I Need to Sleep / No, Sleep’s the Last Thing I Want
Dear Dr. Hurd,
Earlier this year my partner and I moved to the beach for our much anticipated retirement. But ever since we settled into our home, I have been having trouble sleeping. This has never happened to me before, and the less sleep I get the more frustrated I become. Moving here was supposed to be restful, but that hasn’t been the case so far.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Many people run to the drug counter or to the physician for medication to address the symptoms. I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with that, as long as you’re clear that you’re only addressing the symptoms. In addition, the pills might or might not reduce your insomnia (sleep aids get mixed reviews). But either way, you owe it to yourself to find out why you’re not sleeping.
The first thing to do is to stop associating your bed with sleeplessness. You said it yourself: The less you sleep, the more frustrated you become. If you’re going to be frustrated, at least be frustrated outside of your bed. Get up, do chores, read a book, do just about anything other than try to force yourself to sleep. Associating your sleep space with frustration will haunt you for a long time. We are creatures of habit, and sleep and anxiety don’t mix. The more you try to “will” yourself to sleep, the more you’re actually waking yourself up.
OK. So why are you not sleeping? Start with simple explanations, test them, and if they fail, move to the more complex reasons. An example of a simple explanation is something you don’t like about your bed or in the immediate physical environment where you sleep. Ask yourself what’s different about this space from the one you knew before. Experiment with your surroundings and see if that helps.
Still awake? Then move on to the more complex explanations. Most often, anxiety keeps people awake as their minds try to focus on matters that they’ve either (1) repressed during the day, or (2) don’t have time to get to during the day.
At this point, you might wish to seek out some regular counseling. Even if you’re not sure what to address or focus on, the mere act of doing it might lift some of your burdens and help you sleep better at night. Cognitive behavioral therapy often gets good reviews for reducing insomnia by helping to clear out the mental cobwebs and bringing more clarity to your life.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ve been dating a guy for several months now. Though I have tried to take things to the next level (i.e., in the bedroom), he seems to be resisting it. When we do sleep together, that’s exactly what we do: Sleep. He gets very anxious as bedtime approaches, won’t disrobe any further than running pants and a T-shirt, and seems to be almost…fearful…of any further contact other than being in the same bed. Is there such thing as a sex phobia? At first I thought he was just being demure and waiting until the right time, but that time has come and gone. I know he likes me, and I’m not sure what to do.
Dr. Hurd replies,
There’s a phobia for just about anything—and yes, that includes sex.
This is his issue to resolve, and it comes with the package of the whole person he is. If he’s worth pursuing further—and I imagine he is, since you wrote me about it, then you have three basic options: First, say and do nothing. See what happens. This isn’t as crazy as it might sound. You’re dealing with someone who is obviously anxious for whatever reasons. Patience and calm are wonderful antidotes to anxiety, and they’re certainly worth a try if you’re not yet sure what to do or say.
Secondly, you can tell him you will need to break up if things don’t get sexual at some point. Of course this will certainly arouse his anxiety and perhaps impair him even more, but it might also motivate him to tell you what’s really bothering him. You can’t be expected to be his professional counselor, but sometimes people will talk things out with a friend or loved one they won’t talk out with a stranger. So you could end up helping him (and indirectly, yourself) by applying some pressure in a good way.
Three, gently ask him if something’s on his mind. Sometimes that approach works better, at least with some people. If/when he says, “No, why do you ask?” then there’s your opportunity to tell him you’ve noticed he seems anxious as bedtime approaches.
Pick whatever option you’re most comfortable with, because that’s the one you’ll probably handle the best. He could likely benefit from some professional counseling, and he probably already knows that. This is a guy who hopes nobody will notice the elephant in the living room, so he’s probably used to avoiding and repressing a lot of things. He’s inviting you into his world under those conditions, but you’re under no obligation to accept.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.