I’m pretty sure I have insomnia. I just have this alarm clock in my head that makes me rise sometime between 4 and 5 am nearly every morning. Sometimes I might stay up late to watch a movie and sleep in late the next day, but most times, I’m in bed by 10, maybe 10:30 and I rise before 5. I try to keep it consistent.
A part of my “sleepless” comes from anxiety about waking up late. I’m hard of hearing and I sleep without my hearing aid. I’ve tried alarm clocks but I found that I could not rely upon them. And since I’m a morning person from birth, I just prefer to rely upon the clock in my head.
Another part of the drive for my clock is anticipation of the next day, and that anticipation is for writing. I find that sometime around 3 am, I start writing outlines of articles in my head. By 4 or 5, I’m excited enough to get out of bed and write. Writing is my morning coffee. Well, I’m not sure writing is my morning coffee so much as looking at a white screen is but I do love to write.
I also have anticipation of the day ahead, whether it be working my day job or being father to my kids or husband to my wife. I get up early because I just can’t stand the idea of being in bed during the day. Except for a brief nap. On Saturdays. After lunch.
Sleeping pills? I won’t take them. I still have memories of the sleeping pill commercials I used to see on TV. I don’t watch TV with commercials much anymore nowadays. I just don’t like how I feel when I watch them. I don’t like the idea of a company using science to influence my mind with supreme precision to buy something I didn’t really want, anyway.
The two most common commercials I have seen were sleeping pills and pain pills. I’ve never used sleeping pills. When I got married my wife told me that I fall asleep in about 5 minutes every night. I just know how to fall asleep and it works every time. I close my eyes, settle down and I’m asleep. Sometimes I even intentionally slow down my breathing to fall asleep. It’s that simple to me, and it’s a skill I learned long ago. Sleeping pills are advertised on TV because the people who take them don’t have that skill of falling blissfully into sleep.
One day, long ago, I came across an article on a study of people who use sleeping pills. The study found that people tend to die earlier in life with use of sleeping pills. I also learned that sleeping pill advertisements are for the small minority of people who buy 90% of the sleeping pills. I have to imagine that sleeping pills are addictive and once people are hooked, they have a very hard time stopping.
Then there are pain pills. I’ve never gotten into the habit of thinking to myself, “Ow, My back hurts. I think I’ll take a pain pill to make the pain go away.” Some people get migraines. I’ve never had a migraine headache and I hear that they are the mother of all headaches. I just can’t imagine what that must be like, to have a pounding pain in the head all day, every day. Note that they’re still doing those studies and both sleeping and pain pills are associated with higher mortality rate.
I avoid pain pills for one simple reason: pain is the signal, not the cause. I just know that if I do something that causes me pain, I either stop doing it, or cut back. If exercise causes me pain, I check to see if that pain is “the burn”, that kind of pain I like to feel when I know I’m building muscle, or discovering a muscle I didn’t know I had or, pain that is a sign of damage. I avoid pain pills because I want to know what is going on in my body. I want that awareness.
At my work, I sit all day. I’ve notice back pain from sitting and have figured out ways to deal with that pain. I adjust my posture when I’m sitting for lumbar support. I sit up straight and avoid slouching. I have also found some exercises that really help with back pain.
First, there is squatting. Squatting is one of the most natural things you can do with your body. Humans have evolved to squat to pee, to poop and to give birth. When we squat, sacs of liquid in our hip joints are compressed, expelling liquid lubricant to the joint. When we rise, those sacs decompress and absorb liquid again for shock absorption. In the articles I’ve read, the consensus recommendation is to squat 5–6 times a day. I’ve found just squatting to be very helpful for back comfort.
Another thing that I’ve found is that just exercise can relieve back pain. For me, that’s about 40 minutes of table tennis a day. I play for the sweat and I’d play longer if my wife could tolerate it. I just love watching the ball fly. But the point here is to move your center of mass around. Moving around like running, jumping, even walking, forces the back to work to keep you upright, and when your back muscles work, blood must circulate, and that is where pain is relieved. Back pain is the signal that you’re not getting enough exercise.
Then there are those speed drinks like Red Bull and Monster. I really don’t get them, either. The last thing I need is to sit at a desk and hear the blood rushing through my earlobes. That’s what those drinks do to me. Yes, I get high, and I climb the walls. I’m already pretty wired without any help from stimulating drinks. So I avoid those drinks just so that I can work in peace.
Long ago, I read an article about Pete Townsend, the guitarist from the legendary rock band, The Who. You’d think that with all the wealth he received from his music, that he’d be happy, right? Well, at one point, he was shooting heroin and drinking a 5th of cognac every single day. And he wanted to stop. Really bad. So he very discreetly put the word out that he needed help.
A company approached him with this black box with two wires attached. “We’ll just attach a wire to each side of your temples and then give it some juice. It’s just a tiny current, just enough and at the right frequency, to induce your brain to release the endorphins that were being blocked by the alcohol and the dope.” A few weeks later, Townsend was unhooked and he was free.
What I took away from that article? Huh. My brain is a two and a half million year old pharmacy. So I don’t have to drink, smoke cannabis, drink coffee or use anything from the outside to change how I feel. I can start by accepting everything exactly the way it is right now, without reservation. Then I can begin to change my thinking to induce the feelings I want to feel. I am literally responsible for how I feel everyday, all the time. One of the reasons I like to write is that I can see how I am thinking and then I can decide how I want to change my thinking. I can then use my writing to change how I feel.
Getting unhooked from a progressive and potentially fatal addiction requires skill. Those skills are taught by therapists, counselors and 12-step meetings. Using pills to get to sleep or to deal with pain just bypasses the process of learning the skills needed to get to sleep and/or avoid the pain in the first place. Oh, and if you do have migraines, I suggest you check out a book by William Dufty called, Sugar Blues. I read therein that cutting or eliminating sugar from your diet will also cut the migraine pain.
As you might have gathered from this article, I avoid stimulants or mood altering substances as a way of life. No booze, no coffee, no smoking, very little sugar, yet I have allowed for some chocolate. I just love chocolate, and I prefer dark chocolate, but I only eat small amounts every day. Just enough to satisfy me for a moment. And then I’m back to reality.