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Rise of the Spoonie Zombie: What It's Like to Be Unable to Sleep

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500, 499, 498, 497, 496… God I wish he would stop snoring. Better start again. 500, 499… oh my god I am so uncomfortable. Maybe I should get up? I don’t want to get up though. Maybe if I move my pillow that will help? No, that didn’t work. I’m so hot. I’ll move the duvet. Start again: 500… I’m really cold now. Jesus, why can’t I get comfortable! I am so fed up of doing this every night. I’ve been in bed two hours now and still, I’m awake! When he gets into bed, he sleeps in five minutes, and then keeps me awake with his incessant snoring!!! …500, 499, 498, 497, 496… I didn’t turn the kitchen light off, and I’m sure I left the oven on. I’ll go and check… No, everything was off. Right, Lucy, you need to stop now. Breathe deeply. Start counting. 500… Fuck’s sake, this is ridiculous!

This is basically my nightly ritual and what my ridiculous brain does every time I try and sleep. This is the joy of living with anxiety, OCD and mild insomnia.

Welcome to the world of human zombies.

I have never been a fantastic sleeper. Except for when I was a teenager and, as we all know, teenagers basically just sleep – all the time!

However, when my illness really started kicking in, my sleep patterns became more and more erratic.


Even though I am absolutely exhausted, my head won’t shut off. I have tried everything. Warm milk, hot chocolate, reading, no mobile phones and TV an hour before bed. All the usual things. Nothing helps. I could go to the doctor and ask for some sleeping tablets I presume, but I really don’t want to be taking more tablets than I already do.

I go to bed, I get unchanged, get into my pajamas and cuddle up in bed next to my other half. Within five to 10 minutes I start to hear the soft rumble of snores coming from the other side of the bed, so I know he has fallen asleep. (These soft rumbling snores soon turn into a sound that can only be described as a motorbike crossed with a hippopotamus on top of a volcano!) His snoring is absolutely horrendous. I have to sleep with industrial earplugs every night, and even they do not fully block out the noise, just muffle it.

Anyway, so there I am lying in bed, and six out of seven nights a week, I just lie there. Eyes shut, willing my body to turn off and sleep. Then my brain kicks in. My brain always decides that now would be an awesome time to play “you forgot something for work tomorrow” or “you didn’t do something really important today, but I am not telling you what it is!” I presume my brain thinks this is funny ( I am referring to my brain as a separate person at the moment, because at 3 a.m. when you’re shattered and you have to be up in three hours for work and your brain plays these mind games with you, it feels anything but a part of my body!)

So then I start counting. I’m not good at counting sheep. I have tried to imagine little fluffy sheep bouncing gleefully over a fence to get me to sleep. Once again my brain always kicks in and rudely interrupts me. Sometimes a random tune will come into my head or a replay of something I should have done that day. So I gave up with sheep. I haven’t got the attention span. Now I stick to just counting backwards. Normally from 500. The issue with this is, when my mind interrupts, my OCD kicks in, and I have to start again. So I may have gotten down to 350, but then I get distracted, so I have to go back to 500!

Some nights, when getting to sleep is particularly difficult, I have actually cried because I have been so exhausted. I remember one night a few years ago. I had work at 8 a.m. and by 6 a.m. I was still awake. I had tried everything I could to get to sleep. By 6:55 a.m., five minutes before my alarm was due.

I broke down and sobbed. I hadn’t long had some sick leave from work, and I knew it wouldn’t go down well if I didn’t go in. I was utterly exhausted, and there was no way I could go in, but the stress it caused me was unbearable. That then caused another sleepless night the following night, due to worrying about going back into work! What would they say, would they fire me? Would they be horrible to me? So I nearly pushed 48 hours without sleep.

If I do finally manage to get comfortable, then the restless legs start.

For those of you who are fortunate enough to never have had RLS, all I can say is you’re the lucky ones! RLS is one of the more irritating and painful conditions I get. Some people say theirs is relieved when they are lying down in bed. This is not the case for me. Mine stays the same or gets worse!

I can’t really, fully explain what RLS feels like. It’s a very subjective thing and from what I have read people get different symptoms. For me, it feels like my legs need to be stretched, sat on or have some form of weight applied to them. My RLS will start when I am awake and gets worse progressively throughout the evening and night.

So I lie in bed, try and get comfy and will ask my partner to put his full weight on my legs. This in itself is uncomfortable and sometimes painful. It is one of the only ways I can try and ease the crawling, tingling and pain in my legs. Sometimes I will put my feet under the bed, and do a similar motion to pushing the bed up with my feet. Again, I’m sure this is not a healthy thing to do, but it helps to ease the pain.

I have tried having warm baths with Epsom salts and muscle relaxers. Although this eases it slightly, it only works while I am in the bath. As soon as I am out, the RLS starts again.

If anyone has any ideas on how to help ease RLS, or how to help when insomnia strikes, please get in touch with me. I would love to know how you guys get a better night’s sleep!

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz.

Originally published: October 6, 2017
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