It’s 3:00 am.
You’re staring at the ceiling, perfectly still and eerily quiet. You decided how ugly your ceiling is by 3:06 am. Why does it not have some beautiful painting for me to stare at or at least a skylight so I can watch the twinkling of the stars? I would settle for a big screen television that only plays what I want to see at 3 am!
Inside, you feel like you’re sweating through your eyeballs and your mind’s swarming like a flock of angry mosquitoes. You know that buzzing sound you hear as one flies by your ear as you try to sit outside at night, that zipping like they are preparing to invade your brain feeling.
How you wish you could drift off to sleep like they do in the movies or commercials. Seriously, who the hell can fall asleep as soon as they turn off the bedside light and place their heads on a pillow. Those people need to share their secrets and perhaps their DNA so I too can enjoy sleep! If you are like me, this is not your first time at the sleepless rodeo. You have performed many nights without applauds. I don’t even get my name in the credits.
Sleep, as we all know, is absolutely vital for bodily repair, general all-around health, and cognitive function. Everyone knows that, well except babies but they are babies. It’s generally recommended that we get eight hours of sleep a night but for those suffering from anxiety, that’s not something that comes so easy. I have heard about these strange humans who are powerful sleepers and actually get at least this eight hours, some many more. I am amazed but mostly jealous of these Snow White impersonators. I want to sleep like that and if I am asleep, don’t you dare kiss me awake. I don’t care if you are a Prince, unless you are “Prince”, but that would be an out of body experience.
When you’re suffering from anxiety, the beast likes to invade your thoughts at night. It loves to make your heart beat faster as you finally lay down in your crisp cold sheets. The nausea that is creeping up your throat is forcing you to sit back up in fear of being sick. This is the kind of feeling you get when you have been out for a night of adult like fun that involved a high percentage of alcohol. You get the worse part of that feeling without all the previous fun. You find yourself actually pleading with your brain to give you a break. Just tonight let me sleep and tomorrow you can destroy me again. You can’t switch off, not even for a few hours.
If you actually get some shut eye, you wake up in the morning feeling grouchy. You’re irritable, sluggish, and your cognitive function suffers. Extended issues with lack of sleep have been determined to increase our risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and having a rather diminished immune system. I always feel like I have morning sickness, which is not anything I could have, believe me. I mean far from it unless my mother was right and you can get pregnant from sitting on a public toilet.
When you have the misfortune of having anxiety, your adrenaline levels are invariably running higher than normal. It’s substantially like being put through the fight or flight response 24/7, for no obvious reason. I understand fully why my body doesn’t want to fall asleep when it thinks that it’s in danger and needs to be moving. However, it is hard for me to feel emphatic when I am staring at 3 am and I am on the brink of tears. It’s hardly relaxing, is it?
I started off as a kid who slept very little but when I did close those big green eyes, I was out cold until daylight. As a teen, I slept like most teens. Up late with raging hormones and a zombie like appearance every morning. If my mother was smart, she really should have video taped her daughter and cashed in on the whole zombie thing of the early eighties! When I was in my early twenties, party girl sleep was all the rage! It was until I was closer to thirty that my sleep pattern was noticeably off. I began to notice how bad my debilitating panic attacks were and felt trapped in a bubble. Not those happy bubbles from cartoons but a big ass scary one. At the time I had an energetic toddler who never slept as it was. I was captured by an evil circle of stress, no sleep, and anxiety.
I always felt irritable in the day and always felt off kilter. Being a new mom and having a mother sick, was just added stress to this. I still had to be the energetic human my family needed and expected but felt dead inside. No sleep can kill even the strongest of warriors. My daughter was a backward sleeper. She loved to be fully, I mean, fully awake at night. Think Richard Simmons on crack after drinking a Redbull type of wide awake! So I was always running on fumes.
Now with anxiety and this horrible tragic syndrome that others apparently call perimenopause, (the period of a woman’s life shortly before the occurrence of the menopause), I never sleep. If I do sleep, it is for only a few hours. Sometimes those hours are spread out, sometimes they are slammed together like the best sandwich you can imagine. I get hangry feelings when I am tired too just in case you are wondering.
I sometimes watch TV shows that are not-mentally taxing with conversation so that they don’t stimulate my mind too much to keep me awake, but enough to keep my mind busy so that I can control my mind off the demons and get stuck into falling asleep. Sometimes I count sheep, but I prefer counting zombies or old boyfriends. It’s something that is repetitive but requires very little thought to keep my mind occupied on other things.
I’d recommend the above techniques, over and over again, until the cows come home. I’d recommend, at first, making sure you’re fully wound-down after a long, stressful day. Don’t exercise in the three hours before you go to bed. Don’t eat in the two hours before you go to bed. If you can, have a hot bath or do something relaxing. Going on your smartphone or laptop is not one of them, as the backlight will keep you stimulated for hours. Apparently, sex helps you drift into a sweet slumber but I can’t remember that far back, memory is not what it used to be.
It is obvious that you should cut down on caffeine and alcohol to help you sleep. I just think that sometimes, to be honest, a glass of wine helps me sleep. Glass..bottle…tomato…tomatoe. Make your bedroom your dream room, both in reality and sleep mode. Invest in room darkening curtains, keep it at a cool temperature and make sure it is well ventilated. If you can handle sleeping with a window open then do it or sleep with a fan propelling all night. The swishing sound might just put you to sleep like a lullaby does a small child. If you are lucky you have a good mattress that is comfortable so if you don’t sleep, at least you won’t ache in pain. If you can, lock your bedroom door so you have no late night visitors such as kids..or significant others. They will totally understand, ( insert eye roll where you see fit). Meditate, do yoga, use breathing exercises or essential oils. You may have to try thirty different things until you find something that works for you.
If, after doing all this, you’re still not drifting off, get up and do something gentle. I sometimes put a load of laundry on or clean off my bathroom counter. Don’t sing the heavy metal song of your youth just keep it all calm and gentle. Trying too hard will only make it worse, and odds are you’ll suddenly be overwhelmed with a desire to get into bed and not do that horribly boring housework. I don’t want to do the horribly boring housework when I am energetic so why would I want to do it at 3 am? I’d also recommend a sleep cycle app – I know I said no cell phones– which monitors your patterns of sleep and wakes you during a light stage of sleep so you don’t get that horrid befuddled feeling in the morning.
If you are still unable to get any rest and it is clearly causing you issues in your day to day life, please talk to your medical team. I know a lot of people who use sleeping aids and they are better off for it. I am planning on discussing a plan with my doctor on my next visit. We all need sleep to function and fight the beast.