I check the clock.
Time doesn’t seem to pass.
I bury my face into my pillow and try counting sheep.
But sleep doesn’t come.
And I know the anxiety will strike later in the day. Like a napalm bomb. And then maybe a hallucination or two. Who knows?
* * *
The Science of Sleep
I’ve read that we spend nearly a third of out lives sleeping. It’s natural, and necessary for survival.
There are two categories of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM).
REM sleep is where the magic happens. And it’s intriguing, because no one really knows what purpose it serves. During REM, we experience our most vivid dreams. It is also when our muscles are temporarily paralyzed. There’s some evidence suggesting that people who awake to find themselves unable to move, or who experience hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, are experiencing waking REM.
Scientists are divided over the purpose of REM. Some believe it provides our minds a safe place to process daily events and gives us the emotional space to resolve problems that may occur in our lives.
Regardless, both categories of sleep play important roles in our capacity to not only survive, but thrive, succeed, and experience happiness.
* * *
Sleep for Mental Health
Sleep is one of the most crucial aspects to maintaining good mental health. It is common, during bouts of mental illness, to experience some form of insomnia or sleep disruptions. Psychosis, anxiety, depression, and mania can all be characterized by sleep issues.
Additionally, people who live with addictions, particularly to stimulants, are at risk of developing severe mental health problems, as their sleep deteriorates.
In the early stages of recovery, from mental illness and/or addiction, sleep is perhaps the biggest influencer of a positive outcome. And people who struggle with quality of sleep are at greater risk of relapse than those who get sufficient sleep.
Sleep is important to mental health because it is a way for our brains to detoxify and eliminate damaging free radicals. Without sound sleep, our brains are at risk of becoming over-stressed, and are more vulnerable to stressful events. In fact, the stress hormone Cortisol, can, during insomnia, become elevated.
Sleep is also neuroprotective and promotes healthy neurogenesis (the regrowth of brain cells). Therefore, sleep is so crucial to one’s rehabilitation from mental health challenges.
* * *
Today I am no longer a chronic insomniac.
I try to practice good sleep hygiene. Setting a specific time to go to bed, dimming the lights, putting on soft music and practicing some meditation.
I no longer require prescription sleep medications. In fact, many say that these medications, when abused or used for long periods of time, worsen quality of sleep.
I avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening. And often I’ll sip a relaxing tea to help unwind and prepare myself for bed. Alcohol is a no-no. Alcohol may be tranquilizing as an initial effect, but it acts as a stimulant later into inebriation.
My recent sleep patterns have been effective in managing my mood, anxiety levels, and in encouraging good health.
I still experience symptoms, but nowadays, I prefer to handle them differently. My response to symptoms used to be impulsive in nature…
Now, I opt to “sleep on it.”