two women lying in bed one is awake and on her phone and the other is sleeping soundly in the dark

No Rest for the Weary: Coping with Sleep Stealers

I had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and at that point, I thought I had overcome all the major sleep stealers. You know the ones! As a student, I lost sleep and crammed for exams. As a worker, I took night and evening shifts to make ends meet. As a mother, I breastfed, stood guard for monsters, and kept one eye open at hospital bedsides.

Trial and error it was, but I reluctantly learned to guard my sleep. I turned down the lights in the evening, sewed my very own black-out curtains, removed anything related to work from my bedroom, and created a comfy place to lay my head. I avoided caffeine in the evening and slept in on weekends.

Starting to lose sleep

Just prior to being diagnosed I knew something was wrong. I lost sleep with pain and doubled it with worry. Once diagnosed, chemotherapy took its toll. I lost sleep with nausea and oftentimes projectile vomiting!

Now that I am on a regimented treatment, side effects interrupt my nights. Night sweats, cold chills, and an incredible joint pain that seems to freeze me in place just like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. My sleep was being hijacked once again.

This pain, nausea, and sweats/chills were my sleep stealers now. I put fans in my bedroom and took anti-nausea medications.  I reluctantly accepted the relief of pain meds when I had to and it all seemed to make good sense.

Then why, oh why, couldn’t I just go to sleep and stay asleep?

"My brain just wouldn’t turn off"

My brain just wouldn’t turn off. It raced like a rabbit jumping from problem to problem even if those problems weren’t mine or had anything to do with me. What was I missing?

It was then I took a good look at the screen right in front of my face.

I was on my smartphone late at night when I came across an article about artificial blue light. I learned how this blue light can actually suppress the release of the body's sleep-inducing hormone. This sleep stealer was messing with my melatonin!

That wasn’t all though. This artificial blue light can mess with the body’s natural internal clock that signals when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. The more time I spent on screens, especially at night time, the harder it was to get to sleep and stay asleep!

Sleep is incredibly restorative. Sleep gives the immune system a much-needed boost. It gives our bodies time to repair as we cope with cancer treatment. It reboots our brains. I had to find new ways of coping and fast!

Changing my habits

I realized that I had to change my habits. I knew I had to put away the screens in the evening, especially right before bed. A couple of hours before bed actually.

I removed all devices from my bedroom. It was just too tempting to reach for my phone that I literally had to put it to rest in another room! I powered down my devices after dinner. Literally, shut them off!

I took a good look at my bedtime routine. I searched for the most passive activities I could enjoy. Reading a book, listening to the radio, and taking a warm bath. No decision making, all relaxation.

Sleep started coming easier and I found that my brain bunny began to calm down. It was then that I realized how many decisions I was making while on my devices. How much information was rattling around in my brain at night. How overwhelming it could be right before bed.

Today, rather than keeping my face on a screen and fretting all night, I take charge. I make my comfort and my rest a priority. At the end of the day, I give myself some well-deserved “me” time. It might sound boring, but it can be incredibly cozy and can feel almost decadent.

Life happens and it’s true that sometimes I get off track, but in between the jigs and the reels, I’ve found a balance. The sleep stealers are waiting in the wings for the next assault and, with all defenses, I’ve built up, this time I am ready for them.

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