnia situation is that I have a whole unit on sleep hygiene. I teach my kids how to improve their sleep-I even wrote a post about improving your sleep. But it was time for me to do more than just turn off my phone & make my room pitch dark. I pulled up Dr. Google & started researching natural sleep remedies.
What worked for me:
Magnesium- I went back & forth between using a magnesium oil spray and drinking Natural Calm. (affiliate link)
Lavender Essential Oil-I would dab some on my temples right before getting into bed.
Meditation- I used the Calm app before bed & it really helped me settle down.
Keeping a Routine– While I was having a hard time sleeping, I made sure to keep my nighttime routine the same as much as possible. That means I didn’t stay out late…even on weekends. This was crucial!
After 3-4 nights of not taking Benadryl & being consistent with this routine, I was able to finally get some sleep and get back into a normal pattern.
Fast forward to August 2015 when I went back to school (again!) after having been off for the whole summer. My stupid insomnia came back! I can’t believe that in the middle of writing this post (that I’ve been meaning to write since the beginning of this year) that I’m dealing with it again. Only this time, none of the stuff I just told you about worked. So I found myself struggling with anxiety & falling asleep again. Here is what my sleep looked like on the worst night-I was at a friend’s house & never actually fell asleep.
New ideas I tried:
Acupuncture: I’m not sure how I felt about acupuncture in the past, but when you’re desperate so metimes you’re willing to try anything. If I wasn’t a believer before I certainly am now! As of now, I’ve had 7 acupuncture sessions. I noticed an immediate improvement in my anxiety after 1 visit. I still felt it was there, but it went from an 8/10 to a 2/10 & allowed me to discontinue the Rx anti-anxiety medication! My acupuncturist said I was “too much yang and not enough yin”. Basically this means that I was not focusing on balancing my life. I went from the summer of sleeping in, not working, & relaxing on the beach to go-go-go; my yin was nonexistent. Crossfit is yang & yoga is yin so off I went.
Yoga: Exercise is important and I realize that I need to do more than just Crossfit. Yoga is not only good for my mobility, but I remembered that when I was going weekly my stress level was greatly reduced. I try to do it once a week either at my studio or at my house. It’s my yin 🙂
Melatonin- I used it for a few days and stopped because I didn’t see any results. Then my doctor told me to take it for a week consistently to see if it would help. After about 3 days I started to notice a slight improvement. I too 3 mg.
Medication– I’m not going to lie, I was not happy about needing to take medication to sleep. Given what I do for a living, I felt defeated. I knew I needed to contact my doctor for help but I didn’t want to. And to make matters worse, she wasn’t very helpful at first. Made me feel guilty for admitting that I couldn’t do it alone and that I needed help. Kept insulting me with asking me things like “Did you try relaxation exercises?” or “What about some bedtime tea?” I’m all like “Um, yeah…remember what I do for a living? I TEACH sleep hygiene. I LIVE wellness. The irony is not lost on me that NONE OF IT IS WORKING!” But at some point I know that the sleep deprivation is far worse for your health than taking a pill. So I got her to give me (literally 10 pills) Trazodone. Like I said before, it helped with the anxiety a lot, but it still didn’t allow me to fall asleep. Also, I felt really groggy the next day. Not cool when you work with a bunch of middle schoolers. So she finally gave me 5mg of Ambian. I took 1 pill the first night and fell asleep quickly but felt groggier the next day than when I took the Trazodone. So the next night I took a half a pill. That worked beautifully! I was able to fall asleep and felt normal the next day. But even cutting the pills in half I knew I would run out so I decided to come off of it this weekend. I knew I needed to wait until I didn’t have to get up at 4:30 for Crossfit (I do the 5am class pretty regularly.)
The Cause- A common question from everyone who tried to help me get better sleep was “do you know what’s causing it?” The hardest part of this whole thing was the self-reflection that I had to do to figure out the root cause of my sleep problems. Knowing that my body is now manifesting stress into insomnia means that I have to be extra careful about not working too much and taking on too much. Sometimes it means that I say no to things I really want to do, and that’s hard.
I am happy to report that I was able to fall asleep on my own last night! I was worried that I would be anxious knowing that I didn’t take anything. But when I would start to think about that I just used some positive self-talk (I think they call this cognitive behavioral therapy) to get out of it. I focused on the fact that I’ve been doing everything right and that my body is a healthy & amazing machine that will do its job and I will fall asleep. Here was my sleep last night with no medication:
I hope something here is able to help you. I have so much empathy for people who regularly deal with sleep issues. Please don’t give up! Sleep is so important and if your doctor isn’t helping you then keep going until you find someone who will.