My sleep situation finally reached its tipping point.  Or should I say, my lack of sleep.  For perhaps two weeks now, I’ve awoken after only 4.5-5 hours of sleep (some night it’s as little as 3.5), and been completely unable to fall back asleep.  I do all the tossing and turning they show on mattress, pillow, and sleep aid commercials, but what they don’t show is the toll it takes on the psychological health.  Night after night, I’d try to coax myself into a peaceful slumber, yet my mind was racing.  It was filled with the torments of my anxieties about our impending parenthood.  The theme was always, “We’re not ready.  It’s too soon.”  I’m 34.5 weeks pregnant with twins.  Average gestation for a twin pregnancy is 37 weeks.  To think that I’m just sitting here placidly at work for 8 hours a day instead of frantically preparing for their possibly imminent birth is ridiculous, or so my subconscious mind would have me believe.  And as my mind filled with my worries, my body began to absorb the unrest.  Suddenly, my Snoogle maternity pillow, which has been my miraculous sleep companion since August, could offer me little comfort.  Suddenly the sheets clung to my pajamas or to each other.  Dog fur seemed to be everywhere.  My nasal passages were at once clogged with my pregnancy swelling.  My throat was dry.  I had to pee.  And then, my legs got in on the party.

I’ve always been a kid who needed to fidget a little.  Not strictly ADD, it was more of a nervous habit I developed – moving some part of my body, so that my mind could focus on the task at hand.  I played with Silly Putty throughout 9th grade geometry to keep myself awake.  I find it difficult to sit through an entire movie without feeling an unbearable urge to shift my body.  And when I’m sitting “still”, I am often tapping my foot rhythmically, or rapping my fingernails against some piece of hard plastic in the car, usually without realizing it.

Now they’ve put a medical term to my fidgets: Restless Leg Syndrome.  The commercials are goofy, and mostly dedicated to (like the ones for fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome) trying to convince you RLS exists, and of course is treatable by their drugs.  My need to move, though, never kept me awake at night.  Now, I think, my bladder wakes me up, my mind keeps me up, and my body keeps me from falling back asleep.  My legs began twitching.  I can’t explain it like the commercials do, like a tingling, or like ants marching up and down my legs.  It’s not even an unbearable urge to move them.   It’s just…moving them.  And moving them doesn’t relieve the issue.  I’d lie there, trying not to think about my legs, and then they’d jerk around on their own.  My feet would start rubbing frenetically against each other, my toenails slicing battle wounds on my calves, my toes, my heels.  I tried to pin them under my no-longer-sleeping husband or dog.  I tried sleeping on the couch and shoving my feet in the crack between the cushions to give them some deep sensory input, or at least to provide some resistance to their twitching.  Nothing worked.  And as the hours wore on, I became so tired and so frustrated with the futility of working so hard to sleep, that I would break down completely.

Many nights, I woke up a sympathetic husband who was at a loss how to help me.  He tried rubbing my back, holding me close to him, and asking if I wanted to talk.  One night the comfort of his body against mine did seem to break the spell and let me fall back asleep, but it was no cure-all, as night after night, I continued to disturb both of our rest.  I would whimper, I would cry, I would wail apologetically to my husband, knowing he had to work in the morning.  I would work myself into thrashing crying fits, working at cross purposes to my attempts to fall asleep.

I found myself at the computer in the middle of the night, the sudden bright lights of the monitor shocking my dilated pupils, trying to numb my brain with Facebook, trying to empty my mind by writing down my anxieties, trying at least to leave my poor husband alone, but nothing worked.  After an hour or so I’d return to bed and fitfully catch another half-hour of sleep in bursts, usually in the minutes before my alarm would go off.

In one of my non-sleeping stupors, I found myself e-mailing my parents.  Panicking the next day that my missive had seemed psychotic, I dug through my sent-mailbox, relieved to find out it had actually been somewhat coherent.  This of course led to a useless phone call with my mother, who chose to focus on my fatigue – not the reasons behind it – by suggesting I somehow slide a couch into my 4’x 8’ cubicle, or take cat naps at my desk during lunch, and compensate by eating half my lunch at 10:30 and 2.  I assured her that if my school had any spare spaces big enough for a couch, they’d have made it into a classroom by now.

Finally yesterday, the sleep deprivation caught up with me.  I had had a particularly rough evening.  The dog, left unsupervised, had destroyed the base of the couch in search of the tin from a pot pie, ripping shreds of corduroy, batting, foam, and Ikea “wood”, sending me into a storm of anger.  She had also eaten yet another one of my socks, one I had thought I had put out of her reach.  In a torrent I lashed out at her, raging around the house screaming, scaring my husband and myself, unable to access any coping mechanisms to calm myself down.  Even after I did, I knew sleep would not be restful.  I woke at 3:30, and I eventually gave up on sleep and instead chose to shower at 5:15 rather than trying to fight the sleep demons for 45 minutes of shut-eye.

I called myOB’s office in desperation.  I had not mentioned my difficulty sleeping last week when I saw her.  I had been running late to the appointment, caught up in rush hour traffic, and had felt guilty running through my full litany of inane questions.  What’s more, every pregnant woman has difficulty sleeping, and the complaint seemed foolish, or at least mundane.  I read about it on Facebook as my peer-group kicks into reproductive overdrive, and recommends pregnancy pillows and memory foam mattress toppers.  I hear about it at yoga, as the other women discuss iron supplements, stretching, and massage.  And I hate the pat response I always get when I do try to reach out to people – “Just wait till the babies are here!” or “It’s just practice for the sleep deprivation that comes with newborns!”  Of course, when I had worked up the courage to actually call my doctor’s office, she wasn’t there.  The entire staff of MDs, it seems, was out yesterday.  So I spoke to a nurse. Through my overwrought fatigue, I managed to convey to her that this had reached a breaking point.  Nerd that I am, I may have said, in my quivering don’t-cry-don’t-cry voice, that my difficulty sleeping was “untenable”.  So she recommended I take Benadryl.

While the smallest bit of caffeine can send me bouncing off the walls, and a Starbucks Frappuccino sets me hypomanic for at least two hours (low tolerance for caffeine is great), the antihistamine has little effect on me, as opposed to my husband, who conks out on the couch after taking one Benadryl.  Through his sniffling and schmulling (did I mention he’s sick?), he took one pill, and I downed two.  I did my yoga stretches, trying to fatigue my legs, and my sweet husband plied and massaged my calf muscles and feet until they could put up resistance no longer.  Maybe it was the placebo effect of trying something new, or throwing the book at my sleep issue.  Maybe it was the effect of the Benadryl, or maybe the fatigue had finally caught up with me.  In any case, I slept from 11 until 4, got up for my customary pee, and was able to fall right back asleep until the alarm went off.

I’ve never been one to reach for the meds as my first defense.  Many days in college I would lie on a scorching heating pad and skip class rather than treat my cramps with Advil.  I dealt with my tongue seizures for years by running and hiding rather than seeking treatment.   And through the early part of my pregnancy, I was extremely reluctant to take even Tylenol (which, of course, was all I could take) for my migraines.  As for a sleep issue, for that, too, I’d rather try my other options first.  I’d rather deal with the underlying issues, whether they’re anxiety or physical discomfort, than chemically sedate myself.  But in this case, the lack of sleep was compounding, and I was having such anxiety about sleeping itself, that I was at odds with myself.  I’d tried listing out my worries, doing my yoga, and soliciting calf massages, to no avail.  My therapist is woefully out of commission for the near future, recovering from back surgery.  And talking to my mother had of course proved futile.  I was wracked with guilt about disturbing my husband’s sleep, and barely able to function at work.

And so I took the meds.  And so I got some sleep.  I still worry about the babies coming.  I still need to talk to my therapist.  I may still need to go through the yoga and the massaging, and I won’t be giving up my Snoogle any time soon.  Maybe meds are not the answer, but they might be part of the equation.

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