Sleep, glorious sleep!
CW: sleeping, nightmares, SAD, trauma
Artwork: Joseph Hawkins
I can confidently say, sleep is one of the loves of my life. Since I was a child, I've loved sleeping in. My friends and my partner can vouch - more often than not, I can be found in bed cocooned in my blankets pretending to have been 'reading'.
As a survivor, and as someone who suffers from mental health issues, I know all too well how sleep can be both your best friend and your worst enemy. I have experienced sleeping way too much, and sleeping way too little (more often than not it's the first situation though...). For me, my sleeping patterns fluctuate a lot, depending on the time of year and how my mental health is doing. I have SAD (seasonal affective disorder), so in the British Winter months I nap a LOT. I also go to sleep pretty early, and wake up pretty late. Saying this, you'd expect I don't sleep that much in the brighter summer months. But you'd be wrong! I definitely sleep less, but that really isn't saying much for me. It's the start of June right now and the days are bright, warm and sunny - and I'm going to have an afternoon nap right now actually, even after a trustworthy 8 hours last night...
(I actually did have an hour nap here)
I often have periods when I struggle to sleep, mainly due to my anxiety, and I know many other people struggle with this sort of insomnia as well. When this happens, I put on rain sounds/forest sounds on my phone and try to relax - not try to sleep - and hopefully my body relaxes enough so I drift off. When I have these bouts of insomnia, I usually sleep into the next day quite a lot, often waking up around midday. This can make my mental health even worse if it's already in a bad state, as I feel guilty and embarrassed that I've wasted so much of what could have been a productive day. I also feel very embarrassed when people bring up how late I've slept in - so if you're thinking of noting how late someone has woken up/gotten out of bed that day, try to remember they almost always know just how 'late' it is.
The reason I put 'late' in quotations, is because I try to remind myself that in the process of recovery from trauma, and when struggling with mental health, there is no 'right' way to do things, and telling yourself/others telling you you're up 'late' brings with it the feeling that you've missed something important, or you've done something wrong in your day. Now, you may indeed miss something, which could clearly be an issue with work and commitments etc. But if you're sleeping in a lot, there most likely is something going on with your mental health, but that just means you have to try and figure out what's going on and why you're struggling. This needs to be done whilst still remaining patient and kind to yourself - so let yourself sleep in, if that's what your body and mind need to feel okay!
I have experienced nightmares and night terrors since childhood, but luckily they have subsided in recent years. Nightmares stemming from trauma are terrifying and stay with you for a long time. So, as well as my preaching that you can sleep as much as you want, it's also okay to not sleep a lot if you're too scared of the nightmares, or if you're too anxious to close your eyes for too long. Even if you're not completely sleeping, I'd recommend listening to calming sounds, or podcasts, in a dark room so you and your body are still getting the rest you need. You don't need to even be in a bed if you don't want to be, just somewhere comfy and warm so you feel safe and calm. Also - don't feely silly for having comforters with you whilst you're sleeping or resting. I have various sets of comforters - I have two old teddies at my parents house (who ALWAYS have to be together btw), and I have a baby Groot soft toy (because Groot is cute) in my London home. I also have this thing where I cover my eyes with a tshirt/dress if I even see the slightest bit of light in my room at night. Even though the cover doesn't change anything, as the room is already dark, I feel much needed sense of security and assurance (even if my partner is lay in bed right next to me).
As I said, sleep can be your best friend or your worst enemy. The reason I usually like it so much is because it gives me a break from hectic, and often painful, life. It is comforting and homely for me. But, it can also be a scary, dark place, and not everyone needs that much of it. The key is to allow yourself to sleep and relax in ways that are best for you. If you're recovering from trauma and really struggling - let yourself sleep tons, if that's what you want... or if you don't want to sleep, watch trashy movies or read hundreds of books. Be kind to yourself, and be kind to your body, as you will always know what is best. It's okay to do whatever makes you feel more okay!