My history of anxiety and sleep goes back into my early childhood. I have described how I started having depersonalization and panic attack symptoms around age 7. I remember feeling scared and anxious watching TV at night, knowing that soon it would be time for bed.
When you aren’t able to sleep, you tend to become obsessed with it, and this was definitely the case with me.
As a child with anxiety, I had a lot of fears related to sleep. I have a diary from age 10 and most of what I wrote was how scared I was about going to sleep. Isn’t that sad? An entry on any given day would read “it took 5 hours to go to sleep last night.”
I remember asking my older sister, who I shared a room with, how to fall asleep. I remember being very, very afraid of the dark. My family lived in a small bi-level, and yet I could not even stay in my bed unless my sister was there.
Even with my sister in the next bed, I would not always be able to relax and drift off. I remember trying to sneak onto the bottom of her twin bed, just to be closer to her, so afraid was I. I also remember waking my mother up and hoping she would stay with me in my bed so I wouldn’t be afraid. Most of the time, my family was irritated with my disruptive nighttime habits. I must have been one of the most sleep deprived 10 year olds there ever was.
Of note, I was not anxious about sleeping on the weekends. It was only during the school week, which was very stressful for me.
(Not to get off topic, but I do believe I was traumatized at this young age and even younger. I was scared to death of the punitive nuns at my Catholic school, who regularly shamed us students and worse. It makes me sad that i was such an anxious little girl, and that no one did anything to help me back then.)
I was mostly afraid of what the nuns talked about in school- that Jesus or Mary often appeared to innocent children to talk about the end of the world. I remember our class was forced to watch these grainy black and white films of a ghostly Mary or baby Jesus appearing to children in foreign lands. My ardent fear was that some Heavenly being would appear to me in the dark of the night.
Directly across from my bedroom was my parents room and smack dab staring at my from their wall was a picture of the Sacred heart of Jesus. It was one of those scary paintings with a glow around his head and searing eyes that followed me. That picture haunted me for years and I did have nightmares of it coming to life and talking to me. I couldn’t even go into my parents room during the day because I was so afraid of that painting.
I remember going to sleep overs with friends from class and laying there in my sleeping bag wide awake. I envied that my friends were able to sleep when I was not. I hated when it was time to stop playing and go to sleep because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to.
As I grew up, I continued to be afraid of the dark- even up until college age, when I moved away from home for the first time. I knew I was afraid of the dark much longer than other girls my age, and that it was irrational, but that was the case. And I sure didn’t know what to do about it.
Once I had graduated from college and moved to my first nursing job in New York City, I was again plagued with anxiety about sleep. I had to work 12 hour shifts and needed to be rested. Nevertheless, I lay there in bed night after night after night listening to the sound of my roommate sleeping peacefully just a few feet away. It was maddening.
My saga with anxiety and sleep followed me into my 30s and beyond. I remember being anxious about the first full time job I took on after I became a mother. I remember several nights where I never slept one wink. I would just not drift off, and I could not stop my mind from racing. I tried everything: watching infomercials, reading, taking melatonin or Valerian, exercise, but nothing worked. God how I hated those nights. I would really be dragging at work the next day.
Anxiety takes a toll on you when it plagues you during the day. But when it follows you into the night too, well that is another form of hell on earth.
Does anxiety interfere with your sleep? Next we will look at Anxiety and Sleep: Tips That Really Help.
I wish you peace and a good night’s sleep,
Recommended–Lull yourself to sleep with a gentle yet effective self hypnosis download: Fall Asleep Fast.