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Why Anxiety Makes Every Night an Ordeal for Me

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It’s time to go to bed.

You’ve worked hard all day long. Your body feels sluggish, and you’re finding it hard to keep up with that random romantic flick that’s playing on TV. You turn around to see that your dog is already in deep slumber. So, you turn off the lights, wrap yourself in a blanket and close your eyes. And before you know it, you are fast asleep. Lucky you!

I usually dread going to bed. Why? Because I know that no matter how tired I am or how little sleep I got the previous night, I’m not going to fall asleep before the sun rises. I know a million intrusive thoughts and cringe-worthy memories await me there. Indeed, the eight hours I spend in bed tend to be the most stressful hours of my waking life. To add to the misery, I can’t help but go to the bathroom half a dozen or so times during those hours!

Not being able to fall asleep despite spending several hours in bed is a very real disability. Yet, very few people talk about it or take it seriously. There’s no way you can tell your boss you won’t be coming to work today because you were unable to fall asleep last night. Nor can you tell your professor your grades are low because you are constantly dealing with the effects of sleep deprivation. Well, maybe you can in one those Scandinavian countries where everything seems to be perfect, but not where I live.

According to my favorite counselor, it’s anxiety that’s powering my insomnia. If you’re someone who’s prone to worrying about every little thing that could go wrong around you, there’s always something to keep you awake and thinking. Of course, these days I’m also anxious about not being able to sleep. All the newspaper articles talking about the scary effects of having large sleep deficits only make me feel worse.

I’ve been told, by friends and by strangers on online forums, that meditation can help. I’ve tried that. In fact, I have almost memorized the Anapanasati Sutta, a Buddhist text that teaches you how to focus on your breath and silence the chatter inside your head. For some reason, though, it doesn’t seem to help. I have a clearer mind, but not one that’s willing to fall asleep when I want it to.

A sleep therapist recently suggested I take melatonin pills every night. After reading about melatonin online, I thought it’s the holy grail. It’s a natural sleep-inducing hormone, it has no side effects, you can’t get addicted to it, and in most countries it’s available over the counter. I thought it would finally make me a “normal” person. Unfortunately, it didn’t. I mean, whenever I take it I do fall asleep within 40 minutes, but invariably I wake up after an hour or two. I have been experimenting with various dosages to increase the sleep duration, but haven’t found much success.

I really envy people who fall asleep as soon as they hit the sack. They seem to have a superpower I don’t. On second thought though, I’m probably the one with not one, but two pointless superpowers: being able to maintain consciousness and toss and turn all night long, and being able to experience microsleeps during important conversations.

Good night!

Photo by Rex Pickar on Unsplash

Originally published: September 29, 2018
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