I’ve been having some sleepless nights lately. Nothing in particular is wrong – I’m not any more or less stressed that I usually am. It’s just that sleep hasn’t come easily for a few nights, and I’ve had a hard time staying asleep.
I spent a few years after my dad’s death dealing with some pretty epic insomnia. I would finally fall asleep an hour before dawn and get a few fitful hours. After a few days I would eventually crash and sleep for 11 hours, only to have the cycle repeat again. I tried everything – melatonin, hypnosis, Ambien, warm milk, you name it – to no avail. In retrospect I was dealing with some unnoticed and unmanaged manic episodes, so the fact that nothing seemed to work makes sense.
Luckily I’ve never returned to that level of sleep disregulation, but I’ll experience occasional jags like the one I’m in now. I’ve found that it helps to spend a little time checking in with myself – is there something going on internally that I’m not paying attention to? Am I drinking too much coffee? Am I not taking my meds correctly? Am I spending too much of my evening staring at screens?
If the answer to all of the above is no, I simply let myself be OK with the fact that I can’t sleep. Not anxious, but also not in some magic state of blissful acceptance (although that would be nice!). Rather, it’s a studied neutrality. Huh, I can’t sleep. Isn’t that interesting. I guess I’ll just hang out awake until I feel like sleeping.
Worrying about your inability to sleep is not going to help you with sleeping. The more global corollary, which I remind myself of daily, is that feeling bad about feeling bad is not going to make you feel better. Sleeplessness and feeling bad are hard enough; we don’t need to further cause ourselves pain by needlessly blaming ourselves. Sometimes things just are, and the best we can do is to sit with whatever it is.
Finally, I always try to take a page from Pinkerton’s book. Whenever we travel, even if it’s somewhere that’s totally new to him, he’ll find a way to make himself feel comfortable and safe, which generally involves finding a soft place to lie down, and finding some of my clothing to lay on. A sweater, a scarf, occasionally dirty gym clothes – anything he can fashion into a nest that smells of me. He finds the things that are comforting and comfortable and creates a safe space to rest.
A good object lesson for all of us.