I Can’t Get No Sleep

Leonard Citron

I can’t get no sleep!

Who hasn’t had those nights? Where all you want is to sleep, after a hectic and draining day in New York, and as soon as your head hits that pillow, you know that tonight is not going to be one of those nights. Trying not to think about anything only opens the floodgates of everything that not only happened today, but you are sure is going to happen tomorrow. Twelve o’clock rolls by. There is still enough time, you think to yourself. Suddenly it’s 1:40 am, and now you start to feel even more alert than you did when you went to bed. You can feel it coursing through your veins, down into your arms and into your legs. You are totally awake. Then comes the frustrating self-talk. “Why am I awake? I shouldn’t be awake. There is obviously something wrong with me if I am awake. Oh my god; there is something wrong with me. Tomorrow is going to be awful.” You eliminate all chance of getting back to sleep, and yes, your self-fulfilling prophecy has been realized; you are not going to be able to sleep.

By the time you start to doze off, it’s nearly time to get up. How do they do it? How do those people who manage to sleep well do it so easily? Why is it so hard for me to fall asleep? A common struggle for people is their desire for certainty. If they can’t be certain that they are going to fall asleep, then they think that they are not, thus immediately assuming the worst-possible-case scenario. Anxiety has always served a purpose: to be alert for perceived dangers and to prepare the body. Adrenaline stimulates the system. So by assuming the worst-case scenario, because you can’t have certainty, you are in fact waking yourself up.

Now let’s look at the worst-case scenario for a second. If you went into work (like you have done in the past) after a bad night’s sleep, what real decrease did you notice in your productivity? And was that decrease so bad that it got you fired? Probably not, dear reader, because you have already done that and lived to tell the tale that while it is a difficult day, it was not the end of the world. We often don’t see the connection between what we think we can’t handle, and what we have already been through. So if we know that we can stand it, is it worth worrying about if it happens or not? And perhaps, if we were able to not worry, we wouldn’t be stimulating ourselves and therefore would actually stand a better chance of falling asleep.

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