I’ve been having insomnia issues again. It drives me crazy. I usually can fall asleep, but when I wake up I’m just awake. I toss and turn, sometimes get up, sometimes try to stick it out… If it happens more than 1 or 2 nights, I get really frustrated. And, here I am.
I have a sleeping schedule most people would consider to be a horror, and it’s by choice. I work the overnight shift at the hospital, so a handful of days each week my schedule is flipped from night to day. I had a therapist tell me that I would have to come off the night shift for the sake of my health and my anxiety levels. This conversation took place on our first or second meeting. Here’s a tip for therapists… don’t state absolutes and don’t tell people they *have* to do something unless it’s a true life or death situation. This is especially true if you haven’t worked together long enough to develop a relationship. I have dumped two therapists for doing this. While the advice may be sound, I don’t respond well to “you have to…” especially if we haven’t discussed my thoughts on the mater. In this situation, I replied, absolutely not.
You see, I work the night shift for multiple reasons. 1. I’m a night owl by nature. Both of my parents are night owls and given the opportunity, I always wind up staying up way too late. I feel more energized at night. I *hate* mornings. I loathe mornings. Getting up at 4:30 pm for the night shift isn’t too bad, getting up at 4:30 am (with the same amount of actual sleep) is akin to torture for me. 2. I like the “feel” of the night shift at work. The lights are dimmer. There are significantly fewer people around. As a general rule the patients are calmer/quieter. And my coworkers are a laid back crew. At night you can usually find some moments of peace. 3. Day shift SUCKS. The unit is flooded with fluorescent lighting, everything is beeping, people are everywhere, all the patients are awake and calling, orders are flooding through at a non-stop pace, there is NO PEACE to be found. In fact, you are lucky to get a chance to pee and “lunch time” is a joke. Most of the panic attacks I’ve had a work were on day shift. And finally, 3. The pay is a lot better for night shift. Sure, there are drawbacks, but it’s the only option for me.
Anyway, new nurses often ask me how I cope. They want to know how I sleep when I’m working night shift. For me, it’s easy. It takes some planning and a little pharmaceutical assistance. When I’m not on night shift, I sleep a normal schedule (well I try to, I’ll get back to that.) When I’m on shift, here’s how I do it…
If I work, say, Tuesday night. Monday night I’ll go to bed like normal, but when I wake up during the night (to go pee or because the dogs want to go pee – pee is disruptive to sleep, I’ve determined), I force myself to get up and stay up. So usually somewhere around 2-4 am I’ll wake up and make myself stay up. I won’t have any caffeine, I’ll just turn on some tv and find a project to work on. Then through the morning hours I’ll start drinking sleep encouraging tea, because I love it (chamomile, sleepy time, bed-time and cup of calm). By around 10-11 am I’m getting sleepy again, I take a low dose sonata and go to sleep until time to get ready for work (4:30-5 pm). I work all night, usually with no difficulty staying awake. Around 7 am (shift change) I start drinking my sleepy teas again. I get home by 8-8:30, eat something and have another cup of tea. Then I take a sonata and sleep soundly. My sleeping room for night shift is a little room in our basement. I affectionately call it my “vampire room”. I painted the walls a nice charcoal grey (with white trim), the curtains are a shimmery charcoal grey and the windows have been “blacked out” with aluminum foil. It stays pleasantly quiet, cool and dark down there.
The problem is now I’m not sleeping worth a damn at night. I sleep for 2-3 hours, wake up and don’t get much of any more meaningful sleep. After a couple nights like this, it makes me want to take my sonata – but I feel like that’s a slippery slope. I only use it for day sleeping and I know using a sleep aid can make falling asleep naturally harder. That is certainly the last thing I want.
I can name a variety of things that impact how well I sleep, like it’s felt a bit too warm in the bedroom upstairs, the bed is a little too small so I feel like I can’t adjust positions like I want with my wife also in the bed or my love of taking naps (although I haven’t napped in the last few days and I typically am a napper with no negative impact on my sleep schedule.) But the truth is, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a cycle thing too – just sometimes I’m prone to insomnia and sometimes I’m not. My anxiety seems to be that way too… sometimes I’m prone to anxiety, sometimes I feel resistant. I don’t think the two are correlated though.
No real resolution here… guess I’m just whining after having had only 3 hours of sleep with a long, busy day ahead.