Column: Insomnia is the New Black

Does anyone out there have the panacea for insomnia? If I wasn’t so sleep-deprived, I’d throw down the gauntlet. But I’m too tired to get into it. As it is, I can barely figure out how my Nespresso machine works. Never mind solving the age-old question of what keeps us awake at night.

Listening to CBC radio the other day, I learned that in Canada, approximately 43-per-cent of men and 55-per-cent of women are living with a sleep disorder, insomnia being the most widespread. They broke that number down by age groups, severity of insomnia (occasional versus chronic) and gender. Not surprisingly, the groups that report more insomnia than others are: women, older adults, night shift workers, and those with medical problems. In other words, if you’re unlucky enough to be a 65-year-old women with diabetes who works nightshift at a hospital, you’re screwed. There are countless causes of insomnia, and for those that suffer, it can be crippling. Good, uninterrupted sleep (both quantity and quality) is absolutely critical for daily functioning. It’s a known fact that insomnia can seriously affect your whole life – everything from concentration to emotions to energy level.

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I have personally been plagued by insomnia for over 25 years. Mine is multi-dimensional though, which makes it even harder to treat. When I went to the Sleep Disorders Clinic at UBC a couple of decades ago, they asked me all sorts of questions related to physical health, stress, sleep hygiene, medications and more. The moment I told them I was menopausal and had colitis, the discussion abruptly ended. The doctor wasted no time telling me that there was nothing he could do for me. Did I feel defeated? You betcha.

Consequently, I experimented on my own with a number of different things, one or two of which were mildly helpful, but only for a limited time. I tried the “M’s”: meditation, medication (prescription and OTC), melatonin and magnesium. Nothing. I tried warm milk, until I discovered I was lactose intolerant. I tried tryptophan in the form of turkey breast, then spent the rest of the night thinking about Thanksgiving. I tried sex, which, in and of itself is wonderful, but doesn’t help my insomnia. I tried a cooler bedroom. Nice, but hubby froze. No computer time for an hour before bedtime – didn’t help. No alcohol or exercise (there goes sex) before bedtime – fuggetaboudit.

The only thing I haven’t tried is cognitive behavioral therapy. Of course, the exorbitant cost of going this route is enough to keep me awake all night stressing about it. Lose-Lose. Or maybe Win-Lose. Or Lose-Win? I’m too tired to parse this.

Sleeplessness is no joke. I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept through the night. Or got more than four hours of uninterrupted sleep. The result is brain fog, poor reflexes and emotional incontinence. In short, I’m a mess. And napping is out of the question, since a) I can only nap when I’m really sick and; b) it disrupts my nighttime sleep (the little I do get).

If any of you readers out there have a tried and true method for getting a decent night’s sleep, I’m open to suggestions. As long as they’re legal and don’t involve barnyard animals. Or needles. Or drinking bat’s blood.

I guess if there was a magic bullet for insomnia someone would have already spilled the beans. Despite the lack of Z’s, I remain hopeful. And very, very sleepy.

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