For as long as I can remember, I have not been a good sleeper, but my insomnia has gotten much worse in the last decade or so. I try to soothe myself by imagining quiet, calm places, I’ve listened to mindfulness CDs and music. I’ve taken warm baths and showers. Nothing puts me to sleep except sleep medication, and sometimes not even then. What’s interesting is how I spend my time while trying to fall sleep: I imagine the most horrendous events, especially my death (usually suicide), or being abandoned by the people I love the most. I recognize that these fantasies are “terrifying me to wakefulness,” but I don’t understand why. I try to put these fantasies aside and focus on the calm images, but I also slip back to the terrors that keep me awake. Why do I do this? Do I not want to sleep? Does sleep frighten me? Though I’m seeing a therapist because I have a sex phobia, I don’t have any recollection of any abuse as a child, though my therapist has hinted that perhaps I’m keeping myself awake as a protective mechanism because something might have happened to me years ago while I was sleeping. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? (age 61, from US)
I’m sorry you are having this trouble. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to sleep well and it also affects our mental and physical health. I can’t be any more certain about WHY you aren’t sleeping than you. Your therapist may be right in that there may be some unconscious protective mechanism at play, it could be part of an anxiety disorder (imagining worst case scenarios), it could be learned behavior that has become a ritual, and finally, hormonal changes most certainly could be making it worse at this point in your life.
Rather than trying to figure out the “why,” I would suggest focusing your energy on new and different remedies. I know you have already tried many of the standards, so you may need to step outside of the box. Have you considered hypnosis, acupuncture, homeopathy, or energy work — such as Reiki? In addition, many medical centers now have multidisciplinary sleep disorder clinics and a quick internet search showed that your local medical school has one. I would encourage you to make an appointment for a complete sleep evaluation.
I hope these suggestions help and you find deep and restful sleep soon.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts