I’m pretty sure my dog is out to kill me. One long, sleepless night at a time.
For people who suffer from sleep disorders, a night of zzzzz’s with no interruptions are the equivalent of caffeinated elixir poured into a person’s mouth, fountain style in the morning. A long, delicious night of sleep is pure bliss.
Which is why right now, I feel like actors in movies and TV shows where the character can’t sleep. There was an episode like that on FRIENDS. I’ve seen it once or twice, but it’s my least favorite episode. I excitedly fast forward it when I’m going through the seasons on a marathon run. I skip it because even the thought of not sleeping at night makes me want to cry.
This morning I’m exhausted because my dog was up again at three in the morning to be let out. It’s amazing that she hates me enough to wreck my chances for a solid night’s sleep especially since during the day; she cuddles with me to the point of having separation anxiety. A quick minute to let the dog out in the wee hours of the morning might not sound like a big deal, but for me it is.
If you’ve never experienced insomnia or restless leg syndrome (RLS) or any other disorder that creates exhaustion, the thought of crying over lack of sleep may be difficult to understand. I assure you, sleepless nights are very real and they affect many people.
Did you know there are over one hundred identified sleep disorders, according to The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences? More than a hundred. As if that’s not mind blowing enough, it’s not uncommon for individuals with one sleep disorder to get the hard packed punch of having more than one.
These disorders can present themselves in various ways. From insomnia (persistent inability to fall asleep or stay asleep) to sleep apnea (episodes in which a person stops breathing because the brain doesn’t give the cue to breathe (CSA) or when the airway is blocked (OSA)) movement disorders (Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) or Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) to a whole host of other kinds of sleeplessness, there are a lot of us who can’t get enough shut eye.
What can you do to help? I’m glad you asked. Here is my list of the top ten things you can do to help the sleepless.
1. Stop telling us to drink more caffeine. This is not a good idea. Caffeine is one of the things that can result in sleepless for those of us who don’t sleep well. And to tell you the truth, it would take buckets of caffeine to get me going after a night of tossing and turning anyway.
2. Don’t encourage us to nap. While the idea is appealing, getting that “extra” sleep in during the day just means that we won’t be sleeping tonight. A good nap simply messes with our circadian rhythm that much more.
3. Refrain from getting us engaged in a conversation or conflict that might cause a strong reaction. Without a proper night’s sleep, people are often irritable and vulnerable to stress. Don’t poke the bear. Please. It’ll be better for everyone involved if you don’t.
4. Respect our need for a bedtime routine. Forgive me if I sound like I’m talking about getting a toddler to bed, but bedtime routines are important. Getting our brains and bodies into the habit of preparing for sleep might actually get us a peaceful night’s rest. Trust me, this is good for everyone involved.
5. Quit making us feel bad. For those of us who experience RLS or PLMD or a host of other sleep disorders that disturb our bedroom partners, enough is enough. You think we enjoy disturbing your sleep? We don’t. We would appreciate a good night’s sleep just as much as you would. Don’t make jokes about sleeping on the couch or getting twin beds or finding someone who lets you sleep through the night. It’s not funny and it hurts. Especially when we’re running on only a few hours of sleep ourselves.
6. Give us a chance to wake up in the morning. Not all of us are raring to go when the alarm goes off. Those of us with sleep disorders would prefer to chuck the alarm out the window lest it disturb the few minutes of precious sleep we’ve been able to grab onto –like a life raft in the middle of an ocean, where we’re surrounded by sharks. Don’t judge us, don’t demean us, and please, for the love of God don’t sing chipper songs or engage us in some lively and entertaining dialogue about the events going on around the globe. Simply tell us good morning and let us wake up. You may not realize it, but for some of us who struggle with sleep, we had just started dreaming five minutes before the alarm sounded.
7. Believe us when we tell you we’re tired. We’re not making it up, we’re not trying to ignore you, and we’re really not trying to get out of being intimate with you. Having your sleep interrupted by nightmares, twitching, snoring, the inability to breathe, or a brain that just won’t turn itself off is awful. It’s a real problem. We’d love nothing more than to go to the movies after work or slip under the sheets for a little romp in the sack, but sometimes we can’t muster up enough energy to do anything more than fall asleep at the dinner table. If we’re lucky.
8. Be a part of the solution. When your sleepless partner comes to you with ridiculous sounding ideas on how to rearrange the bedroom or de-clutter so that s/he can sleep, don’t resist. Just do it. Trying it won’t hurt and it could help the situation. You might be glad you did.
9. Listen. Not to us whining or anything, but to the sound of a fan whirring or rain falling. Whether your partner wants to try white noise or pink noise or discovers an article on how rainbow colored noise will increase her ability to sleep, encourage her to try it. It likely won’t bother you anyway because you’ll be asleep.
10. Understand us. Educate yourself on the number of ways a person can increase healthy sleep patterns. Stand up for us when others make rude or negative comments about how tired or confused or irritable we are after a sleepless night. Go with your partner to doctors’ appointments, help her keep a sleep diary, buy that weighted blanket in her favorite color or turn the bedroom into a haven conducive to getting some REM sleep.
Telling the 1 in 10 people who have sleep disorders to “sleep well” isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you know someone who has trouble sleeping, be supportive and creative in your efforts to understand that special someone and help her get her zzzz’s. And if at all possible, tell me how I can get my dog to sleep through the night. That bit of information would help me tremendously.