Sleep is a necessity that most people tend to take for granted. We need sleep as human beings in order to function, to reinforce our memories and learning, to maintain our body temperature and to survive. Sometimes, though, sleep can be a luxury that is too often taken for granted.
I've learned just from this past year that not sleeping enough (or at all) can really mess
with your body and your mind. Like most people have, I pulled the occasional all , had restless nights here and there, and sometimes just stayed up too late to be wide awake the next morning, but I learned that having insomnia is a completely different story and a completely different world.
I first started having problems with sleeping around a year ago, the beginning of my freshman year of college. I can't remember exactly how it started (probably because my memory was and is still not the greatest, which I attribute to my lack of sleep, for the most part) but I do remember very clearly some specific instances and the consequences.
Over at least a few weeks, maybe a month or two, I started sleeping less and less every night until I was sleeping an hour or two a night, if I was lucky. Otherwise I was up for days at time, attempting to take naps during the day and failing, or falling asleep in the middle of class with no notice. It was completely involuntary. It's not like I was up all night watching movies or studying and just letting the time slip away and then realizing I had to be up early for class. It may have began somewhat like that but I had no control over it once it got worse.
On one occasion, I had laid in bed with my eyes closed, tossing and turning, until the sun came up and as soon as I finally began to fall asleep, I realized I had a class at 8 AM but I refused to deprive myself of sleep I needed and emailed my professor informing her that I hadn't slept in days and I wouldn't be attending class because I needed to sleep if I finally could. Other times, I would wander around my dorm floor from the time everyone went to sleep until they woke up trying to tire myself out enough to fall asleep.
It was like my body was working against my mind. Even in my bed with all the lights off, no noise, no phone, and no distractions, I should have been able to fall asleep easily. I had always been able to before, but it was hopeless. My mind wouldn't quiet, my body couldn't relax, and nothing in me would just turn off for even a little while. I spent hours and hours a night imitating sleep, just praying I could get even a few hours, begging my body to let me.
During the day, I was a complete fog. I often misunderstood people, or just didn't hear them at all because my brain was so tired I just couldn't comprehend what was going on. The simplest tasks became the hardest thing in the world because exerting any sort of energy seemed impossible. Just changing my clothes and picking up my books took everything out of me. I was so physically weak, everything exhausted me. I felt so frail and fragile and I was. I could barely hold myself up most days. I was starting to forget things, too. If you had asked me what I ate for breakfast, my mind would have been blank. I lost track of time and I lost track of everything I needed to do or was doing. I probably wouldn't have even been able to tell you what day it was because they all were the same to me. It all just blended together because without sleep, nothing was separating my days from one another.
Then there were hallucinations. One morning, I awoke on my side with a person next to me. There was an arm wrapped around me, holding my hand. As you can imagine, I freaked out. I turned over, sat up, looked around, but there was nobody. There was nothing there, yet I had felt it. Around the same time, I saw my curtains blowing around and contorting almost as if it was windy inside my room, but the window wasn't open and there was certainly no air conditioning or fans blowing.
Once in a while, lights would move on the ceilings or shadows and lights would flicker. At first, I would point it out to whoever was around me, but I soon realized that nobody saw it but me. After a while I started hearing things. Once, when I was watching a movie with friends, I started hearing the voices of a group of men talking and singing. If I remember correctly, we were watching The Blair Witch Project. There were many other instances, but the point is that it happened more and more frequently and the hallucinations became more and more prevalent the less I slept.
Half of me was terrified and the other half of me was too tired to care or do anything about it. It was exhausting questioning whether the things I was seeing and hearing were actually real or not. The thing about it though, was that I wasn't even worried. Had I been in a normal state of mind, I would have been. At the same time, had I been in a normal state of mind, none of it would've been happening. I just figured that I would eventually either get used to them or that they would go away.
My friends and my RA's and even my professor that I had emailed about missing class all expressed their concern for me. My lack of sleep was no secret to anyone. People asked me constantly how I slept so little and seemingly functioned so well. I didn't function though. I just learned to go through the motions of a day without collapsing. I learned how to pretend I understood or cared about the conversations I held. I learned to drink cups and cups of coffee in the mornings and carry a travel mug full of it everywhere I went in attempt to stay awake throughout the day, although it didn't seem to make much of a difference.
Now, as I'm yawning at 4:30 AM I can say for a fact that it's because I stayed up because I had the idea to write this and not because I won't sleep for a day or two. That's not to say that magically all my problems were solved, but over time it did get better and I figured out how to fix it. I went from taking two or three Benadryl at night to knock me out to meditating with iPhone apps that would just lead me through it and found that such structure and simplified thought could sometimes put me to sleep. I also found that the more regular my daily routine got and the more regular my eating schedule became, the more I was able to sleep. I eventually was able to sleep a decent amount every night which, for me, means five or six hours and has, for the most part, become my norm. I still tend to stay up fairly late and sometimes have trouble sleeping and waking up early (probably because I'm just not a morning person at all) but I can also sleep 9 or 10 hours a night on the weekends. I'm more than happy with the amount I sleep compared to then and I can guarantee I'll never take sleep for granted again.