Can't Sleep

Monday, October 17, 2011

The author of Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia, Blake Butler, talks about the effects of insomnia, including his own 129-hour stretch of sleeplessness.


Blake Butler

Comments [19]

Michael R. from Brooklyn

I was a long-term (decades long), chronic (every night) insomniac, who could not sleep without Ambien. Then I became a meditator (mindfulness, also known as vipassana, or insight meditation), and that was the end of my inability to go to sleep and stay asleep.

Oct. 18 2011 12:03 AM
tom from UWS

Like the author, my periodic insomnia involves a racing mind filled with thoughts, like a nonstop monologue. And every night or hour of lost sleep exacerbates the problem.

I've learned that there are chemical things that will cause the problem: I have a sensitivity to ephedrine, which is in many decongestants, novocaine, etc. They spike adrenalin and build up with use. Using some decongestants for as little as a few days can lead to disastrous insomnia, at the same time I'm trying to recover from sinusitis or a cold. I avoid them at all costs.

I am a white noise guy, and the sound of my machine (or even an airconditioner or humidifier) can flip a switch in my head that helps me sleep. (If my noise machine's battery dies at night I will wake up when it clicks off.)

I didn't find Ambien very helpful. A doc friend told me tha Ambien will put you to sleep, but you don't actually get REM sleep while it's working - you have to sleep past that first 4 hrs or so of "manufactured" sleep. REM sleep is when you're actually getting the benefits of sleep and rest.

MY ACE IN THE HOLE is a prescription for Klonopin (Clonazepam in generic form). It's a tranquilizer, and unlike a sleep medication, it doesn't put you to sleep, but slows down that racing mind that's keeping me awake. I don't take my 1/2 milligram dose often. Once a month is typical. But just knowing I have it to fall back on helps ease the anxiety when I feel restless, and I'm able NOT to focus on the fact that I'm awake.

If I find myself awake at say 4:00 AM and haven't taken anything, I typically get up and do chores around the house. No internet, no TV. Some cleaning, anything that feels useful and helps tick off something from the long list of "to dos". I may have a long day ahead of me, but at least I begin by releasing some of that nervous energy.

Oct. 17 2011 12:16 PM
HAVANA CARBO/aka Gladys Carbo from Weehawken NJ

I called in with a suggestion which Mr. Butler decided to blow off as some 'home remedy' not to be taken seriously. Meantime he was off and running a million miles an hour - frighteningly wound up. It would help him to slow down and reconsider and perhaps listen to a tape of himself - enough to drive one to despair. Eating a banana is not some nutty idea of mine but a natural and recognized way of inducing calm and sleep. So is chamomile tea and various other natural calming foods and herbs. It's not a personal quirk of mine for him to pooh pooh as he did other callers as well. For those seriously seeking help It's crucial to begin putting on the breaks early evening to wind down from the day's intrusions, rather than fill the brain with chemicals. Unless of course you prefer to just write a book about how you can't sleep. I feel the need to listen to Barber's Addaggio or Durufle's Requiem to erase the memory of this guest's high pitched conversation.

Oct. 17 2011 12:15 PM
carolita from NYC

Also, may I suggest the nap? Since I rarely get enough sleep, I adopted the "siesta," a one hour or less nap before dark. It hasn't been around for centuries for nothing! Takes a while to get the hang of it, but worth it.

Oct. 17 2011 12:03 PM
carolita from nyc

I don't know if this'll help anyone, but I used to have trouble falling asleep until I discovered that trying to decide, in my mind, after checking the weather report, what I'd wear to work the next day guarantees that I'll fall asleep before I make a decision. I don't know if it's because trying to imagine yourself doing something completely unemotional like choosing your sweater or shoes is relaxing and gets your mind off really pressing things like remembering to pay that bill, or the grocery list, but it always works. So maybe forcing yourself to think about something that's not important will put you to sleep?

On the other hand, I can't nap without NPR playing in the background! (Not a commentary on NPR at all! Just a quirk!)

Oct. 17 2011 12:01 PM
Andrea from Philadelphia

I've had horrible bouts of insomnia over the years. I found that I developed anxiety about going to bed because I was expecting not to go to sleep. I was adverse to taking pills but found that breaking the cycle--if I could get one night's sleep "artificially" made it easier to start sleeping normally again. I tried Ambien and Lunesta and did not have Blake's bad experience--Lunesta especially did not have side effects for me. I also found Valerian to be helpful and it can be bought over the counter.

If it continues for a long time and no medical reason can be found, I'd recommend trying therapy. Although depression is generally identified with sleeping, there are varieties of depression and anxiety that can cause sleeplessness.

Oct. 17 2011 12:00 PM
Jonella from Boondox of Sullivan County

So sorry to hear of the sleepless problems. I know them well!
Might I suggest you go to my website: www.iSleepless.Com? It has helped a number of people!!!
Good luck!!!

Oct. 17 2011 11:59 AM
Ellen from Brooklyn

I don't know have intense insomnia like this, but I do have problems sleeping fairly often. One thing that I've noticed is that my diet has a huge impact. I think most people know to avoid caffeine in the afternoon, but things like vitamins also keep me awake, or eating too late at night.

Mostly stress keeps me awake... I start to think about everything that I didn't get done or that I need to remember for the next day. Making lists can be helpful for me, because then I can sort of let go of those worries until the morning, because I know they will still be there, written down.

A bunch of other things keep me up, some of them have been touched on. I think the most important thing to do is to pay attention to yourself and see what works for you and what doesn't. And to try not to set expectations

Oct. 17 2011 11:59 AM
Robert from NYC

Banana is interesting. I was told by another organist that if I get nervous before playing publicly I should eat a banana an hour before performing to calm my nerves. Never did it but hearing this maybe it works.

Oct. 17 2011 11:58 AM

Acupuncture is very effective to trat insomnia with no side effects. There is a school on 21st and broadway l,

Oct. 17 2011 11:58 AM
grace from uws

Anyone with insomnia who is under any stress whatsoever should have their cortisol levels checked. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, can have a disastrous effect on sleep if it runs amok.

Oct. 17 2011 11:57 AM
Ken from Soho

I take 3 supplements - Melatonin, Tryptophan and Valerian ("MTV").

Oct. 17 2011 11:57 AM
Ryan from Manhattan

Acupuncture can help cure insomnia. It's very effective with no side effects. There is a Chinese medicine school on 21st and Broadway - Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, with low cost treatments

Oct. 17 2011 11:56 AM
Debbie from nyc

I was a high school English teacher for 5 years, and I had chronic insomnia for at least the first 3 years.

I found it helpful if I put my mind on something REALLY MUNDANE (for example, foods I like or don't like, going through the alphabet), and most importantly something EXTERNAL, not the thoughts going through my head about the future or the past, etc.. If I woke up again, I'd go back to the alphabet and force myself to concentrate on the mundane.

It's also helpful to tell yourself lies, like "I won't give that presentation. I'm going to cancel it tomorrow" just to get rid of the anxiety.

In the end, I quit teaching and I sleep much better. :)

Oct. 17 2011 11:54 AM
Robert from NYC

Yeah that's the problem with those pills, they leave you brain numb.
I hate the nights when I try forcing myself to sleep lying in bed with eyes closed then after what seemed like an hour or so had passed i check the clock and the clock is one minute later than when I last checked it.

Oct. 17 2011 11:53 AM
bob from bay ridge

meditation and in severe care boring book about economics. works for me most of the time. a small german beer right before bed helps a bit too.

Oct. 17 2011 11:50 AM
Stephen from prospect heights

A few summers I was literally not able to sleep for 6 weeks with no signs of tiredness. Saw a whole slew of doctors and none had any answers of why. Summer I am in high gear and winter is opposite. I am exhausted all winter. It was TORTURE thinking about my life constantly. Seep is the great redeemer.

Oct. 17 2011 11:50 AM
Tony Bruguier

After a couple of hours, I usually give up and start doing some work.

Oct. 17 2011 11:49 AM
Robert from NYC

Thanks for this segment. It's almost a year that I can't sleep more than 3 hrs a night. HELP!!!

Oct. 17 2011 11:45 AM

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