Regular insomnia? DSPD? Non-24? Something else? I need advice, this is driving me nuts, and I’ve had enough of it..
I want to start off the post by saying that I unfortunately am not in a position to go to or afford a doctor in my country currently. I also want to avoid medication at all costs for reasons I will state below. So keep that in mind when reading my post!
Edit: Sorry I didn't realise how long this post would be. The tl;dr version if you don't have time to read: My sleep pattern deteriorates by about an hour a week, no matter what time I go to bed or what methods I use to try to get to sleep. This results in me maintaining a reasonable sleep pattern for a few weeks, before it becomes unreasonable, and I eventually give in and have to spend a week of sleepless nights & sleep deprivation going to bed 4-5 hours later each night until my sleep pattern is returned to normal. I then repeat the whole cycle over and over again. I'm trying to figure out what's wrong with me, why this is happening, and what I can do to either cure this.. or at least slow down the deterioration of my sleep pattern so I can spend longer in the "good phase" where I'm sleeping at normal times.
I don't really know when it started, but I have some theories. Long ago when I was a kid, sleep came so easily to me. I could sleep in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, and I slept all night. If I just closed my eyes for a brief moment while laying in front of the TV, I could find myself waking up a couple of hours later.
I used to love taking naps. So much so that I distinctly remember a few times when I grossly exaggerated how bad I was feeling to my parents so I could take the day off school and spend the whole morning napping.
This didn't change as I got older. Sleep always came quickly and easily to me, and naps were something I performed regularly.
Unfortunately, I made some less than wise decisions. It started off as a bit of harmless teenage experimentation – but progressed quickly into something much darker: opiate addiction.
I spent a couple of years in a really dark place, injecting all manner of substances, letting my health and relationships deteriorate. I narrowly escaped with my life on numerous occasions. During that time I would often find myself out of opiates and experiencing withdrawals. Most of the aspects I could handle, but there was one that was torture for me: insomnia. I couldn't fall asleep no matter how long I lay there, not until I literally passed out from exhaustion after being up for multiple days. Or until I got a fix that relieved that insomnia and allowed me to fall asleep.
Thankfully, I managed to find a glimmer of hope, and something to live for. After many previous failures, I now had a real reason to get clean, and so I did it. I've been clean for 2 and a half years now, and my life has never been better. I'm happy, I'm working on improving myself every day. I eat healthy, take care of my body, exercise, meditate every day, etc. I do something I love for a living, and I'm grateful for every day and every breath I take. I'm even grateful for the mistakes I made and the dark place I was in, because I feel like I was able to grow and become a stronger person through overcoming addiction.
When I first got clean, I of course experienced withdrawals, and was plagued with a lack of sleep for some time. As time went on though I was able to sleep again. It took a little longer to fall asleep, but I was getting full nights of restful sleep again.
It started off with me going to sleep around 10pm and rising around 5-6am. Quickly however, 5-6am became 7-8am, which became 9-10am, which became 11am-12pm, and so on. Until I was waking up at like 5-6pm every day when it was already starting to get dark. I also noticed I can no longer take naps. It just doesn't work, unless I haven't slept the previous night.. but then it's not really a nap as much as me just catching up with missed sleep.
Not having any work at the time, and still living with my family, I was able to maintain this for some time, but my family quickly got annoyed since if the dogs heard me at night they'd start barking, waking everyone else up.
So I tried time and time again to go to sleep earlier to try to fix my sleep pattern. I started off trying to go to bed at a normal time like 10-11 for several days. I found I would lay there all the way until 10 or 11am without any sleep. It was horrible because it reminded me of my addiction and the sleepless nights I got during withdrawals.
So I tried a different approach, going to bed just 1-2 hours earlier. Sure enough, I still fell asleep at 10-11am.
So I tried all these different hours, until I finally realised that wasn't working.
So I decided to try something different: to sleep deprive myself a little. I stayed up from like 5pm one day, until around 10-11pm the next day. Then attempted to go to sleep.
Sure enough, I fell asleep. Great.. well, until I woke up 2-3 hours later, and wasn't able to fall back asleep again until the late morning.
So I tried again and again, accumulating more and more sleep debt as I kept trying on consecutive days, until eventually after about 2 weeks of this, I managed to sleep a full night, at normal times.
I began to wake up at normal times again, but I quickly noticed a tendency. My sleep pattern would gradually begin to shift. It happened so slowly that I didn't really notice it happening until it was too late. I'd fall asleep just a couple of minutes later, and then 5 minutes later, and then 20 minutes later, and so on. It didn't matter whether I went to bed early or on time, my sleep pattern would always move forward by about an hour a week.
Eventually I was falling asleep at 5-6am and waking up in the afternoon, and my family were again upset. Once again, I tried the same protocol of simply skipping sleep until I was able to fall asleep at the correct time. I was again met with nights where I'd sleep 1-3 hours. Until eventually after about a week or two, I finally was able to sleep the full night, and get my sleep pattern back in order.
Over the next 6-8 weeks, my sleep pattern gradually deteriorated again, and I once again spent a 1-2 week period of sleepless nights and exhaustion fixing it.
Then the whole thing happened again.
It has been that way ever since for the past 2 and a half years. I work now, but thankfully I'm self-employed and so choose my own hours. However I still live with others who don't appreciate me being awake all night – and so simply letting my sleep manage itself isn't an option for me right now.
I've recently discovered a slightly better way to fix my sleep pattern: Embracing the desire to fall asleep later each day, and pushing it further.
Basically my new regimen when my sleep pattern is out of order, is something like the following:
Say I'm falling asleep at 7am every morning. What I'll do is I'll force myself to stay up until 11am. Then the next day I'll go to bed at 3pm, then the next day 7pm.. Then the next day 10pm, and I'll try to maintain my sleep pattern there.
It works, but it involves a minimum of 4 days of feeling completely jet-lagged, not getting much of any work done, missing food and workouts etc, and I have to do it at least once every 2 months, sometimes once a month.
More recently I tried to speed up the process, trying to do it in just 2 nights, i.e. go to sleep 6-8 hours later on night 1, then at a normal time on night 2, but after tossing and turning last night from 11pm to 5am, I've discovered that doesn't seem to work well.
Does this sound like Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder? Non-24? Or something else? It seems no matter how hard I try to get to sleep at the same times, I always go to sleep later and later.
I considered something like non-24, but looking at other peoples sleep logs it seems that their sleep changes by like 30-60 minutes a day, while for me it is much more gradual, I'd say it typically deteriorates by around an hour a week, but sometimes its a little faster or slower than that. One thing I can say with certainty is I don't think I've ever gone 2 months without going from 10pm sleep times to 4-5am or later sleep times in the past 2 and a half years.
I can't tell if the problem developed when I got clean, or if it was a problem I had for a lot longer that was just masked by the vast amount of opiates and sleeping medication that I indulged in on a regular basis – which allowed me to sleep in spite of it.
Things I've tried:
- Staying in bed until I fall asleep no matter how long it takes: I've been in bed in excess of 12+ hours before trying with no luck.
- Listening to sleep music: Doesn't work whatsoever.
- Listening to ASMR: ASMR has become a godsend to me, because on those sleepless nights I can listen to it and I can at least relax and stop being so anxious and upset about the lack of sleep. If I'm quite tired but just //not quite// tired enough to sleep, then it is sometimes enough to help me fall asleep.. but that's rare, most nights all it does is help with the anxiety I experience, and make me feel less shitty about spending all night in bed unable to sleep.
- Listening to hypnosis tracks: This was one of the most successful in terms of getting me able to sleep. If I listen to hypnosis tracks before bed every single night, then I fall asleep a lot quicker, and so my sleep pattern deteriorates at a significantly slower rate. Unfortunately, YouTube have done some thing where you can no longer shut off your phone screen when watching videos on your phone, and so my battery dies half way through hypnosis tracks, and I can no longer use them to aid me with sleep.
- Unplugging all electrical devices that have standby lights, and blocking out all external light: I did have a habit of leaving my computer on all night, as well as other electronics, leaving lots of artificial light in my room at night. So now I unplug literally every single electronic device in my room before bed, and make sure there is no light entering my room. Unfortunately a complete blackout was impossible to achieve, so it didn't help much.
- Using F.lux on my computer: I've been using F.lux for some time now, but honestly, I can't tell if it's helped at all, I never noticed any difference since starting to use it. I still use it anyway though, just in case.
- Wearing a sleep mask: Honestly this was probably the most effective thing I tried. The first night I put on a sleep mask, I fell asleep in just 10 minutes, despite being in bed way earlier than where my sleep pattern was currently at. I slept like 9 hours too, and woke up feeling the most refreshed I'd felt in probably 8-9 years. For a while the sleep mask was the magic remedy, it worked every single time, and I thought my issue was resolved. Until one night it didn't work and I was left tossing and turning all night. I think that night had a psychological effect on the efficacy of the mask, because since then it's no longer been anywhere near as effective. It helps me fall asleep faster, but only if I'm very close to the time I'd fall asleep without it.. and now that it's summer, a sleep mask is also quite uncomfortable, so I've stopped using it entirely.
- Melatonin: I've tried melatonin in various doses anywhere from 0.25mg to 5mg, and at a range of times, anywhere from 6-7pm in the evening, to 1-2 hours earlier than my current sleep time. I've observed that sometimes melatonin allows me to fall asleep as much as 2 hours earlier than I would be able to otherwise, but on other nights it has no noticeable effect whatsoever, so for example I'll be falling asleep at 4am, take melatonin one night, fall asleep at 2am the next night, then take melatonin again, getting in bed at 11:30 and hoping to fall asleep at midnight.. but not fall asleep until 4:15am.. and be back where I started, but a little worse.
- Alcohol: While I would never self-medicate with something like alcohol for this sort of problem, especially with my previous addictions, I have tried to make the most of nights where I was drinking anyway, to see if I could fall asleep earlier. Sure enough, I could, but, that doesn't help me since I don't want to drink or take benzos/z-drugs/other sleeping medication to be able to sleep.
- Meditation before bed: Meditating for 20-30 minutes right before bed definitely helps, and slows down the deterioration, allowing me to fall asleep earlier – but it still doesn't resolve the issue, and due to how busy my days are now, my meditation has been a lot shorter, and usually reserved for the mornings.
For this long I've just put up with having a few weeks of a normal sleep pattern followed by the unpleasant process of it messing up and having to be fixed again.. but each time is getting more and more frustrating. Now I'm working more hours than ever before, and it's starting to interfere with my work, my workouts, my meditation etc.. I can't keep going with having to fix my sleep pattern every month or two, it's just not sustainable anymore.
So. I'm posting here. Is there any way I can resolve this?
Or at the very least – is there something I can do to extend how long I'm able to maintain a regular sleep pattern before it starts deteriorating? Even just getting 3 months of regular good sleep vs 1-2 would be a life-changing difference to me, so if there's anything that'll help I'm all ears.