January 11, 2016

The Dark Side of the Night:
Sleep Restriction Therapy

If the past month has taught me anything, it's that the problems in your head can be the hardest ones to solve. Indeed, to quote the wise Albus Dumbledore, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

Now, I've always been an anxious person. And, if you've ever dealt with any sort of anxiety, you know that sometimes, the only thing you want to do is just get out of your head.

As has been the case with me for about a month now.

It started a few weeks ago, the night before I had a 6 AM flight to Georgia for a wedding. I had to get up at 4, so I decided I'd move my normal 11 PM bedtime up to 9 PM so I could get my precious 7 hours of sleep. Because, as we internet-readers know, if you don't get enough sleep, your butt gets bigger, you face gets older, and the rate at which you turn into your mother increases by ten.

Unfortunately, I wasn't tired at 9 PM. But for the sake of my butt, I willed myself to go to sleep anyway. I spent hours lying there in bed, telling myself that if I fell asleep right now, I'd still get 6 hours of sleep. Then 5. Then 4.

By the time 1 AM rolled around, I was mildly panicked and exhausted, but still not asleep.

I did end up getting a couple hours of sleep that night before I made it to Georgia, where I danced, drank, and ate some late night pizza before getting into our hotel bed. I fell asleep pretty quickly (because... well... wine), but I woke up a few hours later.

And I thought, "Shit. I'm awake. I need to be asleep."

And then it started. From that weekend on, sleep became more and more elusive. Every night I'd get into bed and think, "I really, really need to sleep right now." But like hot men and good jobs, the more you want it, the harder it is to get.

For two weeks, I spent less and less time actually asleep, some nights only sleeping for an hour total in ten minute increments. It wasn't that I wasn't tired; I was. It's just really hard to fall asleep when you're thinking about falling asleep.

But the worst part wasn't even the exhaustion. No, the worst part of sleeplessness is the middle of the night, at 3 AM, when you're wide awake while the rest of the world is asleep. Three o'clock is a lonely, lonely place, and when you're an anxious person, wondering what the hell is wrong with you... lonely can become terrifying.

And I was terrified. It got to the point where one night, I started crying at our favorite taco restaurant; I was tired, confused, and dreading the fact that in a few short hours, I'd be lying awake again, exhausted and alone.

Tacos, for Pete's sake. It got to the point where I shed tears on a taco.

Anyway, that's when I knew I needed help. And not Zzzquil, melatonin, or warm milk help -- I needed the big guns. So I made an appointment with a sleep doctor last week, where I told her all about my unsuccessful struggle to get out of my own brain.

The funny thing is, the doctor seemed to think that this was all very common. (But then again, maybe doctors tell all crazy people that.) She said that this sort of insomnia is related to anxiety, and is also very treatable.

The treatment? Well, besides a temporary sleeping pill, she told me that I was going to do something called "Sleep Restriction." Which is exactly what it sounds like: I am going to sleep deprive myself to the point where I'm physically too tired to lie in bed and panic. Basically, I'm going to make myself so exhausted that I'm too tired to think.

So that's how things are going for me right now: I'm under strict orders from the doctor to go to bed at midnight and get up at 6:30. No exceptions, no mercy, so frosted coating. It's the most fun I think I've had since I got my wisdom teeth pulled.

But on the bright side, Derrick got me a hedgehog for Christmas. And hedgehogs, it turns out, are nocturnal... so we're getting along just fine.