Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Confessions Of An Insomniac

My lodgings

My electrodes

More of my electrodes

I haven’t slept since college, by which I mean I haven’t slept well since college. I developed insomnia in school because I was staying up late studying and writing papers and basically trained my body not to recognize tiredness. When it finally came time to go to sleep, I had difficulty shutting down my mind. It would take me an hour to doze off and when you’re only getting five hours of sleep, there’s no time for that nonsense. It’s been six years since graduation and it’s still an issue. I've tried visualization exercises, yoga, CDs projecting the sounds of the jungle or whale songs, nothing worked.

Eventually I went to a sleep disorder clinic and a doctor prescribed me sleeping pills which were a godsend until my body started building up a tolerance. Suddenly one pill was no longer taking care of business. I could’ve popped an Ambien and put in a full day’s work. In addition to having trouble falling asleep, I also started having problems staying asleep. Even after taking a sleeping pill I’d wake up as many as 10 times a night. They kept increasing my dosage and now it takes two-and-a-half sleeping pills every night for me to get a full night’s rest. It’s approximately the same amount used to tranquilize those bears that occasionally burst out of the forest to terrorize suburban neighborhoods.

Though my sleep specialist says that two-and-a-half sleeping pills isn’t really harmful (you’d have to take 40 times the regular dosage to OD on Ambien), they had me stay overnight at the sleep disorder center last Friday so they could study me try to figure out what the problem is. Appropriately, the sleep center is located inside Bellevue hospital, home to New York’s premiere insane asylum. Courtney Love was carted off to Bellevue a few years ago during one of her breakdowns. John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman spent some time there. Yep, just me and the crazies chillin on a Friday night.

I arrived at 8:30 p.m. dressed in a t-shirt and boxers. A medical technician immediately went to work attaching approximately 30 electrodes to my head and face. Sensors were also strapped to my stomach and chest to monitor my breathing throughout the night. The technician placed one strap above my breasts and one strap below. “It’s like a boob tourniquet,” I observed. He laughed politely. By the time he got through with me, I resembled Sandra Bullock at the end of Speed when Dennis Hopper straps a bomb to her chest and then makes her get on the subway. (I've always wondered, does anyone even ride the subway system in L.A.? Isn’t that kind of dangerous with all those potential earthquakes? These are some of the things that keep me up at night.)

I lay down in the sleep center’s research bed, which was surprisingly comfortable. The technician was in the back room monitoring my heart rate and brain waves and watching me on video. He wished me good night over the loudspeaker. About five minutes later I said out loud, “Um, hello? Sir? Can I please have a glass of water?” He rushed into the room with a paper cup and held back the wires so I could imbibe without electrocuting my face. Then a few minutes later, “Okay, I’m sorry to bother you again but is there any way I can get another blanket?” I felt like a kid again. Remember when you were little and just shouted out your requests to your parents? “I want to get up now!” you’d scream. “Getupgetupgetupgetup!!!!” until someone would come running into the room and lift you out of your crib.

Like any classic overachiever, as I was trying to drift off I started worrying that I wasn't going to deliver the goods. What if I, like, failed the test by sleeping soundly through the night??? Luckily, I had a horrible, fitful sleep. I tossed and turned all night. Several times I accidentally yanked out one of the wires and the technician came in and woke me up so he could reconnect me. I had bizarre dreams that kittens had become a new food delicacy and not just any kittens but mini-kittens. People were frying them up and eating them like shrimp except they were somehow still alive. “Look how cute!” we’d say before popping them, still wriggling, into our mouths. In my dream I saved one of these mini-kittens from certain death and took it home to adopt it but my boyfriend freaked out because he’s allergic. “You know what dander does to me!” said Dream Boyfriend.

At 5:45 a.m. on Saturday my minder woke me up by announcing over the loud speaker, “You can leave, Ms.Hancock. We have all the data we need.” As they peeled off the electrodes, I wondered if that’s what death will be like – a voice from above booming out, “You can go, Ms. Hancock. We have everything we need from you.” I stumbled out of the hospital a few minutes later in my boxers, t-shirt and flip-flips. My hair was sticking out wildly from all the gel used to make the electrodes adhere to my head. At home I donned a shower cap to keep the gel from getting all over my pillows, put on a sleep mask and passed out again looking rather insane.


Rbastid said...

So the best way to get to sleep is have a very stressful presleep nap, followed by some dreams that make me feel rather sane?

Very nice read though to save me from the 4hr mark of a boring work day.

I Found myself getting over my college insomnia this past summer by finally getting my septum put back in place, Vicodin works so much better then Ambien.

Hope everything works out for you, otherwise you'll be back in the nut house....I mean sleep center.

J said...

You look like a terrorist with all the wires.

A guy I used to work with had sleep apnea - he literally woke up hundreds of times a night. He kept waking up because his airway was getting blocked. He was always tired during the day, often nodding off. He's overweight and that either caused or made the condition worse.

He went to a sleep clinic and got hooked up like you did. When he laid down, he was out in seconds.

They recommended he have a relatively simple operation, but his insurance refused to pay for it. If I remember right, they gave him a device to put in his mouth that would keep his airway open. I don't think it worked very well.

Have you ever tried Melatonin? I use it occasionally to help me sleep and it seems to work pretty well. Here's some info: tinyurl.com/yn8voh

Anyway, good luck! By the way - they plan to convert Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital into a hotel in 2009, so think about that if you have to go in again.

Noelle Hancock said...

Oh, Melatonin, Xanax, Rozerem, I've done it all. For me, those were like the Flintstones vitamins of sleeping pills.

W-Burn said...

No one rides the subway in LA. It's the NYC equivalent of having one stop in Brooklyn, one in midtown and one in Staten Island. That's it.

Though our characters rival yours. That I guarantee.

Joe said...

I didn't even know L.A. had a subway. San Francisco's BART is pretty well known, and I don't think it was damaged that badly in the 1989 quake - a lot less than the Nimitz freeway anyway, which was then torn down.

I was in S.F. once and talked to a Fed Ex delivery guy who was on the road driving during the quake. He was north of the city somewhere (in Marin county I guess,) and he said he didn't even know there had been a quake until he arrived at his destination and the people there told him.

Anonymous said...

Ambien is evil. You're better off not sleeping. I have a friend who went sleep driving and killed some one. Criminal charges were filed, and he was just acquitted last year. He's so reviled that he had to move with his family to Texas to start over. Yes, Texas, your home state. (This is a true story. See link: http://www.californiacriminallawyerblog.com/dui_defense/blood_tests/ )

Here's a thought: eat a sandwich. You can't sleep cause you're hungry. Also: see your post of Nora Ephron-isms. Less wine, less Ambien and more luncheon meats. Give it a try.

Noelle Hancock said...

I actually don't drink wine and I totally disagree about food. If I eat a big meal after 8:30 I always get terrible sleep, which is unfortunate in New York where everyone makes weekend dinner reservations at 10:30. I'm like, what is this -- Spain?

Anonymous said...

There is a David Foster Wallace story with a somewhat similar scene, but it is a couple instead of one person. Did they have those too? Also, in the story it is kind of funny but yours sounds sad and maybe a cause for concern. Hope you sleep better soon.

Jen said...

You did it! I still need to make my appointment. There's something wrong with me that this sounds amazing.

Barry said...

So what were your results of your study? Did you ever reach rem? Was snoring present?

Chantal said...

well, you can try Valerian root (in tea or capsule form) in case you haven't tried that, yet...

Noelle Hancock said...

I'm not sure yet! They don't give you the results for about two weeks.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Temazapam(Restoril)? I've gone through all the same things as you-- sleep studies, a body that laughs at most any sleep medication, etc.... It works well for me.

Barry said...

Any Results on your ZZZ Study?