Sleep, you elusive little bitch.


I love sleep. Sleep is super important. A good night's sleep is kind of like a reset button for your brain. It can help you recover when you're sick; rejuvenate you during periods of stress; and help your body repair cells that have been damaged due to UV exposure. Activity in parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making processes, and social interactions is drastically reduced during deep sleep, suggesting that this type of sleep may help people maintain optimal emotional and social functioning while they are awake.

So sleep is critical to function. And yet it manages to be so elusive to so many people, including myself. When the lights go out, I do not blissfully sail off to dreamland on a cloud of zzzz's. There's something about going to sleep that makes my brain turn up the volume on every single thought in my head. I don't understand this. What is it about that hour that causes me to introspectively examine every single negative thing I did during the day? Instead of drifting off, why do I construct a mental list of stuff I need to do the following day and formulate blog posts and worry about my daughter's grades and try to remember what my fourth grade's teachers name was? Who cares, anyway?

The problem is worry. I am a worrier. I worry ALL THE TIME. I worry about everything. I worry that I'll never learn to bake a pie from scratch. I worry that my kids won't get scholarships to college. I worry about the results of the endometrial biopsy I had last week. I worry that my book will never get published. And mostly, I worry about my body - my weight, my appearance, the pimple on my chin. I need to lose ten pounds. I should be eating better. SOMEONE HAD BETTER GET THE HALLOWEEN CANDY OUT OF MY HOUSE. I become preoccupied with random "what-if's" and and worst-case scenarios and before I know it it's 3 am and I am no closer to sleep than I was when I first got into bed.

Studies say that half of all people have trouble sleeping at least one day a week, and 33% have trouble falling asleep every night. How does worry interfere with sleep? Here's an explanation:

  • During the day, our conscious mind processes all the information we collect: events, sounds, converstaions, etc.
  • Our brains can't handle all the information in our conscious minds, so it filters the information and decides to hold onto the thoughts that have value. These are stored in our subconscious. All other info is discarded and forgotten about.
  • Before we go to bed, our minds relax and we don't filter out information as much.
  • When our conscious mind starts to relax right before sleep, all the information we stored in our subconscious mind starts to bubble up.
  • This gets added to thoughts regarding the things we need to finish and all the problems we need to solve, and builds tension. This tension interferes with our ability to fall asleep.
Chronic worrying can be debilitating, and lack of sleep makes things even worse. When I don't get enough sleep, I am an irritable, whiny douchecanoe who is all together unpleasant to be around. I am snappish and argumentative and essentially, a total and complete beast. Thankfully, I've come up with some tricks for getting a better night's sleep. Journaling helps. Hot baths are better. Sometimes a shot of whiskey does the trick (though drinking too much leads to restless sleep, so watch out for that.) Reading a good book also encourages me to lull off.

Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Are you a worrying? Does your worrying interfere with daily life? What are some thoughts that keep you awake at night?


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7 comments:

  1. I actually just read this post while unable to sleep! I'm pretty much the same as you; a chronic worrier. I just have such a hard time switching my brain from awake mode to asleep mode. It usually takes me a few hours to get to sleep once I go to bed, but some nights (like tonight) it's particularly bad.

    If it's just general sleeplessness I find that Nature's Own Complete Sleep helps me a lot. I'm not sure if it's available outside Australia, but it's just lactium and zizyphus jujuba. If there's something in particular keeping me up though, it doesn't really help much and my best bet is to go do something and then try again later.

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  2. I'm funny. I love sleeping and I fall asleep really easily. I can also easily have a nap in the afternoon(is there anything NICER?) and not have any problems getting to sleep at night. When i'm tired, I'm arsey.

    But despite all of this, I will wake up in the early morning (like 5.00-5.30) at least three times a week and my mind will be racing around thinking about work, housework, stuff I want to blog about. Sometimes I get back to sleep fairly quickly, sometimes that's me just up for the day.

    I've really learnt to just live with this sleeping pattern because there's nothing I can do anyway, and at least its not another thing to worry about.

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  3. Elissa,
    I just read this post over at A Cup of Jo and thought it might help:
    http://joannagoddard.blogspot.com/2011/11/do-you-worry-too-much.html

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  4. Great post! I can so relate to this. I'm often awake because my mind just won't turn off. I'll have to try Complete Sleep. Thanks Amie for the suggestion.

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  5. I've never considered myslef a worrier - but maybe I am because my head is filled with absolutely useless crap at 1:00 am at least 5-6 times per week. This is new to me - a problem I've had in only the last year or so (and no, there have been no significant life changes in that time frame). I have started keeping a journal - this has helped me more than anything else!

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  6. I'm not a frequent commenter, but read via Google Reader every day...today I felt compelled to click over and comment. I don't know that I'm a constant worrier, but my brain races when I'm trying to fall asleep most nights. It can be anything from what I have to do the next day to big picture concerns to songs that just won't stop. I've been like this for as long as I can remember.

    Through all the years, I've only found a few things that really help: visualizations (usually I picture my mind as a cluttered chalkboard that is being erased and wiped clean), a calming mantra (repeated mentally until I fall asleep), and deliberate tensing and relaxation of the muscles. I wish journaling helped me. I've found that it makes me think even more about what I've just written! Sweet dreams to all!

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  7. Haha I'm reading this as one of my distractions from forcing myself to go to bed. I'm so tired that my eyes have tears in them from stinging. My bones feel tired. But am I sleeping?

    Nope.

    Once I actually hit the pillow, I usually go to sleep fairly quickly if nothing has happened during the day that I obsess about. It's getting to bed that I struggle with. I have a fear of tomorrows that is strong during the morning (when I'd rather sleep than face the day), fades during the day and then I'm happy (usually) and then comes back in full force at night, at which time I will do anything rather than let myself sleep and have to face the enormous dread I have about the next day. It sucks.

    I like to get my thoughts out, so I write in my journal before I sleep if I'm having trouble. Getting to bed seems to just take willpower, at this point.

    Is your sleeping consistently better now or is it a day by day thing?

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