When Anxiety Makes It Nearly Impossible To Sleep

tired woman staring at clock
KATARZYNABIALASIEWICZ / GETTY IMAGES

Restful sleep is all that many of us want, and yet it’s often elusive. And the more it eludes us, the harder it is to feel good — not just well rested, but feeling like a complete person.

For those of us who have trouble sleeping because of anxiety, the lack of a good night’s sleep feels like being trapped on a merry-go-round. Because you will tell yourself that you need to shut up and go to sleep, which only compounds the stress you’re already under. Trying to turn off your brain enough to get a decent amount of sleep makes sleep feel impossible. Which then leads to you just feeling like crap — mentally and physically.

I don’t remember the last time I had a restful night’s sleep. For as long as I can remember, I have been plagued by waking several times in a night for no apparent reason. Since becoming a mother, I’ve gotten used to existing on a few hours of broken sleep, but it’s a lot harder now that I have to get up and be functional from the minute my eyes are open to the time I finally fall into another not-particularly restful sleep. I will jokingly say that I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since my son was born in 2013, but really, his birth just cemented that I may never have a decent night’s sleep again.

He started sleeping through the night when he was about three and a half. So I figured once he started sleeping through the night, I would be able to at least attempt to do the same.

What a big fucking joke that was.

Even though I’m not waking up every few hours like I did with him, I still don’t sleep for more than three hours before something wakes me up.

The most frequent culprit of my constant waking up is my own damn mind. All of my fears and anxiety come to the surface when I finally lay down for the night. All I want to do is sleep, and my brain decides it’s time to do a deep dive into the bad decision I made in 2011 that, to my sleep-deprived brain, was the catalyst for every bad thing that has happened to me since. It’s like playing a greatest hits of all my fuck-ups on loop until I can finally tell my brain to STFU so I can get a few moments’ shuteye before the sun comes up.

And when I’m stressed? Forget it. I feel like I will never sleep again. My anxiety will turn into literal nightmares that will jolt me out of my sleep. Normally when I wake up in the middle of the night, I can settle myself fairly easily, but an anxiety dream can keep me up for awhile. Mainly because I first have to stop my heart from racing and then I have to stop my mind from racing. It’s practically impossible to keep my mind from going on an even deeper spiral into darkness.

I’d give just about anything to not be a victim of my anxiety and be able to turn off my mind to get a good night’s sleep. Because it doesn’t just affect my sleep — it throws my whole life into a tailspin.

When I’m really tired, I’m the worst mom on the planet. I’m short tempered, easily irritated, just a straight up bitch. And my poor son doesn’t deserve my shitty attitude, but sometimes I literally cannot help it. If I could stop being that person, I absolutely would. I hate who I become when I’m exhausted. She isn’t the kind of person I’d want to be around.

Sleep deprivation manifests physically too. I already suffer from frequent lower back muscle pain, but when I’m extra tired, but pain intensifies. Partially because I tend to throw myself into physical activity to forget about how tired I am. You can tell when I haven’t been sleeping well because my apartment is spotless. The cleaning helps me to focus on something other than how fucking exhausted I am. But then I push myself to the point where I can barely bend over or sit comfortably because my lower back is screaming in pain.

A recent study looked at the correlation between insufficient sleep and the way the body responds to pain. And, unsurprisingly, the body is less able to handle physical pain when it’s tired. In one of the experiments, researchers found that even just a single night of sleep deprivation reduces a the pain threshold a person has by more than 15 percent. A separate experiment notes that even a small deviation from the normal amount of sleep you get day to day was a predictor in your overall pain tolerance the next day.

Knowing there is a correlation between the two is helpful because maybe now I will try and take it easy on my body when I’m really tired. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I will still be sleep deprived.

At this point, I don’t know if it’s possible to be able to turn my mind off enough to get a decent night’s sleep any time soon. Sure, it would be amazing, but I know it’s easier said than done. Maybe one day soon.

Because I miss sleep. A lot.