For as long as I can remember, I've struggled with insomnia. Unfortunately, I've always had doctors who didn't take it seriously enough. "No TV before bed," "Have you tried having a bedtime routine?" "Have you tried reading before sleeping?" "What about lavender?" Although these things helped me to relax, I still had trouble getting off to sleep and staying there. I don't think they understood that I had an actual medical problem that wouldn't just go away by spraying some lavender on my pillow.
Doctors have always been reluctant to give me sleeping pills. Which, I guess I can understand why they wouldn't want to give them to a minor. It wasn't until I was over 18 and was seeing a different GP in Bristol that I actually started receiving sleeping pills.
When I was in college, at the age of 16 to 19, I tried different over-the-counter sleeping pills. None of them worked, of course. In fact, one just gave me a crazy amount of energy and I started hearing people running back and forth outside my bedroom door. The only ones that did work were some from Asda, but after a while they wore off.
Eventually, I was prescribed sleeping pills (I wish I could remember what they were called) but they made me feel awful. I remember turning up to college feeling sick and drowsy, I could barely function. I didn't touch them again for a long time.
By my second year of university, I wasn't getting any sleep at night and I started sleeping through the day after feeling permanently exhausted. What started was a pattern of sleeping all day and staying awake all night. I missed university lectures and social events... I was feeling desperate. My doctor prescribed me different rounds of sleeping pills - only a week or two at a time, but they always wore off after a couple of days. I was beginning to think that nothing would help.
After a while, my GP decided to prescribe me with an anti-depressant called Mirtazapine. To this day, I swear that this drug ruined my life. Sure, it helped me sleep. In fact, it knocked me clean out. I literally missed almost 24 hours because I was sleeping. Luckily, as my body got used to it, I managed to sleep normally but the side effects were horrific. Apart from night sweats and restless legs, Mirtazapine made me gain weight like crazy. I won't say how much, but it changed my life for the worst. I started binging and purging and attempted suicide because of it. The weight gain made me feel so ashamed that I isolated myself for weeks, not going to university or seeing any friends.
Coming off that drug was the best decision I ever made, I only wish I had done it sooner. Of course, it didn't help my sleeping situation, so I occasionally went back to it, only to quickly remember why I came off it.
When I eventually started seeing a psychiatrist, he started prescribing more sleeping pills again, on a more permanent basis. However, they never worked and if they did, it would only be for two days tops. I was beginning to think nothing would work but this was when he said that he wasn't trying any more sleeping pills. Instead, he put me on something I had never heard of: Melatonin.
This changed my life, and this time for the better. Although it takes longer to kick in (two hours), it actually helps me sleep without making me feel drowsy or sick. Because melatonin is something that our brain should naturally produce, I don't have any nasty side effects. It makes me feel tired without just knocking me out. Finally, I can actually sleep at night.
I find that I still have to stay awake during the day (only the odd nap is allowed) and somewhat keep a nighttime routine. It helps me sleep whilst encouraging me to practice healthy sleep hygiene. But overall this drug has been a lifesaver. I was prescribed it by my psychiatrist, however you can find Melatonin in Holland and Barrett.
There's a lot of stigma, even in 2020, surrounding medication to treat mental illness and sleeping disorders. You should never feel ashamed for taking prescribed medication that helps your condition. Just like you would take pain killers for a headache, why wouldn't you take anti-depressants or sleeping pills?
Of course, as I've been told many times, sleeping pills can't be something you rely on as they can be very addictive. But there's so much out there that I didn't even realise. You're not limited to just sleeping pills, however it can take some time to get someone to take you seriously which is such a shame. That doesn't mean you should give up, you have to keep pushing for it to happen. I guess that sounds weird out of context: keep pushing to get the drugs. But you deserve to get a good night's sleep, you deserve to not be permanently sleep-deprived, you deserve help. You can find something that works for you.
Have any more questions? Leave a comment below or feel free to drop me a message!
Until the next time,