Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Elusive sleep & a whole lot of other stuff April 14, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Coloring can be calming and therapeutic. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IT’S ONE IN THE MORNING and I am wide awake. My head hurts. I’m restless, unable to fall back asleep after awakening to use the bathroom. I’ve only slept 2.5 hours. A long night looms. My efforts to settle in and resume sleeping aren’t working. Randy needs his rest so I head to the living room and curl into the recliner.

I’m feeling jittery. I switch on the table lamp, pick up a thick coloring book from the floor, pull out the 64-crayon box of Crayolas. Soon I am rhythmically coloring a cat with an orange crayon that is way too reddish-tinted for a domesticated feline. Maybe a tiger. But at this hour I don’t care. I just want to feel some calm and methodically working crayons across paper helps.

When I finish coloring the cat clutching a bouquet of flowers, I decide it’s time to try sleep again. I pull two fleece throws around me, snuggle in for some shut eye. I intentionally aim to relax my body, quiet my mind. I can’t. I hear a pleated shade in the dining room click against the window frame in the gentle wind of the night. I hear the hum of the refrigerator. Every noise is amplified.

By now, I guess the time to be 3 am. I need my sleep. My head still aches. I am overtired, exhausted. I decide to move to the couch. I clear the space of Randy’s cellphone and extra pillows and yesterday’s newspaper. I hesitate to lie down, apprehensive about the vertigo that comes when I need to get up. As soon as I’m lying down, I notice the curtain is not completely pulled shut, letting in a sliver of light. I ease myself up to avoid dizziness, walk across the dark living room, pull the fabric together. Back to the sofa. The red and blue lights of a passing ambulance pulse through the room. I remain on edge, alert, unable to achieve what I most want and need. Sleep.

Blackbirds cluster in a tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2022)


Eventually I fall into a fitful sleep. I awaken well before dawn. Slowly, morning is rising. I hear the first birds tweeting, only a cardinal’s trill distinguishable like a solo in the birdsong. Occasionally, vehicles pass by on our arterial street, an indication that daybreak is upon us. Traffic increases as time passes. Still, I’m hoping for sleep in this morning dark.

But it doesn’t come. The rectangle window in the east-facing front door lets the spotlight of morning into the room. That light follows a direct line to my head. The head that still hurts.

Soon I hear Randy rustling, up and getting ready for work. It’s 6:45 am. Then I slowly ease myself up, conscious of my need to proceed slowly. After only four hours or so of sleep, I am up for the day.

This is kind of how I feel right now. This art was created by then Faribault Middle School 8th grader Mohamed for a student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, in 2021. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)


In an hour, after breakfast, I will remove the lid from a medication bottle, spill six tablets onto the counter, swallow two at a time with water, the bitter taste lingering on my tongue. These are the cause of my insomnia, my restlessness, my jitters. Prednisone. A steroid designed to calm the immune system and reduce inflammation.

My body needs calming, healing as I deal with feeling off-balance, vertigo, double vision, headaches, ear pain and fullness, tinnitus and more, likely triggered by a virus I had in January, according to my medical team. Viruses and I do not do well. I lost my hearing in my right ear in 2011 during an episode of sudden sensory hearing loss caused by a virus. Thankfully this latest virus is affecting only my deaf ear and not my good ear. Otherwise I would be deaf.

Prednisone and I do not do well together. I took it in 2011 and in 2005 during a 3-month severe case of whooping cough. I am hyper sensitive to the steroid’s side effects of restlessness and insomnia. Yet, I understand that if I want to reduce the inflammation in my body (in my 8th cranial nerve), I need to stick with the 14-day regimen. I want to feel well, to function better, to do the things I love. I hope this med works.

A neurology visit is scheduled in late May, the earliest I could be seen. Physical therapy is planned for my balance issues and vestibular neuronitis. Many times throughout the day I remind myself that I can do this. And when I’m unable to sleep or feel overwhelmed by the restlessness side effects of Prednisone, I will reach for the coloring book, pull out the Crayola box and rhythmically work crayons across paper.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


34 Responses to “Elusive sleep & a whole lot of other stuff”

  1. Prednisone is a miracle for many, but sometimes the side effects can be terrible. Sending healing hugs your way, Dear Friend. ❤

  2. Wishing you the best Audrey – take it easy and rest when you can. Restlessness is no fun and sounds like coloring is a good option for you to find some ease. Here’s to taking it one step at a time and finding that balance.

  3. Oh, my friend. So sorry for your tough night and days ahead. Prayers continue. Love and hugs to you.

  4. Becky Richie Says:

    Praying for you during your struggle♥️

  5. Norma Says:

    Oh Audrey! I thought that I was the only one who had nights like that! I went to bed last night at around 12 a.m. It’s not because of any medication that I am taking that keeps me awake. I think it was around 2:30 that I finally dozed off. Five thirty, the bathroom beckoned. Went back to sleep until 7:05. It’s now 11 a.m., and I’m so sleepy. If you come upon a way to get a good nights sleep. let me know.

    • I’m sorry for your sleep struggles, Norma. For me, sleep typically comes easily. The issues I have now are directly related to my health issues and to taking Prednisone. That doesn’t help you, I know. Maybe ask your doctor?

  6. Sandra Says:

    Thankful your acute writing skills still serve you well during this time you describe so vividly and relational. And so honestly. Definitely relate to that “rest the brain” need. And balancing the meds. I pray for some better future nights for you. Soon. Take care.

    • Thank you, Sandra. I slept six hours last night, waking up at 4 am, which is an improvement from the previous night. But I have a major sleep deficit so I am tired.

      I had a physical therapy consult and assessment today with plans to retrain my brain to deal with all I’m going through right now. I feel hopeful that with time and some hard work, I can improve. My first actual therapy is next week with a young therapist who is a great listener, answered my many questions and just overall impressed me. Hopefully, prayerfully, a combo of meds and therapy will get me to where I need to be. I’m thankful my writing hasn’t been affected other than needing to limit my computer time and take frequent breaks. Now photography, that may take awhile given my balance and vision issues. I’m itching to get out there with my camera.

  7. beth Says:

    I’m so sorry that you’re going through all of this, Audrey. in spite of what you are experiencing, your writing skills still continue to shine through with your description of what you are dealing with. I’m glad you’ve found a small bit of relief in taking breaks and coloring. my wish for you it to never experience this again, and for this to leave you soon.

    • Thank you for your compassionate comment, Beth. As much as I dislike the horrible side effects of Prednisone (I’ve only slept 12 hours total the past three nights), the med is helping with some symptoms. With vestibular therapy starting Tuesday, I will start retraining my brain in the areas of balance, vision, auditory, etc. Time will tell whether issues will linger.

  8. Coloring is a great way to try to relax. Prednisone is an evil drug in my book! But, not always as it does take care of the issues I have experienced. I will send some healing vibes your way. Lack of sleep is never good.

    • Lack of sleep is my major issue now with only 12 hours total of sleep the past three nights. I feel exhausted and wired (thank you, Prednisone). As much as I dislike the med, OK, hate it, I am notice some diminishing symptoms. I’ve colored a lot of pictures recently. I am thinking of giving one of those to my physical therapist, who wholeheartedly endorsed coloring as a way to relax and help me cope.

      • I think you might need a box of 64 Crayrolas if you are not sleeping that much. I really feel for you as been there and got way more than the T-shirt with the Prednisone experience! In fact…about ruined my life in 2002/2003! Lucky for me I had some friends (not family) help me out of a horrible situation. So glad you have a good support system of family and friends to help you through. 🙏 & 😇 ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

      • Paula, I DO have a 64 box of crayons. I think I’m in kindergarten heaven. Anyway, I slept 6.5 hours last night, which was wonderful.

        You seem to have a good handle on the side effects of Prednisone. I’m sorry you had to experience a really bad side effect, but am thankful you had the support of friends. Yes, I feel grateful for the support I have and for my medical team.

      • I am heading to the local WalMart tomorrow to get myself a box of 64! Seems like another nasty storm hitting Northern MN so I need “other” entertainment and coloring sounds like a great solution.

      • Happy coloring, Paula! And welcome “home” to Minnesota! I’m sorry the weather is not all that nice.

      • Purchased my box of 64, colored pictures with the resort owner’s 3 year old. Almost like having a grandkid on vacation (I am guessing). I do wonder where those small people keep all that energy.😂
        🧊❄️🥶 Here in the North Land. There is certainly a Hummmm… blog coming out of this one!!!!😳🧘

      • Actually, that sounds like fun, to color with a 3-year-old. Yes, I, too, wonder where those little people get all of their energy. Believe me, this grandma is exhausted after an overnight stay by the 4 and 7 year-old grandkids. But I wouldn’t trade that time and exhaustion for anything. I love my darling grandchildren.

        I look forward to your Minnesota Hummmmm blog post. I’m sorry you’re having such wintry weather during your visit.

      • 🥶🧊❄️ 😂🤣 Oh well, it is nice to experience some winter as we don’t get much in NL but I know how everyone here is sick and wants Spring to FINALLY arrive.

      • You are right. We are pretty much sick of winter. Glad you at least enjoyed some of it.

  9. I’m so sorry you are dealing with such health issues and medication side effects. The technique of coloring to calm yourself is a wonderful one. Here’s to getting better soon and getting some answers at your appointment in May.

    • Thank you, Kathleen. I do have a list of diagnoses. The neurology appointment is just to make sure nothing else is going on. Med side effects are pretty bad, especially in the sleep area and feeling agitated. But I also know the med is helping reduce some symptoms. Thus I’m trying to be strong and hang in there. I’ve colored a lot of pictures in the past few days. It helps.

  10. JanBeek Says:

    I’m sorry you are experiencing sleeplessness, but glad you have found some relief in the act of coloring. Whatever works, huh? You are not alone in tis sleepless night dilemma – my hubby is having the same trouble. Makes for a pretty long night and a listless day!! I hope the sleep apnea test the doc ordered for him will help diagnose his trouble and there can be a solution. Have you taken that test?

    • Typically I have no problems falling asleep or staying asleep. It’s the health issues I currently have and side effects from the Prednisone that are causing my sleep issues. I’ve slept 12 hours the past 3 nights. Needless to say, I’m exhausted.

      I’m sorry your husband has sleep issues. Randy has sleep apnea. I noticed issues initially when he would stop breathing at night. So he had a sleep test and, sure enough, he has sleep apnea and now uses a CPAP machine. Nearly all of his siblings also have apnea, thus there’s a genetic component in his family. Randy did not have trouble sleeping at night. It’s just that he woke up never feeling rested and was tired during the day. So I’m not sure this points to apnea in your husband, based on what you wrote. But it’s good to be tested.

  11. Diane Says:

    My Dear Cousin, I’m so sorry you are not resting and are having these ear and dizziness issues! I have many sleepless nights As i struggle with the buzzing, hissing and roaring of the tinnitus in my deaf ear. Why does the mind keep going over all the unpleasant things when we can’t sleep….ugh! I pray you find calming and healing and get your balance back. Those balance classes and treatments at physical therapy offer ways to cope. Stay strong….you got this girl!

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Diane. I know you’ve faced plenty of ear/hearing/balance issues. No fun. I appreciate the heads up on therapy working. I’m hopeful.

      I typically have no trouble with sleep. It’s the Prednisone which is causing my insomnia. I’ve slept 12 hours total in the past 3 nights. That said, the med is reducing some of my symptoms. I am, as you write, trying to stay strong. Thanks for your loving comment.

  12. You have my continued prayers. All of these things are definitely things that I generally just take for granted so I am rethinking that. It only takes one illness to reshape that thinking. Take care of yourself and do what you need to get better.

    • You’re right. Too often we take ordinary things like sleep for granted until we can’t sleep due to health and/or meds. I slept 6.5 hours last night, which I assuredly needed. Thank you for your ongoing love and prayers. Vestibular therapy starts Tuesday morning!

  13. Valerie Says:

    I love the idea of coloring when one can’t sleep. I’ll try it on those sleepless nights.

    I’m sorry you are struggling with the meds. Hopefully they will do what they are intended to do and you’ll be off them soon.

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