According to an article on insomnia and effectiveness of the popular sleep medicine Ambien, there is virtually no difference in the quality and amount of sleep you get when taking sleep medication.
The average increase in sleep with Ambien is only 20 minutes more than when not taking a drug for sleep. What Ambien does do is trigger short-term amnesia, so that you forget that you tossed and turned all night. By blocking memory, it creates the illusion of a good night’s sleep.
Insomnia has become a subject of study for me because I’m currently challenged by it. For the past five months, I have received, on average, a total of two hours of sleep a night. I’m opposed to taking drugs because I know that they are just a Band-Aid; only addressing symptoms does little for long-term healing and, in many cases, creates a myriad of other ailments and potential diseases.
However, after a few months of not sleeping, I caved and took a sleeping pill. I woke up feeling refreshed! So I did it again the next night, and again I woke up invigorated and ready to greet the world. Then I decided to stop as to not create a habit.
So, if I actually didn’t get any additional sleep by taking those sleeping pills, then what is it that had me feeling so rejuvenated? Seth Godin explains that it’s about the story we tell ourselves. Not sleeping for months created a certain story that only perpetuated the frustration and exhaustion I felt. I’m tired, I’m unproductive because I haven’t slept, I’m depressed because I haven’t slept…what’s wrong with me?
If I’m not getting sleep by taking a pill or not taking a pill, then my best option is to change the story I’m telling myself about my insomnia. And that’s what I’m working towards now.
Perhaps this period of insomnia is a recalibration in my nervous system. Per the recommendation of my meditation teacher, I’ve spent nearly the past 10 years in a state of involution. I’ve been focused on inner work, not taking in 85 percent of the outer world. For nearly a decade, I stopped listening to music and reading books; I stopped watching movies and news, and discovering art. I occasionally peeked out, but for the most part social interaction ceased so that I could go inside to discern between what is my truth and what is the influence of the outer world. It was an incredible period—but now, I’m coming out. I’m ready to be in the world and integrate my inner work with the outer world. I’m emerging!
That’s the story I tell myself. And I am sleeping five hours a night, now.
The story we tell ourselves about our ailments can be a vehicle for change, a tool for healing. Personally, meditation is what helps clarify and implement this new story into my day-to-day routine. While most medications serve to help us forget, and to numb what’s actually going on, meditation serves to increase our sensitivity and connect us more deeply to ourselves, others and our planet.
Author: Rutu Chaudhari
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Jacob Stewart