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Is worrying about falling asleep keeping you awake?

by Mary Sauer

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In junior high, binge-watching became my favored coping skill for sleepless nights. For as long as I can remember, my insomnia has been just bad enough to be annoying but not bad enough for me to feel like I needed to seek professional help.

As a pre-teen, I would wander the house once or twice a week while everyone else slept. A night or two of sleeplessness would be followed by a long, hard sleep so I never made it an issue. I just learned to cope.

My children changed that. Two nights of insomnia a week became a much bigger deal when every other night was being interrupted by the three back-to-back babies I had given birth to over the course of four years. They didn’t sleep well either.

It wasn’t long before sleep became a major issue in my life. Some nights I would lie in bed, unable to sleep because I was waiting for a child to cry out for me. Other nights, I would avoid bed altogether, settling onto the couch to engage in my old habit of binge-watching to pass the time.

What I hoped was merely any adjustment to motherhood transformed into a serious sleep problem. Much like my childhood, I would sleep poorly for a few nights, then just fine for the nights that followed. Unlike my childhood, there was no time to catch up. I couldn’t fall into bed and sleep for twelve hours to make up for two nights of insomnia because my third child was still waking every three hours to nurse and my toddlers would climb into my bed at sunrise, whispering requests for Cheerios and blueberries.

I hit a wall after the New Year. I was dangerously tired, caught in a cycle of sleeplessness I couldn’t break. I was struggling to parent well, having to cancel social plans to stay in and try to grasp at a few hours of sleep.

When I learned that Headspace had a meditation pack specifically for sleep, I jumped at the opportunity to find a solution. I began working through the ten-minute sessions in the afternoon, hoping for a new tool to help me fall asleep, but I found something more.

There was a bigger issue at play. I wasn’t just struggling to fall asleep—sleep had become a source of anxiety in my life. I had begun to expect insomnia, anxious about the outcome of a night before my head even hit the pillow. Throughout the day, I was preoccupied with sleep and how I could orchestrate my schedule to get the most rest.

It hasn’t been a simple fix, but mindfulness has given me an awareness of some baggage I have about going to bed at night. The meditation exercises put the power in my hands to slow down the day and take the time to recognize when I am spiraling into a cycle of sleeplessness perpetuated by my anxiety. I have tools at my disposal, taught to me through the sleep meditations, for the roughest of nights. Simply learning the technique of body scanning has been transformative for my evenings, and is a tool I come back to if I am feeling anxious or simply overstimulated after coming home from a social activity.

Above all else, meditation is teaching me patience. I’ll be the first to admit that I was hoping for a quick fix. I wanted to move past this sleepless phase of my life and onto more energy-filled days. Mindfulness has brought me to a realistic place of understanding that it takes time to work through the worries I feel about sleep, and that persistence and time are the only ways to unbreak 15 years of poor sleep habits. Now, I’m prepared to do that, with the help of the Sleep Pack, 10 minutes at a time.

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.

Mary Sauer

Mary is a writer living in the Midwest with her husband and two daughters. She writes about parenting, relationships, and mental health. You can find her on Twitter @MarySauer.