Valium Vickie

Monday, March 30, 2015

Melatonin: It's Natural, So It Can't Be Bad For Me ... Right?

When asked about their extreme schedules and lack of sleep, motivated, type-A people tend to say "I'll sleep when I'm dead!" That statement has always bothered me. "I'll sleep when I'm dead" How can you be so sure? What if you can't sleep at all when you're dead? What if when you're dead, you're just dead? Or, worse yet, what if when you die, some foreman/general/afterlife liaison immediately approaches you and says, "Hope you got enough sleep on earth, because you've got a lot of work to do, and we don't do the whole sleep thing here ..."?

The point is, people don't know what happens when you die. If people actually knew with 100% accuracy that you could indeed sleep when you're dead, I think two things would happen:

  1. A lot more insomniacs would commit suicide, and 
  2. People would be a lot more understanding about suicide.
When people heard about a friend taking his own life they'd say things like, "Makes sense, Steve looked like he could really use some sleep."

While we're on the subject, here's something that really bothers me: Suicide notes. Isn't this final message important enough to warrant being called a suicide letter? Note sounds like some origami-type thing that high-school girls pass to one another. Like the person who discovers the body is going to find a neatly folded triangle of notebook paper that asks the reader to check the appropriate box: "Did you notice any of the warning signs?"
Yes No Maybe

 As someone who's had trouble sleeping since high school, I will never take sleep for granted. I'll never subscribe to the I'll-sleep-when-I'm-dead mindset because I value sleep more than virtually any of the activities I do when I'm awake. There's actually a brief moment right before I fall asleep at night where I consciously think, "It's going to happen now; I'm going to fall asleep!" That instant right before drifting off into unconsciousness is more enjoyable to me than sex or drugs or sushi or anything else I can think of, probably because it's been so inconsistent for such a long time. If heaven actually exists, I imagine it has to be something like that pre-sleep recognition moment.

In Catholic school, my teachers always used getting left out of heaven to scare us kids into following Catholicism's long, detailed set of seemingly meaningless rules -- Go to church every Sunday, never take the Lord's name in vain (e.g., "Jesus Christ" or "Goddammit" or "Jesus H. Fucking Christfucker FUCK!"*), don't eat meat during Lent, don't use birth control even if you're super fertile and the only chance you have of taking care of all of the kids you shit out is by landing a reality show about you having a football team worth of kids because your religion won't let you use birth control, etc.

Heaven was always sold as a place where you were reunited with all of your dead family and loved ones for all of eternity. That sounds nice and all, but it was never quite enough to convince me that following all those ridiculous rules was worth it in the end. Now if I'd been told heaven was like that moment right before you realize you're about to fall asleep, well, then, it may have been a different story. Instead of spending my Sundays wandering through WaWas hungover, I may have strung together a Ripkenesque streak of Sabbath masses by now. Instead of using "Jesus Christ" as my go-to expression of anger, incredulity, joy, surprise and disappointment, I may have rushed to confession every time I uttered those words in a non-reverent way.

The truth is, I consider sleep more sacred than any aspect of the Catholic faith. If sleep is my religion, then Melatonin is my savior ... but I'll get to that in a second.. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I've had varying degrees of Insomnia (both not being to fall asleep and waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back to sleep) for the better part of my teenage and adult life.

What didn't work

Starting in high school, I've experimented with a number of sleep-inducing remedies including, but not limited to:

  1. Tylenol PM: Monday through Friday for about two semesters -- worked until I built up a pretty ridiculous tolerance.
  2. Ambien: Prescribed to me during my sophomore year of college. I'd take a pill, pick out a short story from the Norton Anthology and, within 15 minutes, I wouldn't be able to tell if I was asleep and dreaming or really zoned in on the story. Ambien is beautiful product, but it's just a bit pricey.
  3. Lunesta: What can I say about the butterfly pill. Lunesta is to getting sleep what Coors Light is to getting drunk. It can do the job, but it takes massive quantities to get it done.
  4. Caffeine reduction, deep breathing exercises and consistent pre-sleep routine: BORING. Actually, I gave this an honest try, and it just didn't work for me.
  5. Clonazepam: During my junior year of college, I was prescribed a small dosage of this anti-anxiety drug in the morning and a larger dose at night. Penn State has this free, public transportation system called The Loop. True to it's name, The Loop circles the campus all day and a good chunk of the night. The first morning I took this drug, I became so non-anxious I passed out before I reached my stop. Conservatively, I did six loops on The Loop before I came to. By then, I'd already missed the class. I didn't take clonazepam for very long.
  6. A little Bourbon right before bed: A short-lived exercise I tried Junior year of high school until my dad noticed the missing whiskey.
  7. OTC sleeping pills: If Lunesta is the Coors Light of sleep aides, then over-the-counter pills are the Malt Liquor. Sure, you'll get some sleep, but you'll feel so shitty the next morning you'd may as well have gotten none at all.
  8. A brainwave-altering CD: It was a series of sounds set to some frequency that was supposed to alter your brainwaves until you drifted off into a peaceful sleep. What is actually did: Made me lie around like an asshole for a half hour going, "Wait, I think I can feel that ..." until I finally gave up. It reminded me a lot of the time Vance (name change) bought some fake mushrooms and sat in a park for an hour and a half smoking cigarettes and asking each other if we felt anything yet.
  9. Benadryl: Works pretty well on its own, but works even better with wine.
  10. Red wine: I love this sleep aide, but getting the dosage right can be tricky. Too much can have the opposite effect. Just a few too many ounces of this Dionysian elixir can mean the difference between an early, restful night and the decision to have another three or four glasses and watch Stone Temple Pilots' YouTube clips well into the morning hours.
  11. Trazodone: Technically, trazodone is an anti-depressant, but in many cases, doctors prescribe it as a sleep-aide for geriatrics. Unfortunately, it didn't work as prescribed for a 26-year-old me.

My sleep savior

The search for the perfect sleep aide seemed hopeless, but then along came Melatonin. I didn't discover this beautiful product until my late twenties. I won't bore you people with the complex details of the staggering amounts of information I've amassed from reputable medical sources like Wikipedia, labels of Melatonin bottles and insomnia sufferer messaging sites (like Tinder, but with the objective being sleep), but here's the gist: Melatonin is hormone that animals (like humans and dogs and vegans) manufacture to control sleep and wake cycles. The greater the amount of melatonin your body produces, the easier it is to fall asleep and stay that way.

A creature like Judith Weiland, my Boston Terrier, must produce an inordinate amount of melatonin because I've actually seen her fall asleep while taking a shit. A person like me, on the other hand, has so much trouble producing this hormone that I have to regularly purchase the 'All Natural' pill version that is sold in any grocery store or pharmacy. As you get older, you generally produce less melatonin. So I'm guessing my melatonin production will be virtually nonexistent by the time I hit 65. It's just as well. That gives me yet another reason to start shooting heroin the moment AARP begins mailing information to me. I've always said I can't wait until I'm old enough to use the senior-citizen discount for a Fish-a-majig sandwich at Friendly's -- and to do heroin.

For right now, though, I have to sleep -- and that's where my melatonin ritual comes in. Virtually every night, I'll take a "natural" pill, climb into bed, read a few pages of some book and wait for that heavenly recognition of sleep to flood my body. This has been the most consistent and effective sleep routine I've had since before the problems started more than a decade ago. Is it healthy? I'm not so sure. I've heard a lot about the virtues of melatonin -- it's safe, natural, non-habit-forming chemical that your own body actually produces! That may be true, but I can also buy it at Acme -- and I don't believe anything in that store is completely natural.

Plus, natural or not, I'm way too dependent on this product. It may claim to be non-habit-forming, but there have been plenty of late nights I've spent frantically rummaging around my house for melatonin screaming, "Liz! Where are the mels*? Where are my goddamn mels?!" I've even run out in the middle of the night to score a new bottle of mels when these searches proved fruitless. Nothing seems safe or natural or healthy about a grown man in pajamas rushing out to a 24-hour grocery store at three in the morning and walking up to the supplement aisle with the same look of relief as an addict who sees his dealer approaching moments before withdrawal symptoms kick in. But it's better than any of the alternatives I've tried so, as long as this ritual keeps allowing me to sleep as much as possible before I'm dead, I'll keep riding this thing out.

*Mels are how we refer to the Melatonin in the Bilski household.