When I was six years old, I couldn’t sleep.
Each night I would lie there in the dark, growing agitated by my ticking clock until eventually I’d creep downstairs to my parents, inconsolable.
My Dad’s words were always soothing: “Don’t worry about what time it is. Just lie down and relax. That’s honestly just as good,” he’d say.
It worked temporarily, but he wasn’t exactly right. Because sure enough, 24 hours later, I’d be back in that living room tearfully explaining my anxiety and wishing it away.
As I grew up, the pattern thankfully changed. Like every teenager I relished time in bed and at university, constant sleep deprivation meant that whenever the opportunity presented itself I was comatose with little difficulty. And though I sometimes battled sleepless nights during stressful periods at work, it was never ongoing.
I thought I had beaten the curse.
Then, a few weeks ago it happened. I came home from dinner exhausted, had a hot shower and plonked myself under the covers (with freshly washed sheets, I might add). It was the perfect recipe for some quality Zs.
But my mind had other plans.
It raced– zipping wildly from thought to thought, image to image, making me feel dizzy.
I lay there for a while, hoping for some relief and when it didn’t come, I got out, made myself some chamomile tea and read a trashy book. It wasn’t until the wee hours, that I drifted into a superficial snooze, and the next day I woke feeling foggy and restless.
But one sleepless night is manageable, and I attributed my hyperactive brain to the pressures of a new year and getting back into the work-week grind. When the cycle continued for another week however, I knew I was in trouble.
I consulted a doctor who lectured me on “good sleep hygiene” but inevitably prescribed me sleeping pills. They helped partially, but left me with headaches the next day and a feeling that I was still not properly rested.
For the past few weeks I have tried many things: Hypnosis, meditation, no blue light, herbal teas, magnesium, not exercising at night, exercising at night, zero wine (a struggle I promise), and getting to bed at roughly the same time.
Friends and family have weighed in with their own suggestions: “warm milk and brandy”, “yoga”, “lavender oil”, “lots of carbs”, “Bible-reading”. None have done the trick (though I’m yet to buy my Bible.)
Some nights I sleep, but I am still not functioning at full capacity during the day. It is a new phenomenon for me, but I know fundamentally where it stems from.
Like many of us, I am prone to anxiety.
I worry about small things, tie myself in knots over traumatic hypothetical experiences, and frequently doubt my my own abilities. I overanalyse, angst over people in my life, and when I do sleep generally, often succumb to vivid dreams and nightmares. Insomnia is ultimately the bi-product of this.
But I vow to find my own way to deal with insomnia, make my own terms with it, learn what works for my body and what does not. And I will try, as hard as I can, not to obsess about it. Because the truth is, sleepless nights, no matter how frustrating, are not directly fatal. Inevitably, I will wake up, get up and get on with my day no matter what my sleep has been like.
And when all else fails I will conjure my Dad’s advice all those years ago: “Relax, be calm and you will be okay.”