Saturday, 10 March 2012

Sub Sub-Zero & Sleep

For as long as I believe I've had M.E., I've slept poorly. In fact, it was the lack of sleep that I thought was causing my tiredness, and that my fatigue was therefore fully explainable.

Yet, I've slept in many different bedroooms over the last decade or so, and I've noticed that there are a few variations to the quality of sleep I get. In some rooms, I seem to have slept better than in others.

My worst period of poor sleep has been fairly recent. Since early 2010, I've always tried to make it a habit to get to bed by 9 p.m. By that time, I'm feeling beyond exhausted, my head is spinning, and all I want to do is turn out the light and hit the pillow. The problem is that I wasn't falling asleep until typically four in the morning, and I was waking up just two hours or so later, unable to go to sleep. During this time, my alarm clock has been set to go off at seven thirty for work.

By early 2011, I was a total wreck from this all out insomnia. I counted a total of three nights over the space of a year in which I had gotten at least seven hours of sleep in a row. My belief for a long time was that as I was forcing myself to stay awake all day to get through work, that my body no longer believed that it is allowed to switch off when I really do get the chance to go to sleep. I thought my insomnia was very atypical for M.E. However, since I've been researching M.E., it seems that poor sleep is common, and it has been attributed to the fact that people actually need an extra reserve of energy in order to go into sleep mode. Of course, M.E. sufferers don't have that extra energy.

In early 2011, I was so desperate to get sleeping pills in order to allow me to get enough sleep that I could continue in my job. I really wouldn't have opted for any synthetic medication if I could have found another solution. I managed to get a week-long prescription for Ativan. I looked up my dosage on the Internet, and it seemed weaker than the recommended dosages. I took the drug, but I didn't notice any effect. I got a repeat prescription, this time for 20 tablets, but only a few days into continuing to take them, I got dizzy spells. I went back to the doctor, and he advised me that the Ativan was causing them, so I stopped taking Ativan there and then.

I can't recall how I made it through the summer. The management in my building changed post summer, and they started advocating a policy of switching on the heating system from October 1st. I was still wearing a T-shirt outdoors, and I have a heightened sensitivity to any artificial heating, so at night, the sauna-like conditions were unbearable and only fuelled the insomnia even more.

Just one month into the heating being switched on, I was very close to breaking point from the lack of sleep. I took action to move to another place. By true luck, I found a building down the road that had no heating system, so moved there immediately.

The cold was really extreme. Night time temperatures started to go down to minus ten celsius and below. However, just two days in to this cold regime, for the first time in close to two years, I started falling asleep within one hour of touching the pillow, and slept continuously for the next six or seven hours. Plus, when I woke up, I found I was able to actually get back to sleep again. I was bundled up in coat, hat and scarf in bed, but it was cosy, and I just felt that at last there was some sense of natural body temperature. It really made a difference, and I noticed myself being able to walk up the underpass steps to work faster than usual, and I didn't notice the dramatic decline between Monday to Friday as through the worst of the insomnia.

However, last week, the temperatures changed. It's now above zero degrees, and guess what? As soon as the temperature went above zero, I am back to being unable to fall asleep until toward four in the morning. I wake up again at five or six a.m. A week on, and I am drastically draining from this lack of sleep again. My sensitivity to light and noise has returned, and today I have the first sore throat and fever that is not cold related for the first time in a while. I have another 100 days left on my current work contract, and I'm just so hoping that I can hold out for that length of time. It's going to be another 9 months before temperatures get super cold again. It seems that I can only sleep well in arctic-like conditions. A curiosity, but also more than a slight frustration.

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