Are You Afraid Of Going To Sleep?
My so-called ‘sleep’ (it’s stretching things to dignify it with that word, actually, even in inverted commas), in the past, has been appalling: it would take me at least three hours to lose consciousness, and, even then, I would wake, with a violent, shuddering start, ridiculously frequently throughout the night, sometimes shouting, or even screaming, and, not infrequently, drenched in sweat, making my pillow so damp that it would be necessary to turn it over (then, as the night progressed tortuously slowly, use the second pillow, then have to turn that one over…)
My intensely vivid nightmares would be filled with the most horrific violence, of which I was invariably the recipient – I would be sawn in half, chopped up with a machete, or otherwise maimed and mutilated.
I still get up at about 4.30 am as by then I am fully awake and there is no hope of even lightly dozing (as you may well know, early morning waking, coupled with the inability to fall back to sleep, is a classic hallmark of depression).
Once I’m up, I feel I need to take a long rest in order to recover from my nocturnal ordeal: in other words, my ‘sleep’ necessitates a (tormentingly elusive) sleep.
When things were at their worst, in fact, I would dread going to bed, almost to the point of physical nausea.
If we have developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of our painful childhood experiences it is very likely that we will, without effective therapy, suffer insomnia and nightmares as adults, similar to that described above.
This is because PTSD leads to a feeling of constantly being on ‘red alert’ / on the lookout for danger. Clearly, this is hardly a state of mind conducive to a blissful night’s sleep.
If we have terrifying nightmares, as alluded to above, we may become very fearful of going to sleep and try to stay awake for as long as possible, in a pitiful attempt to postpone our descent into our night-time Hades.
Of course, this can only work in the very short term.
If we constantly put off going to bed and, when we finally do go to bed, our sleep is disrupted by our nightmares and, perhaps, too, frequent waking, we will quickly become chronically exhausted (mentally, physically and emotionally) and, essentially, sleep-deprived.
This can lead to:
– exacerbation of existing depression
– high levels of irritability/proneness to outbursts of rage in response to even (objectively speaking) minor frustrations
– an increase in anxiety levels
If the sleep deprivation becomes severe, then, in addition to the above, we may:
– become increasingly irrational / develop impaired judgment
The internet is awash with information about action to take to reduce insomnia and nightmares and to repeat it all here would be superfluous. However, the two tips that I found useful were :
1) Imagine self in a safe and secure place when intending to fall asleep
2) If really can’t fall asleep try to relax in a different room for as long as necessary
Afraid Of Going To Sleep Because Of Nightmares?
These can imitate past traumas we have suffered or symbolically represent them. When waking from a nightmare and feeling frightened, it is useful for us to try to ‘self-soothe’ by, for example, telling ourselves:
– ‘I am safe now’
– ‘It’s over – it’s not happening now, it’s in the past.’
– ‘It’s just my imagination – it’s not real.’
Finally, of course, ‘trying hard’ to fall asleep and getting angry and frustrated about our inability to do so is counter-productive. Paradoxically, trying hard to stay awake when tired is more likely to induce sleep.
Sleep Difficulties In Early Childhood May Be Linked To Increased Risk Of Developing BPD And Psychosis In Adolescence:
A study analyzing data obtained from over 7,000 individuals found that children who experience sleep difficulties between in early childhood have a higher incidence of BPD and psychosis in adolescence compared to those children who sleep well (all else being equal).
More specifically, the following findings were made:
Frequent awakenings during the night at 18 months were associated with the development of borderline personality disorder in adolescence.
Sleep patterns that were irregular at the ages of 6 months, 30 months and 5.8 years were also associated with the development of borderline personality disorder in adolescence.
Children who were depressed at 10 years of age and, in addition, had suffered from frequent night awakenings at 18 months and irregular sleep routines at 5.8 years had a higher rate of psychosis in adolescence. In relation to this finding, the researchers (Morales-Muñoz et al.) suggest that it could be that poor sleep leads to depression and it is the depression that makes the individual more prone to psychosis in later life. Alternatively, poor sleep may be directly linked to both depression and also directly linked to psychosis. More research is needed to help to clarify such issues.
Greene G, Gregory AM, Fone D, White J. Childhood sleeping difficulties and depression in adulthood: the 1970 British Cohort Study. J Sleep Res. 2015;24(1):19-23. doi:10.1111/jsr.12200
Morales-Muñoz I, Broome MR, Marwaha S. Association of Parent-Reported Sleep Problems in Early Childhood With Psychotic and Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms in Adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online July 01, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.1875
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.