had self-diagnosed a number of factors:
stress, terrible sinuses, and the most hopeless of them all: genetics
(thanks, Dad). The frustrating part was that sometimes I couldn’t
even decipher the pattern of my inability to stay asleep, and couldn’t
figure out how to deal with it.
So, I decided to conduct an experiment. I’d meet the experts, test their hypotheses, and sleep well. San Francisco is the pioneering epicenter of sleep research, after all.
First up: the UCSF Sleep Disorders Center. The overnight sleep study seemed like an obvious, if not exciting, choice. I’d go to a downtown hotel, get hooked up to a machine to test my sleep patterns – and then I would truly embody a science experiment. Yes, I’d be observed and studied like an alien in many a B-list movie.
But then, reality kicked in. My health insurance doesn’t cover the study, and I wasn’t about to drop around $5,000 to live out my exhibitionist fantasy. Instead, I contacted Dr. David Claman, the director of the UCSF Sleep Disorders Center to discuss my troubles.
Dr. Claman isn’t one of those experts who make you aware of how much he’s dumbing down the science for you. Instead, he is friendly and patient with me, seeming genuinely interested in presenting solutions.
Turns out, many people come to the sleep clinic with snoring complaints, most of whom are then
prescribed for the study. (For full scientific disclosure, I have been known to snore on more than one occasion.) A common diagnosis is sleep apnea – when your muscles relax and your airway closes, so you subconsciously wake up to take a breath. These interruptions can happen many times in one night, leaving victims exhausted during the day.
Yes! I’m always tired, even if I
feel like I’ve slept through the night. Diagnosis #1: sleep apnea.
Then the doc tells me my symptoms also sound like sleep maintenance
insomnia, since I can fall asleep with ease but then
I’d never considered that I might have insomnia, so I jot down his behavioral modification recommendations:
1.No alcohol for three hours before bed, since alcohol is a muscle relaxer and can cause your airways to close à la sleep apnea.
2.No sleeping on your back, since gravity can make the airways collapse. How do you stop yourself from sleeping on your back? Simple! Sew some tennis balls on the back of an old T-shirt and you’ll learn right quick to sleep on your side.
3.If you wake up, try to relax by humming a melody or recalling a pleasant memory, because worrying over sleeping will stop you from sleeping.
The first night, I finish my beer at The Phoenix at 9 p.m. and make a mental note to stay up until midnight so I can follow rule #1. If I’m going to be my own experiment, I’ll have to follow all instructions by the book.
Since I’m not a back sleeper, I don’t worry about rule #2 and effortlessly pass out at 12:30, only to find myself awake around 3 a.m. As
Dr. Claman predicted, the more I obsessed about sleeping, the harder it was. I woke up every hour or so in a sweat but couldn’t calm myself into sleeping through the night.
Over the next week and a half, I diligently clear my sinuses to avoid blocks, cease late-night drinking, and try to remain calm if I’d wake up after only a few hours. While it felt comforting to have a list of rules
from a doctor, I still woke up unrested and couldn’t pinpoint why this happened some nights more than others.
It was time to try another treatment. Dr. Claman had mentioned yoga, biofeedback, and deep breathing as successful treatments according to some of his patients, but I wanted something more.
What I really wanted was a magical cure. Sure, I’m skeptical of most things involving words like “healing,” but I’d tried the “scientific” approach and it hadn’t gotten me far. I’d heard of people using hypnosis to quit addictions, and some research told me that treatment worked on insomniacs as well. With only nebulous Hitchcock flicks as my hypnosis barometer, I decided to choose a woman, since a man could take advantage of me with only a pocket watch, as black-and-white swirls danced in front of my eyes. So, I did some yelping and found Kay Heatherly, certified hypnotherapist.
I made my way to the Marina and into Kay’s cozy below-ground office. The room is decorated in earthy colors and classical music purrs from the speakers. I sit in a rocking chair that faces a pleasant outdoor patio and fill out a questionnaire about what I’m doing here.
When I’m done, Kay hands me some green tea and gets right into the therapy part of our two-hour session. She easily extracts my neuroses and then tells me we’ll be releasing each of the stresses in my life. While I hadn’t quite prepared myself for therapy, I’m impressed at how her language gets to the heart of my concerns, and though we’re not solving problems, we’re certainly getting at them.
After we’ve created a laundry list of my negative energy-inducing woes, Kay instructs me to describe a safe and calming place in great detail, and I know we’re hitting the Hitchcock portion. She jots down my depiction of an overlook in the Presidio right down to the buzzing bees.
Before we start the hypnosis, Kay explains that the process is not the manipulative tool we all assume, since we’re all actually in various hypnotic states throughout the day – in front of a TV, computer, or book. Essentially, you’re conscious, but relaxed, and the critical or anxious part of you is switched off. I am ready to put my switch to off if it’ll mean sleeping through the night.
We start with the Emotional Freedom Technique. While gently tapping on parts of my body, I repeat after Kay as I let go of my various neuroses one-by-one. Listing my concerns – from guilt to fear – isn’t exactly relaxing, but the tapping gives me something else to focus on and does help to clear my mind.
Soon I’m leaning back in my rocking chair, eyes closed, imagining my Presidio oasis. I’m breathing deeply, drifting “deeper, deeper, deeper…” It feels genuine, since Kay uses my own words from our earlier discussion, and I’m able to relax each part of my body. I feel myself fading in and out of awareness in that half-awake/half-dream state where you have many thoughts, but if you involuntarily move a muscle and become conscious you were drifting, you can’t remember any of the thoughts. The hypnosis feels more like a guided meditation that lasts a brief ten minutes, ending with a countdown and an affirmation that “all is well.”
When I stir, I have that same serene feeling I experience after a massage or an extremely satisfying nap. Kay hands me a recording of the tapping and hypnosis parts of the session and tells me to listen before I go to sleep. I am happy to have a souvenir and a resource for conducting my second sleep experiment.
I spend the next few nights listening to the CD in bed. The catch: I do the active tapping, but once I reach the hypnosis part, I doze off, unable to remain in that semi-conscious state. Nevertheless, the whole process provides a calming ritual that makes me feel like I’m in control.
My sleep isn’t suddenly perfect, but I spend less time complaining about restlessness. I realize the CD might actually be working the day after I neglect to listen to it. My sleep doesn’t feel particularly interrupted, but, for perhaps the first time since I’ve started, I spend the next day feeling edgy and yearning for a nap.
Is it in my head? Maybe. Then again, maybe the whole lack of sleep thing is in my head to begin with. Maybe all some of us need is to chill out and imagine ourselves on an overlook in the Presidio, surrounded by friends, drifting deeper and deeper.
Find yourself tossing and turning? Maybe it’s time to get diagnosed. If you’re the lucky member of an insurance plan that is accepted by UCSF, make an appointment with the UCSF Sleep Disorders Center. If you prefer the self-diagnosis route, Dr. Claman recommends the book No More Sleepless Nights by Peter Hauri. If you want to try getting hypnotized into a good night’s sleep, contact Dr. Kay Heatherly at (415) 922-1664.