Sleep PTSD

Michael Jackson died of sleep.  More correctly, he died of trying to get a good night’s sleep.  Notice the expression:  Good Night’s Sleep.  Not a Bad Night’s Sleep, or even a Night’s Sleep.  A Good Night’s Sleep.  That is important, and I’ll tell you why later.  First I have to say that thankfully, the only thing I have in common with Michael Jackson is off-the-charts insomnia.  Michael Jackson was a sad, sorry, probably bad, person.  He was a great singer, a brilliant choreographer and dancer, an insomniac, and a pedophile.  He was horribly abused as a child, but that does not excuse his pedophilia.  Now I am ranting about Michael Jackson.  I will stop now.

I don’t know.  Maybe I do have something else in common with MJ.  I think something happened to both of us when we were little children, before the age of talking.  I have noticed in my life as a pediatrician and specialist in child abuse, focusing on child sexual abuse, that things that happen to preverbal children often cannot be healed, because there is no way to access them.  Sometimes you can get to it through modalities like hypnotherapy and NLP; I’ve done them both.  In fact, I’m a certified NLP practitioner, and during my year’s training I had many hypnotherapy and NLP sessions focused on my inability to sleep, and all of them made sense, and none of them worked.

You see, I am a professional non-sleeper.  When I was a child I often took a book and a flashlight with me under the covers and read till dawn, then went out to enjoy the morning birds’ chorus until it was time to go in the house and pretend I’d been asleep.  Not sleeping was a sin, in my house.  “You go to sleep right now!”  As if that were something voluntary.  I don’t know, maybe it is, for some people.

Sometimes I would get so scared at night that I would cry, and my dad would sometimes come in and make me “an Army Bedroll.”  (He is a World War II veteran.)  He would make me a tight cocoon with my covers, a comforting blanket embrace.  Then he would like down on the floor next to my bed and fall asleep.  He can sleep anytime, anywhere.  How I envy that.  I would listen to him snore, and find myself awake in the dawn, having slept soundly, and he had gone back to bed with my mom.  (For the record, I will say here that my father never, ever did anything that could be remotely considered to be inappropriate with me.  Ever.)

From the Army Bedroll I learned to make a mummy case out of my bedding.  I would get all the covers tucked under me as tight as I could, including over my head.  I do not know how I breathed, but since I am still alive that is proof that I did (hmmm, maybe my brain dysfunction is due to chronic nocturnal hypoxia).  This seemed to work for a while, but soon it wore off and I found myself just lying there mummified until early morning, when I would drift off to sleep until the alarm clock of my mother’s screech “Get up, it’s time for school!” would wake me and I would struggle out of my tangled prison.

(Aside: When I was ten I got hit by a car and spent a week in the hospital in a minor coma.  When they moved me into a regular room my parents came to visit.  I was trying to get some sleep, so I had mummified myself.  I was rudely awakened by my mother’s shrieks when she saw me lying there with the white sheets over my head.  I still get a satisfied snort out of that.)

The hormonal armageddon of puberty seemed to bring about a welcome shift in the sleep department.  Instead of being permanently wired, I became permanently sleepy.  That was nice.  I had a few years’ respite from the night-time nasties.

Then I ran away from home, and endured a series of nocturnal intruders in my bed.  No more sleeping at night for me.  Night was not a safe time to sleep.  It was a time to be vigilant.  And so my nocturnal PTSD reawakened.

As those of you who read my blog with any regularity know, when I am not writing about electric toilets or outhouses, I generally write about my own boring alphabet soup of psychiatric diagnoses: BP, PTSD, OCD (what, I haven’t written about that one yet?  Oversight.  Note to self.), ASD, MDD, blah blah blah, boring.  I’m just so sick of it.  I just want to go back to work and have fun being a doctor like I used to, not sit around being ashamed of my life, the way it’s turned out.

Yes, I am ashamed that I have to take four different kinds of medicine in order to fall asleep (read: pass out from drugs).  Seroquel, which also helps me not feel anything the rest of the time; clonazepam, which helps with the night terrors; lorazepam, which helps calm me down so I don’t leap out of bed and run out the door if I hear a noise; and zolpidem, which has recently had some very bad press in the medical literature, but since I don’t seem to be able to sleep without it, and since bipolar disorder is known to be worsened by lack of sleep, I am stuck.

I just read a great article on how to retrain yourself out of insomnia, using a combination of NLP and DBT techniques.  It looks like it would work for anybody who has “normal” insomnia.  The problem is with me, sleep is associated with being raped, so I don’t think it’s going to work.  I’m going to give it a try, though.  Nothing to lose but a few drugs, and a great deal to gain.

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6 Comments

  1. Hello there. Thanks for your blogs, very interesting! In your latest one you comment that “bipolar disorder is known to be worsened by lack of sleep”. Could you please tell me more about this, please, and whether there are any other references you can point me to?

    All the best. I’m managing to keep my bipolarity (which Ive had for life too!) in “balance” or in “positive”, due to the meds, diet and exercise (which helps me sleep).

    John Ardern in England

    Reply
    • Hi John, welcome to my world. I have had several neuropsychiatrists tell me that adequate sleep and regular sleep patterns are essential to managing bipolar illness, especially manic or hypomanic phases. I have had the unfortunate personal experience of having sleep deprivation (I’m a doctor, now disabled due to my illness) kicking off manic episodes. One of my neuropsychiatrists uses sleep as a therapeutic tool for resetting the biological clock and restoring balance in bipolar manic side episodes, using antipsychotic medicines. There is a wealth of information on sleep and bipolar illness. A fairly decent article that I found with a quick search is here. Glad to hear you’re keeping things in balance. Take good care of yourself!

      Reply
  2. Im taking medications for PTSD antidepressants and sleeping pills.

    Reply
  3. Missing MJ…. 😦 I am a big fan 😦

    Reply

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