A pattern has become evident. I know it isn’t just me because there is this term “Sunday scaries” that indicates that many of us have mood issues on Sundays in general. I can only assume that I’m not the only person who consistently has trouble sleeping on Sunday nights.
There isn’t any particular reason for this, at least not on paper. I’m not being kept up by money worries, or relationship problems, or even loud neighbors. Our building is remarkably quiet at night.
OTHER THAN BEING IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC EVERYTHING IS FINE
I wake up at basically the same time every morning, with or without an alarm, thanks to the little bird who sleeps in my bedroom, affectionately known as Beeps Peeps. She likes to mimic electronic sounds, including the travel alarm that she has not heard in years. This can be a useful trait - she has actually kept me from being late to work once or twice - but on three-day weekends and holidays it’s hard to remember how cute it is.
So it isn’t sleeping in too late on Sunday either.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time this year trying to figure out what it is that wakes me throughout the night on Sundays, messing up my track record and leaving me bleary and distracted each Monday.
I like my job, I work with really nice people, I have interesting things to do, I get a lot of autonomy, I don’t even have a dress code. There is a long list of things that other people can claim as legitimate grievances, reasons to be stressed out by their jobs. I don’t have any of those things - not that I haven’t in the past.
It seems to be simply the gear shift between my utterly formless, lounging weekends and the staccato pace of my weekday life.
Part of my brain pops up and starts thinking, “Get up early tomorrow, lots to do” and it just never shuts up.
It’s like one of those toy monkeys in every horror film. Its eyes glow red and it starts running around and clapping its cymbals together.
These are the sorts of things that happen on Sunday nights:
I wake up every twenty minutes and check the clock
I have nightmares that seem to go on for three hours
I have literal night terrors and jump out of bed, waking my poor husband, who has been dealing with that whole thing for ten years
I wake up at 5:30 am for no apparent reason and lie there like a sea lion
I go to bed extra-early and lie awake until 2:00 am like I’m jet lagged
A distinction about my sleep issues is that I take an OTC sleep aid. It works fine every other night. I can drift off in minutes. Same dose, Sunday night, about as useful as a breath mint.
Parasomnia issues have been a part of my life in one form or another since pre-kindergarten. I remember that it became a serious issue for me when I was about seven. So I have a lot of experience coming up with things to do at night, and different approaches to try. I’ve read thousands of pages of books and journal articles about sleep research and I’m determined to Try Everything.
Sleeplessness isn’t the worst thing that can befall someone, of course! I try to take it in a matter-of-fact way. Oh well, another one of these. Perhaps an approach that I try will help someone else. Maybe this will be the only night that this particular, individual distinct reason will come along and mess up my sleep. Cross it off.
I do occasionally have lovely, restful nights of sleep. I also often have fantastic three-hour naps. It’s getting easier.
So what’s up with Sunday nights? What have I tried?
Well, I can say with great certitude that there are some things that will keep me awake, me and probably any other person who tries them. One is eating a large portion of Mexican food followed by birthday cake earlier in the evening. Another is eating sweets too close to bedtime, something that I have confirmed and that I yet continue to do to myself from time to time.
Another is arguing with someone, another is reading politics at bedtime.
Obviously another is lying awake quite deliberately, reading when it’s past bedtime. I have finally gotten smart enough in midlife to quit tormenting myself in this way, and it does help to feel more rested.
Those are things to definitely avoid.
What have I tried to fall asleep more deeply?
Showering before bed
Same, but also drying my hair afterward
White noise (waterfall variety)
Going to bed an hour early and making sure everything is orderly first
Guided visualization (leaf drifting downstream, triggering for some reason)
Heated mattress pad / no heated mattress pad
Weighted blanket, the worst! Not for me
Drinking hot herbal tea earlier in the evening
Maybe it’s the sense of “Doing Something” that is not helping. Maybe I’m too conscious that I want this to work, in the same way that you can jinx yourself out of sneezing.
Have you ever tried to focus your attention on tying your shoes, remembering each loop step by step, and then found yourself unable to succeed until you looked away and went back to doing it by feel?
The situation is that I am finally at a time in my life when I can usually fall asleep right away six nights a week. About 80% of the time I sleep the night through without any issues. I’m between 7 and 8 hours most weeknights, and 10 or 11 hours on the weekends. It’s just this one particular night, when I seem to be too revved up to get down and stay down.
I am not done with my explorations. I’m not much of a creature of routine, and sooner or later some element of my lifestyle will change, either due to external circumstance or intentional experimentation. At some point, this blip in my life will quit blipping.
My goal for the time being is to increase my overall level of chillaxation. I seek to be a person of gravitas, a calming presence, to start winding down my tightly wound watch and maybe be less revved. Even if it doesn’t do anything for whatever is sucking away my sleep on Sunday nights, that attitude still feels worth cultivating.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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