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How I Realized the Effect ‘Better’ Sleep Has on Your Health

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Sleep — that elusive lover that taunts us all day and hides from so many of us at night. As someone with depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a general tendency for “laziness,” I enjoy my sleep. So much. But it was only recently I realized how important it is. And oh, does it feel good.

I don’t remember when I started having nightmares. I think I’ve always had them to some extent, but they used to be infrequent enough that I’d just complain about a bad night, stick that IV of coffee in and go on with my day. Just kidding — I don’t do an IV drip of coffee. That’s ridiculous. I inhale it, obviously.

Anyway, sometime in the past year, maybe two years, the nightmares kicked up. I ended up having so many that I was woken up all throughout the night, heart racing and mind reeling. And this continued for so long that they stopped truly bothering me. I’d wake up with these horrible images in my head, and instead of being afraid of going back to sleep, I’d just mentally shrug it off and snuggle back into my pillow, only to slip right back where I left off and continue on with the murder camp or zombie apocalypse or whatever fresh hell my brain had conjured up that night.

Through all this time, I thought my sleep was good enough since I was technically in bed for six to eight hours. I thought that was pretty good. But I realized it had been months since I had lost weight, all the while on a diet that had previously helped me. I wasn’t screwing up my diet, so why couldn’t I lose weight? Add in the fact that I was permanently exhausted, and my husband and I were worried there was a problem. He was convinced my thyroid was failing.

So I saw a doctor, got some bloodwork done, and talked to my psychiatrist in the meantime. They both asked how I slept, and both times I said something like, “Good. I mean … I do have a lot of nightmares. They wake me up a lot. And pain wakes me up sometimes … But I mean, otherwise…” Both doctors, without even knowing of the other, told me the same thing: I needed better sleep. Not more hours, just better sleep.

In the end, my bloodwork came back excellent, besides telling me I am anemic which explains part of the exhaustion, and I’m working on that through diet and iron supplements. But the major factor here came down to my brain. My psychiatrist gave me a new prescription for an anti-anxiety medication and told me to take one every night right before bed. And both doctors also told me to take melatonin to make sure I’ll sleep.

And the most unbelievable thing happened: I started sleeping better. My dreams are still weird as hell but they’re no longer nightmares, and no longer wake me up. And I swear, as soon as I started sleeping actual REM sleep, I started losing weight again. One of the doctors — I don’t remember which one, maybe even both — explained it doesn’t matter how many hours you’re in bed. If you keep waking up and you never actually get into that deep REM sleep, you will not wake up rested. Your body doesn’t just need you to be in bed. It needs the good stuff.

And who’d have thought my brain would have been the culprit for all this?! Oh, that’s right, all my doctors. I should listen to them more.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Kevin Laminto on Unsplash

Originally published: November 21, 2019
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