I love my sleep. For someone who has so many reasons for being awake – three gorgeous kids, a loving husband, an exciting career – I really do adore being unconscious. And yet, despite my love of sleep, I have had sleeping problems for as long as I can remember.
Once asleep I tended to stay asleep, but it was getting to sleep that was the challenge. It didn’t matter how exhausted I was; once I got into bed my brain would shift into gear and I’d be unable to switch it off. I’d feel my heart begin to pound violently within me as adrenaline surged through my veins. And although I did my best to push the thought from my consciousness, it would flash inside my head like a mocking neon sign: You are not sleeping, Kerri. You are never going to sleep.
The sign tormented me, night after night. It tortured me because it was right: I wasn’t going to sleep. And I longed to sleep more than anything in the world.
There is very little worse than lying in bed at night craving sleep, yet finding sleep out of your grasp. It creates a type of desperation that is unparalleled in the daytime hours. In the quest for sleep, unlike nearly any other endeavour, you cannot work, you cannot push to make it happen. The harder you fight to become unconscious, the more elusive unconsciousness becomes.
Over the years, I tried all sorts of techniques to fall asleep. My favourite was called ‘Clearing My Mind’, and it involved a complex series of thought processes designed to lead me into slumber:
- I want to go to sleep now. I have to clear my mind.
- Right, I’m going to clear my mind.
- Okay. Clearing the mind. Imagining a broom sweeping away all the thoughts in my head.
- No, that’s stupid. I can’t think about a broom. I’ll just imagine the thoughts blowing away with the wind.
- What do thoughts blowing away with the wind even look like?
- This isn’t working. What about just noting thoughts as they roll in and letting them go?
- Yep, I’ll try that.
- I’m not asleep.
- That was a thought. Let it go.
- I’m still not asleep.
- That was another thought. Let it go.
- Shit. It must be at least eleven, and I have to get up at six-thirty. There is no way I’m going to get enough sleep.
- I have to clear my thoughts. Clear my thoughts!
- What am I thinking? I don’t know what I’m thinking!
- I’M NOT SLEEPING!!!
Needless to say, it was not especially effective.
After my first baby was born my sleep patterns became worse. Nothing could have prepared me for the fatigue that new motherhood brought. And nothing could have prepared me for the way my anxiety would destroy the precious hours I had remaining for rest.
Every single night I would feed my son at ten pm, burp him, change him, and pat him back to sleep. By ten-thirty or so I would be lying in my bed, and that’s when the problems would start.
I have to go to sleep, I would think in agitation. I only have three and a half hours before the baby wakes up again. I would lie there under the covers, willing myself into unconsciousness, in a race against the clock to get myself to sleep. The minutes would tick by, and I’d still be wide awake, and I could feel my desperation growing by the second.
Sleep! I would tell myself. Time is running out! I only have two hours and forty-five minutes to go! I’d become more and more anxious, knowing that I would be woken in two short hours, and that the cycle would start all over again. Often I would fall asleep in the half-hour before my son woke up, sometimes I would be awake the entire three and a half hours. It was infuriating and depressing and extremely distressing. There were many nights in which I would get up to breastfeed and burst into tears of exhaustion.
Dark circles developed under my eyes and I sank into a serious depression. Everything looked grey. I couldn’t enjoy my babies. I couldn’t love my husband. I woke up in the morning wondering how I would get through the day. Insomnia is a leech: it sucks the light from your life and the joy from your soul. I needed to fix it. I needed to sleep.
Over the years, I tried every sleep remedy under the sun. I tried hot baths before bed, listening to soothing music, doing meditation, and every type of herbal potion. As a last resort, I took good old-fashioned sleeping pills, rationing myself no more than three per week.
However, the end of my insomnia didn’t come until 2007, with the birth of my youngest daughter. And it wasn’t hormones, or a change in attitude, or a sense of fulfilment that did it. I was, quite simply, shattered beyond comprehension. By the end of each day I would collapse into bed and become instantly unconscious, usually without washing my face, often without even brushing my teeth. My third child restored to me the powers of sleep, and four years later I am still grateful for my rest.
My challenge now is staying awake during the day. I guess I never have been one for a happy medium.
This is an excerpt from The Little Book of Anxiety, which you can buy on Booktopia here.
Kerri lives in Sydney with her husban and three kids. Her first book was “When My Husband Does The Dishes…” and her second book, “The Little Book of Anxiety“, is out now. You can follow Kerri’s blog here and catch up with her on Twitter here.
Do you ever have any problems sleeping? How do you fight that battle when your mind just wont shut down?