“Just let me lie in bed for another five minutes,” I groan to my mother.
She mumbles before acquiescing. I turn over, spooning the pillow. We have had this conversation before.
For the anxious and depressed, sleep is our salve. It is a temporary reprieve from uncomfortable memories and feelings.
As I crawl into bed, I justify my sleeping patterns. “Well, lounging in bed may be counter-productive. But at least I am not abusing alcohol or drugs,” I rationalize.
But sleep, like any drug, is habit-inducing. And, yes, the habit can overtake your life.
My sleep addiction started in college. During stressful times, I would rush back to the dormitory. There was an overpowering urge to burrow under the covers. Lying in my lair, I would close my eyes — slowly dozing off. Most times, though, I would fidget nervously; thoughts whirring through my mind.
“Okay, you have an hour and a half before your next class. That means you can nap for an hour and twenty minutes,” I calculated. I closed my eyes, a small, nearly indecipherable smile parsing my lips. Sleep meant freedom — from my mind’s tormenting thoughts and the suffocating outside world. The mental solitude was blissful. Except when it wasn’t.
As I fidgeted in bed, the depression and anxiety crescendoed to a feverish pitch. The more I beseeched my mind for stillness; the more it resisted. Staring at the ceiling, I would vacillate between anger and anguish: anger at the sleep god’s biting taunts and anguish at the steady current of depressive thoughts. The bed, once a sanctuary, had devolved into something sinister.
As undergrad turned into law school and law school turned into the working world, the sleep cravings intensified. I would scurry home from classes to my bedroom’s cozy confines. At work, I would dash home for a mental sojourn. And as soon as I hopped in bed — seeking refuge from life’s tumult, the depression and anxiety unleashed their poisonous venom. Instead of associating the bed with peaceful slumber, the bed symbolized racing thoughts and pervasive worry.
This had to change for my own well-being and productivity. Here are strategies to challenge bedroom dystopia:
- When anxious or depressed, force yourself to go anywhere but your bedroom. This is admittedly tough; we have conditioned ourselves to seek refuge in our bedroom. To resist the temptation, I shutter the door — strategically positioning myself away from the bedroom — when working, sending out resumes etc.
- When the urge to nap overwhelms, meditate — don’t hibernate. Meditation soothes your mind’s running tumult, providing a nourishing calm. Practice diaphragm breathing; it is more restorative than endlessly tossing and turning during those anxiety-inducing naps.
- Expose yourself to sunlight. Studies establish that sun exposure buoys mood, alertness, and cognitive processing; the brain produces more serotonin on sunny days than on overcast or cloudy days. For those where snow trumps sun, invest in a sunlamp. And turn your life back on.