For a person with chronic insomnia, the only thing worse than tossing and turning all night might be struggling through the day. A consistent lack of sleep can cause physical and emotional problems, affect relationships, and impair your social life.
Insomnia compounds other health problems
Rebecca Wiseman, 26, started having sleep problems during her last pregnancy when she was put on hospital bed rest for preterm labor. After she gave birth to her second set of twins in two years, her insomnia gradually got worse.
Prescription sleeping pills helped, but Wiseman didn't want to medicate herself into a deep sleep while the babies needed her. She could only use them three nights a week when her husband, who works long shifts for the military, had off the next day and could stay up late to attend to the children.
Averaging just three hours of sleep a night, Wiseman was also put on medication for postpartum depression. "At first I thought the insomnia was due to either the babies having colic, me adjusting to the stress of four babies, or a side effect of my depression," she says. "I thought it was temporary, that it would just get better with time."
Her depression subsided, only to be replaced by chronic migraines, and soon, symptoms of mild restless legs syndrome at night. Then she ran out of pills. "I realized things were bad when the babies started sleeping better than me," she continues.
Wiseman's family had just moved to Sumter, S.C., and her new family doctor did not want to prescribe medication. "He said that pills caused more problems than solutions," she remembers. "But in the same breath he told me that my migraines were caused by lack of sleep. Not the answers I wanted as a frustrated new mom."
Personal relationships suffer
Without medication, Wiseman is tired all the time and has migraines at least twice a week. "At times I can't seem to focus," she says. "And it causes stress between my husband and me. We seem to argue more often about very stupid issues, like sweeping or laundry. And we don't get as much 'us' time."
The insomnia has also affected Wiseman's relationship with her children. "When my older girls were babies, I used to play dress up with them and take lots of pictures. Even when my husband was overseas for eight months, that didn't stop me. I had my double stroller and we would just go to the mall or grocery shopping. We would even get in the car for trips to visit grandparents eight hours away."
Today she still takes the children out, but she doesn't have the energy to play with them like she used to. She feels her patience growing thinner too. "With twins you hear all kinds of comments and questions, over and over," she explains.
"With my first two girls I used to smile, give some generic answer, and keep going. Even being stopped every few feet for the same questions didn't bother me. Now with my quad stroller it's worse, and being tired does not help. I am so close to giving some snotty or rude answer, and that's very unlike me."
A good support system is important
Wiseman schedules her doctors' appointments for days that her husband can take off work and looks forward to visits from her mother, when she can get a few hours away from the kids. She has also found support through an online message board, communicating with other members about insomnia and medication issues.
Recently Wiseman found a new family physician who is more sensitive to her sleep issues. He put her back on medication a few nights a week, at least until her kids are sleeping better and her headaches subside.
"I do think some people are quick to brush off the dangers of not sleeping," she says. "But I know I will go through however many doctors I need to get help."