Occasionally I struggle with falling or staying asleep. I hate those nights! I can often tell early in the day when I’m going to have a night like that, but I usually ignore the feeling until it’s too late. That’s how I wind up lying in bed on Sunday night, a full week of work ahead, and I’m bug eyed. I’m tired, but my body can’t relax enough to drift off.
If you’re sleepless on Sunday night —or any other night of the week — you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, women are more likely to report insomnia than men. The Foundation also notes that, “Surprisingly, 24 percent of women say they have woken up feeling well-rested zero of the past seven days, compared to 16 percent of men, despite reporting similar sleep times.” Well-rested ZERO of the past seven days!
Sunday nights, in particular, seem to be a big problem for sleeplessness for many people. I Googled “Sleepless on Sundays” and got a full page of results on the topic. So let’s look at why it’s so hard for us to fall asleep on Sunday nights.
Why Does Anxiety Make It Hard To Sleep?
We’ve gotten very good as busying ourselves to manage anxiety. If we’re always “doing,” we don’t have time to feel the anxiety, the difficult emotions and the stress that build up over the week. Many people work Monday through Friday jobs, so maybe they’re slowing down on Sundays. Slowing down opens the door to feel feelings, to notice anxiety and stress.
If your workweek is stressful or you’ve put off doing things at work that are now looming, the idea of going back to work on Monday might leave you full of stress.
Or maybe you’re stressed because time is moving forward and you don’t feel as if you’ve done enough over the last week, or you hate your job and it’s already time to go back. Then you to lie awake dreading the week ahead.
Another possibility is that you sleep so little during the week that on weekends you sleep more than usual and come Sunday night your body might not be ready to rest.
Get Curious About Your Stress
If you’re not sleeping on Sundays, it’s time to get curious. Set aside some time to sit with the worry about sleep. It’s best if you can do this sometime before bed, during the day. You might ask some questions to prompt your curiousness, like:
Where do I hold the stress in my body? Is it a tightness in your chest? Increased heart rate? An empty or painful feeling in your belly? Tension in your neck? Once you’ve identified the body’s sensations, just notice them without trying to change them.
What am I telling myself about the insomnia? Do you tell yourself not to think about it and to push the anxious feelings down? Do you tell yourself that your sleeplessness is your own fault? Maybe you’re telling yourself to ignore the feelings, because they will only make the insomnia inevitable.
What am I worried about? Draw or journal about your worries. Getting the words or pictures on paper can help ease the distress. It gets them out of your head and onto the paper.
Am I being too hard on myself? Try offering yourself some compassion about how hard it is to be sleepless. If you were talking to a friend or a child who struggled with insomnia, what might you say to them? Maybe you’d say, “I’m sorry this is so hard for you. I know how hard it is to lie awake on Sundays not sleeping.” If what you’d say to others is kind and compassionate, try offering the same phrases to yourself.
If it feels like you’re never sleeping, or that the idea of trying to sleep causes you distress, therapy could be a resource for you. Talking about the stressors, learning relaxation skills and understanding that you’re not alone in the struggle can help.
It’s also important to keep regular sleep routines. If you’d like to improve your sleep habits, check out my Good Therapy article, Can Better Sleep Help You Manage Anxiety for tips on things you can do to sleep better.
Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger, creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.