98…97…96…95 – let me be the first to tell you, counting backwards never helped me sleep. Yes, I tried counting sheep, naming countries in ABC order, and reading for long stretches at a time, but my mind was constantly racing, thinking of what to do next. All the things I could do if I were awake! When I was a child I begged my parents to stay up longer. One more hour, I pleaded, but to no avail. I longed to be in the grown-up club with no curfew and bedtime ritual. It wasn’t that I had trouble falling asleep, it’s just that I had no desire to sleep!
Now, I am older and yearn to sleep, except now sleep eludes me. My mind still races, and my thoughts are scattered, envisioning the worst possible scenario, and dreading all the things that could inevitably go wrong. I cannot help it – I am constantly worrying about things that probably won’t happen. Yet, according to Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Stress-Proof Brain” 85% of things people worry about never happen! I have often wondered if it is just me; but according to the 2015 Consumer Reports survey, 27% of people admit they have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and a whopping 164 million Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week.
Most of us know that we should strive for at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep, but according to the Sleep Foundation at least 1/3 of Americans are sleep deprived. Making time for sleep is critical to our well-being, but we often forget to allocate time for rest. I admit I am guilty of that. In between working, studying, taking care of the kids, bingeing on Netflix, and snacking on junk and the midnight munchies, my sleep-bank frequently takes a hit. I will play catch-up, I promise myself, but it rarely works. Instead, the more sleep deprived I am, the more anxious I become, and the harder it is to have a deep and restful sleep.
No easy fix
At first, listening to meditative music was soothing, until my mind would drift, and trivial thoughts would slowly creep in. Memory foam pillows were another addition, but the cooling gel was distracting and failed to live up to the hype. Being wrapped in a blissfully warm cashmere throw was luxurious and cozy, but soon became stifling in the warmer months. Aromatherapy oils that touted calmness and serenity were anything but. Lavender energized me and evoked images of running free and wild in the Parisian countryside…not quite the peaceful slumber I had in mind. Finally, I realized that to calm my nerves I had to look within and stop focusing on quick fixes.
Revisiting my thoughts in a healthy way meant reframing my world and shifting perspectives. Panicking about things that were beyond my control was futile. Dwelling on the past was counter-productive, and worrying about life’s uncertainties only intensified my fear. Not sweating the small stuff or taking it one day at a time sounds trite – easier said than done, especially when life is full of surprises. Having a to-do list was remarkably efficient for a while, until it drained me. Setting impractical goals made it impossible to check off the list, and as my list grew longer, doubt seeped in. Now I realize I do not need to be Wonder Woman! I do not need to do it all unless I want to, and can balance my desires to suit my needs. Having nothing to prove can be immensely liberating, and I find myself slowly and cautiously giving up the reins.
As I am getting older and hopefully wiser, I find myself turning inward and looking to my faith for guidance, tranquility, and peace. My mind still wanders in all directions, but over-analyzing and speculating are a thing of the past. Instead, I redirect my thoughts to all the things that matter most and find myself strangely at peace. I will not admit to being stress-free as I know I have a long way to go, but I know that I have moved across turbulent waters to a place with rolling green hills.
Most people experience anxiety on some levels and this year has been a particularly challenging year. Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep is often ignored and a neglected part of our health. Talking to somebody can help shift the paradigm and bring a fresh perspective. We all know the benefits of having open dialog and communication. However, sometimes it can be difficult to share your innermost feelings with someone close to you, especially if that person is a part of your stress! At Mission Addiction, we offer a platform to share and connect with others who are also struggling. Our coaches and mentors are available to speak one-on-one and offer support, guidance, and encouragement.