Bite the bed bugs back: a post about nightmares
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
I don’t know about you, but I hate sleep with an absolute, fiery passion. When I left the army, I was stoked; I thought I would never return--and physically, I haven’t. But whenever I’m laying/thrashing in bed, I find myself back there. When I close my eyes in the safety of my bedroom, I open them to see chaos. My pajama shirt turns into a vest, my socks become boots, and my eye mask transforms into a helmet. Sometimes, I know something’s up; other times, I don’t, but every time it’s exhausting. If I’m asleep at 3 AM, the exhaustion of standing outside the house of an insurgent during a 3 AM mission is what I feel. In the warmth of my bed, I find myself freezing my ass off in the pouring rain as I step out of my patrol car to investigate something on foot. The air coming through my bedroom window is replaced by smoke and tear gas, suffocating me like a claustrophobic germaphobe in a septic tank. When I finally wake up, I’m exhausted and need a nap.
As a result of all that, I have severe anxiety surrounding my bed. Often, I sleep on the couch so I can pretend I’m not actually going to sleep. Other times, I lay in bed reading Wikipedia all night. I know so much random, unimportant crap that it’s not even funny. All that being said, the average human adult needs 8-10 hours of sleep, so I made a resolution to brave my phobia and conk out like a responsible person.
I’ve been experimenting with some nighttime rituals. Of course, there’s the usual peeing, tending to oral hygiene, showering, and taking meds, which I do regardless, but I’m talking about once I’m in bed. I dabbled with a nightlight for a while, which hindered me in falling asleep but helped with the disorientation of waking up. I also tried candles, which was more relaxing, but a total fire hazard. I even slept with the lights fully on while using an eye mask, but that only worked until I tossed and turned and the movement of my face against the pillow pushed off the sleep aid. Then, I went to audio methods, which have worked better for me.
My brother was super nice and gave me a speaker, with which I’ve been experimenting. With this speaker, I’ve tried figuring out how to lull myself to sleep and stay there. First, I tried boring myself to sleep by listening to the agonizingly lame Microsoft Word tutorial from 1989. I didn’t know it was possible to be so simultaneously fascinated and bored out of my mind. Then I listened to ten hours of a creaky pirate ship in a thunderstorm, which was nice, but I just stared at the ceiling like a sleep-deprived scallywag.
Finally, I discovered the miracle of sleep hypnosis and guided sleep meditations. These work great for me because I can pretend I’m not going to sleep while getting some good breathing and positive thinking going on. The truth is, I don’t do this as often as I should because I still have nightmares, and I love reading Wiki articles about the humble pakicetus (the first-ever whale; it was quadrupedal), but I’ve been making an effort to be better about it.
As I’ve been practicing with these sleep meditations and hypnosis files, I’ve been falling asleep but not staying asleep better. And that’s okay, in a sense, because I’d rather have a little sleep than no sleep. I also decided that I’m going to sleep and dealing with nightmares no matter what, so I may as well do it on my terms. I want to function during the day, and this is a crucial step. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to stay asleep. Until then, learning to go to sleep has been a victory in and of itself.