Making peace with sleeplessness 


It’s after 3am, and I’m awake.  I’m quite the pro at this by now (grin).  I see 3am more often than not.

For years, it freaked me out.  I was dead-set on getting the recommended amount of sleep, and I was convinced that I would be screwed if I didn’t.  I would try every trick in the book.  I would panic a little, which of course made it worse, but I couldn’t help it.  I was desperate.

Fast forward a few years…

I’m even more aware of the importance of getting proper sleep.  I’m well aware of the health hazards that creep up on me if I don’t.

And yet, I’m strangely serene about not being able to fall asleep.  I no longer toss and turn, count sheep, try to think of words that sound the same but are spelled differently, try to think of all the music groups that start with the letter “A” before moving on to all of the ones I can think of that start with the letter “B”, or any of the other strategies I tried to use (that often worked, back in the day, before their efficacy faded away).

I no longer sleep in bed.  In the grand scheme of my life, that’s a relatively recent development, only during the past seven years or so.  And it hasn’t quite been that way for the entire seven years; there will be times, usually lasting about 4-6 months, where I can and do sleep in bed.

Until something throws everything off again, that is.  And these days, that’s not hard to do; my sleep-in-bed abilities are unusually fragile, prone to the slightest hiccup.

This hiccup has lasted for about two years so far.  Out of the last seven years, I’ve probably spent a total of two and a half sleeping in bed; the rest have been on the couch.

I’ve built myself a little fort there, a nest of sorts.  I have everything I need: two laptops, my cell phone, an iPad, a solid wifi connection, the TV with its upper-tier cable package and the accompanying remote controls, an impressive (used) DVD collection, my little home library of books, and a little pantry of snacks.  Not to mention enough pillows and blankets to keep me quite comfortable.  I even have my own bathroom, at the other end of the apartment, and I’m quiet when grabbing snacks from the kitchen, so none of my activities affect my partner’s sleep quality.

I have come to view my sleepless time as extra “me time “, and I’ve found things to do.  I have mapped out all the cable channels and what shows air at what times, which channels actually have programming all night without switching over to infomercials (aka “paid programming”).  I have found some solace in using one laptop for light, pressure/stress-free research, developing the pastime of saving full-text research papers to a designated removable disk drive.  I use the other laptop–the newer, more current one–for whatever blogging I don’t do from my cell phone.  I’ve pretty much got this whole thing figured out.

The only thing I can’t figure out is my body clock and how to regulate it.  Why, during stints that may last several months to several years, do I sleep according to a fairly recognizable, normal schedule, and other times, become completely disconnected from the earth’s day/night rhythm?

Unsolved Mysteries and all that.

I’m glad that our apartment is laid out the way it is; the master bedroom in which my partner sleeps is at the opposite end of the action I inadvertently create on the other end.

In the beginning, I loathed the darkness.  It symbolized the terror I felt, and the darkness itself only served as a constant reminder of my fear for our survival, a fear that if my partner shared, he didn’t let on, for it didn’t seem to affect him the same way.  He had retained the ability to get tired and fall asleep, something that broke within me almost overnight, never yet to return on a consistent basis.

Over time, the terror faded, leaving only low-level stress behind, a stress that never goes away, but a stress that I can manage, primarily because I have forgotten what it feels like not to have it.

And rather than shake through the night, with butterflies in my stomach and tornados in my head, I have found that if I busy myself with something until my proverbial batteries run out, they will eventually run out.  And I might get anywhere from 3 to 6 hours of sleep.

Sometimes, these days, I’m awake because I’m still scared, and I can feel it.  Other times, I’m awake because I’m in pain or I’m struggling with histamine.  Sometimes, I’m awake because I got too much sleep the night before.  Other times, I can’t sleep because there’s an awesome song running through my head.  And still other times, I don’t know why I’m awake–I just am–for no reason that I can identify.

Through all of this, I learned something else: I usually get enough sleep to function.  Whatever I get is what I need.  If that’s 2 hours, it’s 2 hours.  If that’s 6 hours, then it’s 6 hours.  I’ve learned not to fret; it will all work out the way it’s supposed to. It will all fall into place, even out, balance out, in the end.  The worst case scenario is that I don’t get quite enough sleep one night, so I end up putting my head down on my desk for an hour or 2 in the afternoon at work.  I’m fortunate in that I can do that without getting into trouble; I can’t fire myself. 😉

And if I don’t end up doing that, then I’ll just get extra sleep the following night.  Some health experts say that it doesn’t work that way, that you can’t make up for sleep lost one night during the next night.  But I’m here to tell you that as far as I know, one can.  At least, I seem to be able to.  At least, for now.  Who knows what the future holds, but then, the future isn’t here yet, so it would be presumptuous for me to try to predict it. 😉

For the time being, I do what I do.  As usual, I do the best I can with what I’ve got.

For now, this approach works for me.  I reckon it won’t last forever.  Or maybe it will.  Maybe sleep and I will always be estranged lovers, as we have been for the past seven years, despite the fact that the original stressors that caused this un-tethering have long since dissipated.

Because maybe they’re not quite gone yet.  Our practice has been solvent and thus so has our survival, but we’re painfully aware that it’s fragile; we’re only a few thousand feet off the ground.  I would like to have seen us reach cruising altitude by now, but due to factors too numerous to delve into here, we haven’t yet done so.

Someday, I keep telling myself.  Someday.

I was raised with the philosophy that “everything happens for a reason”, and I believe that to my core being.  It has been inscribed into my firmware.  That means that if I’m up late, then there’s a reason for that, too.  I may not know what that reason is at the time.  Sometimes it’s revealed to me later, often years later, and sometimes I never quite nail it down.

And that’s OK.  I have no other choice but for it to be OK.

This is my life at the moment.

The darkness has its place.  Without darkness, I could never know light.  So, I have come to appreciate the darkness.  It’s the yin to the sunlight’s yang.

So I’m awake.  Maybe the reason for my sleeplessness tonight is to write this.  To give someone some company, some reassurance that they’re not alone, either.  To provide some albeit flimsy entertainment ;).  To tell another part of my story.

Who knows?  I don’t.  And I’ve made peace with that, like so many other mysteries in my life.

It’s all good. 🙂


11 thoughts on “Making peace with sleeplessness 

  1. SO ironic – this seems to be one of my sleepless nights as well – and here I find this post from you.

    I do my dead level best to stabilize sleeping/waking. So far I’m doing better with the latter than the former. On nights like this I stay in bed long enough to see if maybe I’ll drift off – then get up and do a bit of auxiliary blog stuff — like visiting, reading, commenting. Maybe editing a post still in draft. Then I go back (to bed or couch) to try again. Most of this “nite” I have been on that cycle – since I first began trying to drift off around 2-ish – AM, of course. It is now past 6.

    Being online is NOT good for sleep, I do know that (computer light is in the blue spectrum, which is alerting). BUT, like you, simply lying down in the dark for hours on end makes no sense to me at all, and I want to pick a “quiet” task so my body & brain don’t think I mean to be actually starting my day. On nights like this one I usually end up getting sleepy right about the time the sun comes up – which will be soon, no doubt. Also like you, I try not to fight my chronorhythms, and they don’t always make a lot of sense to me either.

    I find it more difficult to sleep when it’s hot out (yet another reason I dread summer – and sunlight) – especially in this apartment with wiring sufficient for only one window AC, in my office not my bedroom.

    You cannot make up slept debt according to the science, btw – you can only beat it back enough to function for a bit before your eyelids start to droop against your will. Once I do fall asleep I’m generally out for 8 hours or more, whether I want to be or not. Part of your struggle might be chronic sleep debt – but if you can’t sleep, what’s the remedy for THAT? I’d tell you if I knew. The drugs available now aren’t great for anybody, but they’re lousy for chrono struggles – tend to make them worse.

    Here’s to sleep – may we BOTH get some real soon now! 🙂

      1. More saying hi than sharing info, Laina, but you are certainly welcome.

        Summer? lol – the one season I’d lose totally, personally.

        I’m seriously heat defensive, a melanoma survivor who must avoid skin exposure to sunlight, and can’t stand the chronic distraction created by mosquitoes & flies – or the ubiquitous lawn-care racket. 😦 So there’s hardly anything about the entire season that appeals to me at all – sleep struggle aside.

  2. Do you sing Matchbox 20 song every time you’re awake at 3am? I do😆🎤⏰⌚🕒(interesting 3 emojis at 3). Too bad we’re not in the same time zone. I see 3am just about every day. I’ve probably *trained* myself to be awake at that time. My chronic insomnia/painsomnia plus Ben’s sleep problems means a full night sleep is like a unicorn in our house 😴💖🌟🌻🌴😎

    1. Lol I hadn’t but I should! 😂. I do sing Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone” at 2am but I hadn’t done Matchbox 20 at 3 lol 😉. We’re only 2 hours apart though! And for me, hardly any hour of the day is sacred lol 😘💐🙌🏼💝💘🎇🐾🍻🎸🎤

      1. When the bullet hits the bone….wasn’t the video for that song like a spy thing?😂😂😂 I always liked Radar Love better. Golden Earring…OMG…the 80s😯😍😎

      2. I wish I could pass to you guys a bit of my hypersomnia in return for your insomnia so I can have more productive hours. While I’m not those that fall asleep within minutes, and I don’t sleep the whole night through, I do sleep a lot! 😴 😂

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