sleep terror

Weak sleeps wreak havoc on an already chaotic existence. Shirking sleep in favour of busy schedules and social demands is sad, but they are choices that can be changed. The true devastation appears in those who desperately want to sleep, but fail to do it well. Improper sleep or insomnias are linked to growing responsibilities, forming a treacherous pile of worries [1]. Most cases will resolve when underlying anxieties or symptoms are managed. (Yes, this is easier written then done)

One time I suffered through a jet lag of three weeks. This coincided with an anxious time for me and likely prolonged the pain. It was during this time I unearthed the treasure of sleep. Prior to this, I was a content, simple sleeper. Sleeping was a natural and easy thing for me to do. I looked forward to a restful transition of days, a blissful break from reality. I could sleep and wake refreshed to a new day. That feeling was so natural and regular. I never had to weep over its beauty, because I could feel it daily.

When my sleep problems started, I casually attributed them to the new stresses of my life. This rationale may very well be true, but I should not have been so casual about it. The sleeps that were once so pure and inviting devolved into fearful and frantic blurs. It was frightening. How could something that was once so easy become so hard? I started believing that a hearty sleep as an ethereal experience. It became rare and precious.

Then pathetic.

Sleep became a chore.

I didn’t want to work so hard to fall asleep or sleep well. It was stressful waking up with a rapid-fire flush of thoughts. I was impatient to wake up and get out of that bed. The worries that trailed me throughout the day quieted during sleep, but they’d bellow almost immediately when waking up. I savoured the brief space between sleep and wake where I couldn’t hear the bellows. Eventually, I heard them. My anxieties were still there. And I knew they were scratching away at my sleep.

But I didn’t think that one of those anxieties was over sleep.

In true feedback fashion, I had grown afraid of the anxious sleeps.

My problem does not lie with sleep alone. It is in the anxiety and stresses I feel. They become more pronounced with age. One study suggests that shorter and lighter sleeps in older adults evolved as a protective trait to keep them alert to dangers [2]. Alternatively, another study proposes that decreased sleep quality may actually be due to the reduced functioning of sleep centres in the brain as people age (specifically, a gradual, age-related loss of neurons in the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus) [3].

As for me, my sleep troubles were rooted in the anxieties I feel. I continue to find better ways to cope with them, if I cannot find ways to remedy them. I despair at the thought, but in some ways, I needed to relearn how to navigate daily routines. Relearn how to manage anxieties that grew unfettered, somehow bypassing my internal monitoring system.

Thought monitoring is probably not the solution anyway. It’s the problem.

 

Check it out:

[1] https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/stress-and-anxiety-interfere

[2] https://today.duke.edu/2017/07/live-grandparents-helped-human-ancestors-get-safer-night%E2%80%99s-sleep

[3] https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/137/10/2847/2847696/Sleep-is-related-to-neuron-numbers-in-the

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