samsara: ordinary life, the endless cycle of birth and death, the opposite of enlightenment

I’m having a terrible time with sleep these days. It’s an affliction we post-menopausal women are prone to. When I get together with women friends, the subject eventually works around to our insomnia and what we’re doing about it.

This particular episode has been going on since I went to Laos in February. Did I mention that the temple bells across the street rang loudly at 4:30 each morning to wake up the monks, and everyone else in the neighborhood?

Anyway, I’ve never really gotten my sleep cycle back on track. All the herbal remedies – melatonin, tryptophan, the homeopathic stuff – useless. And those behavioral remedies your read about – use your bedroom only for sleep, go to bed and get up at the same time every day, blah blah blah…Good advice, maybe, but no match for hard-core insomnia. Besides, who’s really gonna set their alarm for 7 am on a Sunday morning when they’ve only dropped off at 4:45?

It’s horrible to stagger around totally exhausted all day, and then lie awake most of the night. Eventually a nasty feedback loop starts to happen. I can’t sleep because I’m upset because I can’t sleep.

A Zen-y friend told me to stop worrying about it – people don’t need as much sleep as they think they do. THAT’S EASY FOR YOU TO SAY!!! I wanted to shriek. (We sleep-deprived people can be extremely cranky). But he had a point.

I could at least try to accept the situation. I might be awake, but I didn’t have to turn it into such a huge problem. Hey, there might even be some positive things about being awake at 2:30…like a chance to do a little reading! Some nice quiet time! I could make a meditation out of it.

I followed my breath and watched the arising and passing of aversion to my insomnia for several nights. All well and good.

Then finally, I cried uncle and asked my doctor for some sleep-aids. And they’ve worked, to a degree, but are no silver bullet. Sometimes they don’t work. And they can be addicting. (It’s like you get to choose between being a deranged insomniac and a well-rested drug addict.) When you go off them, there can be a rebound effect, i.e. worse insomnia and anxiety. And there are side-effects. How about this one, taken off my drug info sheet:

Some people using this medicine have engaged in activities such as driving, eating, having sex, or making phone calls while asleep. If you have been doing these things, talk with your doctor.

Shoot. It’s been great getting caught up on my sleep-deficit these past two weeks. But tonight, I’m starting the weaning-off process. Wish me luck.