I’ve already written about my problem with sleep, the insomnia solutions I’ve tried that haven’t worked, and my recent resolve to make sleep time a priority over working or playing. This post was originally going to be about my experiences with regulating my bedtimes and waking times, but then a friend recently recommended Sink Into Sleep: A Step-by-step Workbook for Insomnia by Judith Davidson, and a paragraph from the book brought me another huge aha! moment about my own sleeping habits.
People with insomnia seem to be able to perform mundane tasks of daily living but they tend to have less enjoyment of their activities and show less “cognitive flexibility” – they tend to think more narrowly and less creatively – than people who sleep well. Although they are often able to perform work and other activities well, everything feels like it takes more effort. In sum, when people don’t sleep well for a long time, their mood, functioning, and quality of life are impaired.
It was the bit about cognitive flexibility. I suddenly realized (with an incredible amount of self-compassion) that in every instance that I can remember over the past 20 years, when I have felt most emotionally agitated and “fixed” in my thinking (read: frantic, defensive, and prey to “all-or-nothing” catastrophizing), I have also been extremely sleep deprived.
I can’t tell you what a huge realization (and relief!) this is for me. As someone who cares very much (maybe too much) about the feelings and opinions of others, I always strive to be even-keeled, understanding and flexible in my relationships. So I have quietly carried around a lot of shame regarding a handful of emotional reactions to difficult situations in my past, that have involved a difference of opinion with somebody else. Normally I’m quite logical, caring, and creative in my thinking – able to see many sides of an issue, and willing to be persuaded to change my own opinion by a compelling argument.
But a few times in my life, I have experienced what’s felt like an emotional “meltdown” that has taken me and the other person completely by surprise, because it’s so unlike my usual personality.
Seen through the lens of sleep deprivation, those meltdowns make so much sense now. It reminds me of little children who’ve been up way past their bedtimes. You know how they fuss and get all weepy and tantrum-y? That. I recognize that I’ve felt that. And all because of not enough sleep.
It’s not that I now think sleep deprivation excuses whatever I do or say while sleep deprived. I don’t. But in the future, when I know I haven’t been getting enough sleep and am likely sleep deprived, I can be more aware of my temporary lack of resilience, and take a step back from the emotional edge – maybe ask for a “time-out” or a temporary break from the discussion.
(And hopefully I can just plain avoid extreme sleep deprivation in the future!)
p.p.s. Being that this is a blog with a feminist lens, I feel compelled to add that when I’m talking about emotional meltdowns, I’m not talking about appropriate emotional responses to sexism and other oppressions, abuse, or the bad behaviour of others. There are times when it’s okay to feel hurt and angry, because someone is being hurtful or destructive.
This is the fourth in a series of posts about changing unhealthy sleep habits. Future posts will include:
- Sorry, it’s past my bedtime
- White-knuckling the early morning hours without sleep aids
- Fitbit, my friend
Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.
Image: art journal spread, wax crayon and pencil on paper, August and September 2005