3 Ways to Fight Insomnia Without Ambien (And One Of Them Is Weed)
Something bizarre has happened to me in the last six months: I've stopped getting tired. COMPLETELY. It's really weird. I've been feeling really, really weird.
You don't realize how much you miss just the loose, languid feeling of being tired until you stop feeling it.
There is a specific comfort in feeling tired. Your shoulders drop. Your brain gets all nice and loopy. You stop micromanaging your mind. I believe a lot of creativity is cultivated when in a tired state.
I've missed that feeling so much. I don't know what kicked it off, but at some point my body lost touch with its natural desire to sleep.
FYI: I don't (and never will) take stimulants. I learned early on that speed is the last thing this anxious gal needs.
For months, I subsisted on about three to four hours of sleep per night. And it wasn't even real sleep. I would write 1,500-word articles in those few hours of sleep. I would wake up and rush to write my dream article down, only to realize it was total nonsensical garbage.
I once had a dream that I wrote an article called "How Your Relationship With Your Dog Is The Perfect Metaphor For Your Co-dependent Life." (Telling, I know). My editor actually didn't think it was a bad idea. I thought it was nuts.
But that's beside the point: The point is my mind wasn't getting any quiet time. Even during my few hours of restless sleep, I was f*cking working.
So I ventured to Midtown and saw "Dr. Feelgood" on Seventh Avenue. I tell Dr. Feelgood I can't get tired. I tell him I can't SLEEP and even though I'm not feeling tired, I'm feeling sort of nuts.
Like the fatigue is manifesting itself in really weird ways. Like I'm not myself. I've been snapping at people at work. I've been an oversensitive nightmare. A total creative control freak, burning bridges left and right.
I tell him this is not who I am.
Dr. Feelgood says my brain is "overstimulated," and I have insomnia. Dr. Feelgood gives me some ~Ambien~. I've never taken Ambien. I'm more of a "pour a glass of white wine and curl up with a tragic memoir to unwind" kind of girl. But that hasn't been working for me. Neither has blocking out natural light, and staying away from screens, or any of the other stuff I've Googled.
So I take Ambien. I sleep. Not a solid eight hours, but six. And that's a dream (literally) come true. My dreams are weird on Ambien, but at least they aren't about work.
But I've been on Ambien for a good few months, and I'm starting to think it's time to cut the cord. I take it every night, which I know isn't good for me, but every time I go without it, I toss and turn until I give up and take the pretty orange pill.
I've been down the "Let's treat our body like a playground and ingest whatever helps in the moment" vortex before, and I don't want to do it again. I know I have to quit depending on Ambien and address this sleep issue.
The party is over, Ambien. You don't have to go home, but I'm not allowing anymore sleepovers, you hear?
I'm ready to take a joyride on the ~holistic~ train.
I decided Sunday night would be my last night on Ambien. In that moment of great clarity, I decided from here on in I would try "alternative" methods to deal with my sleep issues.
Here's how it is going so far:
Monday's method: weed
Look, you can't ask a low-key pill-popper to just cold-turkey it without a hint of help on the first night. That's like releasing a domesticated bunny into the wild without easing it into ~nature~ first.
To be fair, I've never been much of a pot smoker. OK, maybe for like one year when I took a stab at living in Southern California at 17, but I got over that sh*t real quick. It turned me into a couch sloth with social anxiety. That's not my jam.
But with all the recent praise surrounding "medicinal" marijuana, I thought I would give it the old college try. I mean, it's natural, baby. I know plenty of stable beauties with million-dollar apartments in the West Village who toke from time to time.
My gorgeous friend rolls me a pretty little spliff, hands it off and wishes me the best.
Before I smoke, I ask the Twittersphere: "What's a healthier way to sleep, Ambien or weed?"
"UM, one is made in a lab, the other comes from THE EARTH," a pretty hippie-looking babe I don't know tweets back.
She has a point.
Come 9 pm, I take a little puff-puff on the spliff. I open up the windows because I like my apartment to be pristine and am worried about tarnishing its fresh "Windex and flowers" smell that I so adore. I blow gray smoke rings out the window. It's sort of like smoking a cigarette, a habit I kicked four years ago.
I'm finding it comforting. A throwback to my early 20s.
The next thing I know, I'm gazing out the window, shamelessly staring into my neighbor's window. "Maybe the chronically dead flowers on their coffee table are a creative choice," I dreamily purr to no one in particular.
"You're high," my loving roommate says, soberly typing away at her laptop.
She's right. I'm high. I'm high, my imagination is on overdrive, but I'm chilled out. I crawl into bed, close my eyes and have trippy fluid thoughts. My mind's eye is like a kaleidoscope. First, I see patterns. Then, I see colors. Then, it's all black, and I'm sleeping.
It's a seven-hour deep, dreamless sleep. I haven't slept this deeply in what feels like forever. I even sleep until the alarm goes off at 6:30 am. Normally I'm up at 4:30 am.
However, I don't wake up refreshed. My bones feel like they're made of iron. There is a heavy fatigue that consumes my body. I don't hate it. I mean, it's kind of -- refreshing?
Tuesday's method: weed and meditation
So one of my New Year's Resolutions was: "Meditate, don't self-medicate." Oh and girl, truth be told, I've been a-slacking. Meditation is probably the answer to all of my pent-up anxiety, my insomnia, my headaches and basically everything that's wrong with my life.
My friends in LA have been on the meditation train for years, and my friends in New York have finally hopped on.
"Zara, I know it sounds like hippie bullsh*t, but it's changed my f*cking life," my friend, Sarah*, said to me over a cup of coffee. She pulled out a menthol cigarette and sucked on it deeply.
I looked at her. She's easily my most cynical, New York friend.
"F*ck," I think to myself. "If this chain-smoking, whiskey-swilling Manhattan-native can meditate, you can too, Z, You can too."
I've always been resistant to meditation because I have a knee-jerk response to the whole pseudo-bohemian yogi garble I encountered in Los Angeles. Blonde, 100-pound tan girls with Botox, mega trust funds and flower crowns telling me to meditate just sends me running in the opposite direction. It makes me want to throw myself into the smokiest club in Paris.
Plus, my family is British. It's in our genetic makeup to deny and resist remedies that could potentially make us feel better.
However, I'm 29 years old, and clearly the British stiff upper lip isn't working anymore. It's time for me to put on my flower crown and meditate baby, before my mind gets so jam-packed with mania that it explodes, splattering anxious guts across the pavement of 92nd street.
It's been a harrowing day at work, and my brain is running a million, zillion miles per hour. I crawl into bed at 9:30 pm ready to meditate, stone cold sober.
I put on a famously good sleep meditation recording I find on YouTube. My heart is pounding out of my chest. I give it an hour, but the whole time, I'm feeling incredibly restless, listless, anxious and a slew of other adjectives that end in "ess."
My mind is going dark on me, babe.
"Does Xanax count?" a weak voice in my head wonders. "Maybe I could take half a Xanax? I mean I DO have an anxiety disorder."
"Yeah you have an anxiety disorder, a sleep disorder and OCD. What are you going to do, put a f*cking Band-Aid over all of it? Resort to the numb pill-y life? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?" the other voice in my head sneers.
She's a bitch, but she's right.
"Let's meet in the middle," the other side of my brain says. The two sides of my brain go back and forth and finally agree I can take a hit of weed.
Once again, I'm blowing smoke rings out the window of my apartment, gazing at the dead flowers in the building across the way.
I take only two little hits and scurry off back to bed before my roomie can comment on my stoned-ness. She's a bit drunk and in full-sass mode.
I put the sleep meditation on, and the next thing I know, I'm floating up in the clouds. I'm in the most gorgeous, blissful, good-dreamy, tranquil sleep of my life.
The next morning, I feel slightly hungover from the weed, but in a total blissed-out state. There is a halo of calm energy surrounding me. I don't want to screw it up with coffee, so I even decide to skip caffeine that day.
Wednesday's method: SOBER meditation
Let me say that after my night of weed and meditation, I feel on top of the world. For the first time in forever, I don't even drink coffee. I just don't want to kill these good vibes.
"I'm so TIRED without coffee!" one of my editors, Alexia, exclaims. She's giving up caffeine for medical reasons.
I smile at her, my smug eyes peering out from the top of my silver laptop.
"I haven't had caffeine today, either," I boast. "But I'm not tired. In fact, I feel exponentially less anxious and more FOCUSED."
Alexia rolls her eyes and goes back to work.
Truth be told, I do feel way less anxious. I have a calm, stable energy, not a manic, frenetic energy. I decide I'm definitely giving up caffeine. And I'm going to meditate, with no weed at all tonight.
As 10 pm approaches, I'm actually a little bit tired. (I've also done three meditations throughout the workday on the Headspace app. The flower crown is officially on, and I've given in. At this rate, in six months, I'll probably be living in Southern California, going on yoga retreats and drinking kombucha.)
And once 10 pm finally strikes, I'm able to fall asleep, stone cold sober, thanks to meditation. Who am I?
This morning. I wake up and don't even feel hungover, or manic, or sleep-deprived at all. I slept six hours, n-a-t-u-r-a-l-l-y. Honestly, that's something I didn't think I could do anymore. I'm actually feeling weirdly emotional about it all.
The past six months have been sort of brutal on my spirit. Maybe it was the breakup. Maybe it was ambition rearing its ugly little head, screwing up my sleep. Maybe my hormones are out of whack.
But I really felt like my body had lost touch with all of its natural instincts. Sleeping is the most natural thing in the world, and I lost that impulse for a while.
I hate the idea of having to take chemicals every single night because my body can't listen to itself. What I've realized in the past three days is that Ambien has stripped me of my confidence. It's made me feel like I NEED it to sleep, but really, working through it is what I needed to do. I haven't been working, I've been running away from the crux of what's really wrong.
I'm not saying I'm cured. Who knows how tonight will be? What I'm saying is I'm going to try to meditate, and better myself, and deal with things, and not be such a pill head.
Here's to hoping for the best. Here's to being a work in f*cking progress and NOT judging ourselves for still being in the process of figuring it all out.
Let's work through our sh*t together. Let's talk about our sleeplessness, our anxiety, our struggles, our vices and failures openly. There is no healing in silence. There is only healing in feeling safe enough to tell the truth. You might not feel like it, but you're actually in a very powerful place when you're sifting through the mud.
So if you can't sleep, don't worry. Don't feel like a failure and pill it all away. Let's start this whole self-improvement process together.
It's going to be a messy, wild ride. But I think we're more fascinating and gorgeously imperfect when we're real girls working on real sh*t, rather than a persona pretending to be perfect.
Feel free to message me your sleep tips. I got a long way to go, and I can't do it without your support.