It is Well with my Soul BYU Vocal Point

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sleep Habits and Mental Illness

Like any other disease, mental illness can result in changes or abnormalities in the sleep habits and patterns of sufferers. Obviously with sleep, there is one of only three possibilities for a person:
1- They sleep normally
2- They sleep way too much, with difficulty in waking -- or
3- They do not sleep enough.

Being a person in category #3, I can say, with authority, that there is no hell quite like that of an insomniac. When I was younger and in the throes of a profound depression I was at that time, in the hospital on a "one to one"...where a person from staff needed to be within arm's reach of me at all times. I think I literally went for an entire month or more with less than an hour's sleep per night. And most nights I got none. I am not exaggerating this , nor was I merely unaware of falling asleep; the "guards" were amazed at the fact that my eyes remained open night after night.

This is because I was among the unfortunate category of people who suffered from "agitated depression"...I paced. and I was NOT sleepy although, God knows, that I was achingly, miserably exhausted: (kind of like I feel right now.) Now obviously, "for every action is an equal and opposite reaction." And the fact is that mental illness suffer the other extreme on the scale....And some, like many I know...are sleepless all night...and then will sleep all day.

The sleep difficulties of the mentally ill are often worsened or changed by the side effects of their medications. The vast majority of the category of drugs called, "anti-psychotics", cause extreme somnolence---and it is very very common for a person with schizophrenia to need to sleep at least 12 hours each night...and often require at least one nap during the day. They sap energy and dull responses. In general, just slow everything down, including metabolism, which is why they often cause rapid weight gain. It is for this reason, perhaps primarily, that there is such a problem with with people with schizophrenia remaining compliant with their medication regime....This accompanied by the denial which is typical of the illness, causes almost everyone who takes the meds , to at some point, decide to go off of them at least once and usually frequently. This in addition to the awful way some of them make you feel--as though your body has gone numb and your head is stuffed full of cement--cause great numbers of people to suffer multiple relapses throughout their illness.

However, the good news is that, among the "third generation" of psychotropics (the newest psych meds available), this feeling of numb paralysis is greatly lessened. And they are often very well tolerated. I even take an older med, from the second generation of meds, called Loxipine, and it causes little or no "slowdown" but oddly, it is very rarely that you will hear of someone who takes this med. Anyway, I'm digressing here.

Now this brings me to the problem of hyper-awareness, or constant alertness, which a few of the latest psych drugs can cause. Actually, because i was suffering so greatly from negative symptoms (do a search on that in the side bar of my blog, for an explanation ), I designed my current mix of drugs (which list, I'd presented to my psychiatrist with the desperate plea to try and fortunately, she agreed.) to all cause either this alertness or to be neutral in effect, like Loxipine.

I did this so that it would be possible for me to lose some of the 90 pounds I'd packed on in a year of the other drugs and also so that I would have the energy and vigor to overcome the paralyzing effect of profound lethargy that my disease was causing me, which was compounded by the side effects of the other drugs. I did lose 60 pounds (not without effort on my part, I assure you), and now I am very alert at night. I will immediately fall asleep...and then about two hours later will be awakened by pain (which is my problem from my other disabilities)....and once awake will be completely unable to return to sleep. Occasionally I will doze for a few minutes, but largely, I 'm awake and active on my laptop or painting with my graphics tablet.

I didn't mind this for the first, say month, but now, after more than a year of negligible sleep, I'm about ready to plead for another med change. I am achingly, profoundly exhausted. I do not suffer the type of hell that I suffered as a depressed person with insomnia....I do not lie in bed motionless trying to sleep (I couldn't if I wanted to...when I hurt, I have to MOVE and frequently change my position)....I just get up and get busy. If I get sleepy again, I will take a short nap, either just prior to daybreak, or/and during the day (and guaranteed: during church! to my intense embarrassment). Once I took such a "nap" while I was driving....and drove into a side barrier on the highway....that was the end of my driving career.

Sleep is a major part of our health and experience. After all , we spend anywhere from a third to half of our lives asleep. And difficulty with it can cause us serious health problems, never mind lapses in energy levels and our own sense of comfort....including have an effect on our mental health all by it self.

...Just one more thing a person who suffers from these diseases must endure on a daily basis....
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