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Thursday, 03 December 2020
Too Stressed to Sleep Print
I live in the country. The neighborhood is made up of 2-3 acre plots of land; enough to have space but also enough to feel the close security of a neighbor nearby. The neighbors on all sides are about ten years older than us, which means our home with children is usually the noisiest one, the other homes being relatively quiet except for the occasional barking dog.

Until last night.

About 1:30 in the morning, we were awakened to the sounds of angry, 4-letter-words, and yelling. “Get the **** off my property!” This was quickly followed by a series of door slams and more yelling. We sprang from bed to the door, attempting to figure out where the voices were coming from. The voices would come and go, but we finally oriented them to the home directly behind us. My husband recalled a problem there several years ago between the parents and a teen child. Satisfied that this was an issue of yelling with no one in imminent danger, he returned to bed and was soon emitting sounds of restful sleep.

For me it was an entirely different story.

I knew a large field and a fence separated us from the feuding neighbors. I felt confident that the issue at hand was a family dispute of words and that no one was in immediate physical danger. Yet although my thinking brain told me that no one was in danger, my fight/flight/freeze center was on alert. I listened intently to the night stillness, occasionally pumping my adrenaline when I’d hear a dog bark, a door slam, or a now quieter exchange between the neighbors. I considered all the doors in our house, mentally ticking off each one and whether we’d remembered to lock them the night before. Again, although my rational brain told me I was safe, another part of my brain fought against it, keeping me awake as I lay in bed, waiting for the sounds of footsteps on our porch. My mind debated. Should I shut our bedroom (outside) door? No, it’s too hot in here. You’re safe. But maybe I could sleep if I just shut it. No, there's nothing to be scared of.

About an hour later, a vehicle squealed down the length of the neighbor’s driveway. One party left. All was silent. At that point, I could finally “turn off” the anxious buttons in my brain. I set aside my hypervigilance and was able to sleep again.

How many of our children live in this constant state of high alert, their rational brains forever fighting a losing battle against their fight/flight/freeze centers? I felt immense anxiety even with my adult brain and experience. What would it feel like to be an infant or toddler in a constant state of stress? Based on all the early transitions many adoptive children have, why wouldn’t they have sleep disturbances or hypervigilance? I wonder how much I would have paid attention last night if someone had tried to teach me something new or told me to “pay attention” or “follow directions.” It felt horrible for me to be in a state of hypervigilance for a few minutes; what would it feel like to be in that state all the time?


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