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Ambien is a wonder drug that's killing my gaming habit

How a busy father of five is sleeping better, and why that sucks

I have five kids.

I put this in articles sometimes, and there are always people in the comments who are surprised. It's a fact that flavors every aspect of my life, from work to play. It's not so much a detail about my family, it's who I am. I don't know how to live my life any other way.

I've also "struggled" with sleep my whole life. My mother tells me as a baby I was fine hanging out deep into the night, and never seemed to need much sleep. I wasn't crying or sad, I just wanted to chill. It wasn't a big deal when I was a kid, nor did it negatively impact my life as a teenager. I would go to school, stay up late into the night listening to music and writing, get a few hours of sleep and be fine. It felt like a somewhat boring mutant ability; I could go for months on only a bit of sleep every night.

It was a blessing even through my 20s. After the kids went to sleep and the writing I needed to do for work was done I could play games, or watch television shows. I would go to late movie premieres so I could write about the film the next day.

I could cut through pop culture efficiently in the hours between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. It was a way to bolt on what amounted to an extra work day, when you consider my job is to consume and then discuss pop culture. It was a hidden advantage in a competitive field: If you don't need much sleep, you can see and play much more.

It's a problem now that I'm in my mid-30s however, and everything is slowing down a bit. I was having problems going to sleep, and problems waking up. The lack of sleep was catching up to me, and exhaustion permeated every aspect of my day. The Fight Club scenes about insomnia are hyperbole, but only just.

I spoke to my doctor, who gave me Ambien. Everything changed.

I'm healthy, it sucks!

Ambien, for me and under the supervision of my doctor, was a wonder drug. I take my pill and begin to feel a bit sleepy, and then I feel a bit odd, and then I'm out cold. I could still function if the kids needed me in the middle of the night. During business trips I was able to take a pill to sleep instead of tossing and turning from anxiety, and wake up feeling great and ready to work.

I'm now getting eight hours of sleep while also waking up on time. I had to adjust my habits after I found myself sleep-messaging people in that odd hour between feeling the effects and passing out, but other than that the pill has changed my life for the better.

Ambien, along with working out and seeing a therapist, has helped me get my life back on track. I'm treating my insomnia and anxiety, and I'm physically healthier than I've ever been. I noticed some bad habits in my life both physically and mentally, and I'm getting help for them. It's great.

It's a devil's bargain, and it's made me very much aware of how much pop culture there is out there in 2016

What I wasn't quite ready for was the fact that those hours are now gone. The time I'm spending sleeping — and I want to be clear that this is sleep my body requires to function well — is time I'm not spending playing games or watching television or films. I'm not able to cut through pop culture with the speed and efficiency I could when the night was my second work day.

Being healthier and happier overall meant that I had to give up a lot of the peripheral things that also made me happy, and it often feels like a devil's bargain. I may be waking up on time feeling like a million bucks, but the time I had to read those comics is gone. And with five kids there's no other fat in my day to retrieve for that purpose.

This fact made me very much aware of how much pop culture there is out there in 2016. There is always a new Netflix series to watch, or a new movie to check out. The games, from both AAA and indie teams, keep rolling in.

A part of me wants to ditch new releases and just go back to the improved Star Wars: The Old Republic. I hear Diablo 3 is amazing right now, and there's always something new around the corner. What used to feel like a bottomless pit of time in the evening now feels like a lost opportunity. I'm not thinking about my health, I'm worried about what I'm leaving behind.The midnight hours are perfect for getting things done, especially with a big family. But I'm trading them in for something as banal as my health? It feels wrong.

But it's not. My work day is eight hours long. Playing games is part of that, and I have to take that seriously. No one should have to work 12 hours a day, and I don't either. Not really. I can be mindful of my time and more careful about the pop culture I consume. Some comics will go unread. Many games will go unplayed. It was part of my new year's resolution anyway. I may find time to go back, or I may not. But I'll never be able to get another body, and prioritizing my own health is important.

But I can't fool myself here, I am giving something up. And it's something I'll never get back. I'm banking my time as an investment in hoping getting more of it when I'm older, but I do so with at least a small amount of sadness.