Last August, I bought my ticket to BlogHer ’12 in New York City without a single worry (so unlike me!). Over the next half year or more, I easily spent hours daydreaming about a weekend-long slumber party with my roommates, all the fantastic NYC pizza I could cram into my belly, late nights, parties, glitter (!), and so on.
But that’s not exactly how it went down.
For more than a week leading up to the conference, I had insomnia. Most nights, I slept great the first few hours and then woke up after midnight, unable to return to sleep for many hours, if at all. The night before I left for BlogHer ’12, I slept from 9:30 until 12:30, and then I was awake until 4:00, at which time I finally fell asleep watching Netflix. My alarm woke me up at 4:30. Ouch.
If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, you know that the worst part is the anxiety that you may never sleep well again. And you know that the worst thing you can do is lay awake in bed thinking about how you can’t sleep. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. You can’t sleep, so you worry. Then your worry keeps you awake.
Add in a conference in the city that never sleeps, and you end up with a recipe for disaster. Or at least for enormous amounts of anxiety.
The first day at the conference, after 3 modes of transportation and several hours, I arrived at the conference in a dreamlike state. I walked through the exhibit hall like a zombie. I sat through a session just hoping I wouldn’t fall asleep in my chair. I counted the hours until it would be acceptable to go to bed. I worried that my roommates would think I was boring, unenergetic, disinterested, you name it. I also worried about how much I would miss out on because of my quest for sleep–sessions, parties, swag, hugs with the long list of women I had been dying to meet for so long!
Worry, worry, worry. Is it any wonder I struggled to sleep?
Some Advice about Insomnia
My advice, in hindsight after experiencing insomnia at a conference, is this:
- If at all possible, find an insomnia conference buddy before you get there. I was fortunate to exchange phone numbers with another attendee who doesn’t sleep well. And in the event I needed to get out of my room to take a walk or even just commiserate via text, I’d have used that number. Instead, though, I texted a friend who works the night shift and he helped calm me down during an anxiety attack on that first night as I lay in bed wide awake at 1:30 in the morning while my roomate slept soundly next to me. So if you can’t find a fellow insomniac attendee, see if you can find someone back at home who is up in the night.
- Bring whatever sleep aid (pharmaceutical or not) you rely on at home on the rough nights. I packed Yogi Calming tea, Xanax, Rescue Remedy, and earplugs. I should have also packed Benadryl and a sleep mask, and next time I will.
- Get out of bed! The good thing about conferences like BlogHer is that there is always something to do, at any given time of the day or night. So if you’re the kind of insomniac who likes to get up out of bed for a while, it’s easy to go explore, alone or with others. I am the kind of insomniac who is afraid to get out of bed for fear of becoming even more stimulated and more awake, so I did not leave my room–which is against all the sleep advice I’ve ever read.
- Tell your roommates what’s going on. I’m certain they will be sympathetic and try to be quiet coming in and out of the room while you’re sleeping or napping. I lucked out with my roommates, who were so sympathetic to my quest for sleep. One of them even gave me a massage before bed–and it helped! I slept much better that night.
- Which brings me to this helpful hint–go grab a massage or make use of any other pampering the conference has to offer! Maybe a little relaxation is just what you need!
Some Advice about Anxiety
- To curb anxiety, whether related to insomnia or not, I advise making sure you don’t skip meals and that you snack every few hours. It was easy to snack throughout BlogHer. The exhibit hall alone offered more snacks than one could eat in an entire week! I’m still working my way through all the granola bars I was given.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Take a nap in the middle of the day if your nighttime schedule looks intense. It is less pathetic to take a nap at 1:00 than it is to head to bed at 9:00, believe me.
- And keep handy this list. Mine is bookmarked on my phone. When I’m feeling tense or anxious, I try to work my way through the list until I feel better.
- Take it easy on yourself–travel is stressful for most of us and this can manifest itself in many ways! Some of us have irritable stomachs, others of us have anxiety. It is most likely that nobody is judging you as harshly as you’re judging yourself, the same way you wouldn’t hold someone’s travel-induced stomach ache against them!
Have you ever been away from home and struggling with anxiety or insomnia? How did you cope?