It was 5:32am and I felt exhausted by the doze / weird dream / wake / repeat cycle of the previous few hours. I sighed the sort of sigh capable of extinguishing all the candles on a centenarian’s birthday cake in one go, before throwing off the covers and stomping downstairs in my pjs to put the kettle on. Remembering that someone had suggested writing things down when unable to sleep, I headed back to bed with notepad, pen, and comforting mug of tea. I propped myself up against the pillows and considered what to write. A blog post about the frustrations of insomnia seemed pretty apt.
My sleeping patterns have always been somewhat erratic, with a few weeks of decent sleep being followed by a period of restlessness. I went through a long phase of sleepwalking in my younger days (my sister has several colourful tales to tell, but naturally I can neither confirm nor deny their truth), so disturbed sleep is nothing new to me. However, sound sleep has been considerably more elusive since my eye issues began. I think this is partly because of physical discomfort after so much posturing (see Pondering Posturing, if you’re wondering what ‘posturing’ is in relation to retinal detachment), as well as the continuing necessity to sleep only on my side or stomach. I also wonder how much of it is caused by the odd visual effects which I can still see at night even with my eyes closed – the flickering and the ‘lava lamp effect’ and the line of the oil as I move around. It seems fairly obvious that the main cause of my insomnia is stress, worry, and fear. Fear of further sight loss, fear of further surgery and all that it entails, stress and worry of what may happen in the future. This tends to be worse in the lead-up to appointments, and it just so happens that my next Moorfields appointment is imminent.
I usually manage to nod off initially without too many problems, but am frequently jolted awake by nightmares in the middle of the night. I know I’m not alone in this, as other eye buddies have mentioned having nightmares of redetachments. The other day, I awoke to the realisation that part of the vision in my good eye was obscured as I peered blearily across the bedroom in the early morning light. My heart started to thump in horror before I realised that I was lying on my left hand side with my good eye pushed into the pillow, which was obscuring my view. I can no longer sleep in the pitch darkness as when I wake in the night, I need to be able to open my eyes and focus on something, just to make sure I can still see. In the six detachments I’ve had, it’s only been three of them during which, at some point, I had to go to bed either knowing that something was wrong or being afraid that something wasn’t quite right. So that’s three occasions of going to bed with the very real fear that I might be getting up in the morning (obviously I don’t say ‘waking up’, as that would indicate that I actually managed to sleep) with less sight than I went to bed with. On each of those three occasions, this was exactly what happened. That fear has never quite been dispelled, and I’m not sure that it ever will.
I’ve tried all kinds of different methods to find something which eases my disturbed nights and gives me a more restful sleep. Drinking a mug of hot milk, hot chocolate, or sleep tea; listening to soothing music; a warm bath; burning lavender oil; spraying lavender pillow mist; wearing myself out with long walks; practising mindfulness techniques; eating a banana (apparently it’s supposed to release some kind of sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain)… I’m not really convinced that any of these techniques has a particularly noticeable effect, although I have reached the firm conclusion after extensive research that Teapigs Redbush and Honeybush Tea is the perfect soothing bedtime drink.
In an effort to help myself, I’ve read a fair amount on the subject of insomnia (it’s only a very foolish man who believes that the opinions of experts aren’t worth considering), and have encountered three broad approaches of how to deal with it:
- Go to bed only when tired.
Whilst this seems pretty logical, I think my boss would have something to say on the matter if I sloped off home at 11:30am-ish saying I was going for a snooze.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and do something for a while, then go back to bed and try again.
I do this occasionally, usually in the ‘later’ early hours when I don’t think there’s much chance that I’ll get any more sleep. Sometimes – usually at weekends – I do occasionally manage to doze off again upon heading back to bed.
- Stay in bed and just rest, or use breathing / relaxation exercises to try and encourage a return to the land of nod.
This is usually what I try and do once I’ve stopped checking for flashes and floaters and making sure I can still see. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. Usually it just leads to that somewhat frustrating pattern of dozing, dreaming bizarre dreams, and waking again.
I’m thinking of trying a different technique next, in the form of alcohol. One night I could try wine, the next night gin, then whiskey, then perhaps vodka… If I’m still capable of coherent thought by the end of the week then I’ll decide which one works best.