It is 3:30 am, and I am still wide awake. I went to bed around 11, but my mind won’t turn off. I’ve thought of everything from my deadline for this column, which I have yet to finish, to my ex-husband, who popped up in my dream last night.
Did I remember everyone in my prayers? Is there enough water in my kitties’ drinking fountain, and if so, did I remember to change its charcoal filter? Did I make all the right Scrabble moves?
After three and a half hours of racing thoughts, I’ve decided to write my column on the very thing that would not let me sleep: insomnia. I did briefly go on Facebook to see if any of my friends are awake, but there’s no evidence of anyone being online. Besides, even if one of them were up at this hour, what would I say: “So, you’re awake too?”
About 30 percent of Americans suffer from insomnia, a condition marked by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or an inability to go back to sleep if one is awakened too early.
Although no one has ever died of insomnia, it does affect one’s quality of life. After a night of “Occupying Sleeplessness” one can be tired all the following day, and unable to be as productive as we could be. And we all know how dangerous driving can be when we’re overtired.
Although we don’t always know the cause of insomnia, we anxiously seek solutions. We take hot baths, drink herbal teas, and try to “veg” out to white noise. We wear sleep masks, count sheep (although I prefer to count penguins), and sip wine. Sometimes we even feel a need to bring in the big guns: prescription sleeping pills.
I’ve always had difficulty sleeping. When I was a little girl, my mom used to get so frustrated because she’d put me to bed at 8 pm, and I’d still be wide awake at 11. I think it was because my sleep in the womb was rudely disrupted by my traumatic and premature birth. So I might actually have post-traumatic sleep disorder—my own self-diagnosis, as I am not a doctor. Whatever it is, it all boils down to the same thing: difficulty sleeping.
I envy that my cats can curl up in a ball right next to me, and are sound asleep in minutes. Can I learn something from them? Probably so. They are not concerned with what is on Netflix, who will be the next President, or how much money they have in savings. They don’t obsess about what their twitter password is, or if they have adequate health insurance.
All they’re concerned about is that they are the loved, that they have food and water, and that I know how much they love me. Their basic needs are met, and therefore they can easily drift off to sleep.
It really can be as simple as having gratitude, and not overthinking everything. But many of us become impatient with ourselves, and sometimes make things worse by harboring fears that tonight it will happen again: We’ll be unable to sleep.
Perhaps, subconsciously, we tell ourselves that we need to stay awake in order to maintain control over a situation, or to keep working ceaselessly on whatever problem is keeping us up.
In the movie White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings, “If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep. And you’ll fall asleep.” Again, there is power in expressing gratitude.
As I type the last few lines of this column, I am thoroughly grateful that I’m about to check this obligation off my list, and I shall celebrate that with a catnap right next to the kitties.
But before I nod out, I want to acknowledge a few more things that I’m grateful for: family, friends, and the good fortune to live my life my life to the fullest.
Awake, I can make a positive difference by doing for others, and asleep I can dream of infinite ways to better the world in which we live.
by Geri Jewell