For a long time, my approach to insomnia was to fight it.
Oddly, engaging in battle while trying to sleep did not help things.
I concocted careful rituals: Earplugs, of course, and also a face mask. A fan to drown out any remaining ambient noise. Breathing and counting. Shifting positions once, twice, ten times. A body pillow. Windows open, windows shut. Saying the Lord’s Prayer slowly, then faster. Counting backwards so often that I wore the difficulty out of the task. Buying melatonin, valerian, Tylenol PM. Buying a bottle of rum and taking swigs.
If the panic was bad enough, drugs would make me groggy without making me sleep.
I fought. I contended. But I still lay awake several nights out of each month, unable to relax enough to slip off into slumber.
And then over the last five years, I stopped fighting bit by bit. I started paying attention instead.
I noticed sleeplessness showed up when I didn’t exercise. I got better about getting in a brisk walk at least every other day, and doing yoga if I felt stiff before bed.
Then I noticed how much my dinner and dessert affected me. Wine? Chocolate? Sugar? All led to sleepless nights.
I found myself rehashing intense plotlines from books, movies or TV. I began to avoid them before bed.
I made my bedtimes and waking times more regular. I limited my naps to a half hour.
With every change, the wakefulness decreased.
It was better. I felt better.
But the insomnia didn’t completely go away.
Last January, I felt like weeping. My husband was out of town. It was the second month in a row that I’d caught a cold right as I hit a period of insomnia. I watched no TV, ate no sugar, had no alcohol (thought believe me, I could have used it). I’d gone for a walk with my girls. And for three, four nights in a row, I still lay awake.
But when my period started the next morning, I started doing the math. And doing some research.
That’s when I realized.
It was hormones.
Hormones keeping me awake, exhausting me. Hormones giving me the low-grade headache for days. Hormones sapping my immune system month after month.
I’m still surprised that I didn’t feel annoyed. Annoyed at running out of easy solutions and fixes. Annoyed that I was going to continue being sleepless. Annoyed that God created me this way.
But instead of frustration, I feel peace. Oddly, knowing the insomnia is inevitable is making it easier to sleep at night.
Maybe I’m impressed by how insistent my body is in getting my attention. Finally, it has my ear. Finally, it can tell me what it needs. Finally, I’m listening to its limitations. Finally I’m accepting it for what it is.
These days, I feel a tenderness for this body of mine, this blessed corpus that has a life—strangely—apart from my mind. I’m admitting that it has control over how I live—after many years of ignoring it as best I could. I’m astonished at these cycles that produce sleeplessness and tears and my two lovely children. I am humbled at God’s design, this achingly complex creature He created.
Maybe I need these cycles to pay attention to my body at all, to notice its needs. At the beach near where I live, I examine the surf charts to find out when the tidepools will be exposed. The regular movements allow me to approach the sea’s mysteries and take a peek at the anemones, urchins and crabs. The predictable back and forth first nourishes miracles underwater, then thrusts them into salty air.
Now, each month, when I find myself awake for no (rational) reason, I curl into myself and mother my body. I pull a warm blanket over my belly and read in the dim light. I stretch and make sure each muscle feels comfortable. I wait for my body to be ready to go to sleep. Eventually, I take it gently back to bed and lay with it there, ready to take care of it, ready to listen to it, ready to love it even when it keeps me awake.
I’m excited to be participating in SheLove’s synchroblog this month. The theme this go-around is AWAKE. Has God woken you up lately? Are you waking up to life, to love, to purpose? Are you present and accounted for? Conscious of something new? Wake up and join in!