I reach across the bed and fumble for my watch that is laying on the nightstand. I hope that the hands of time have stood still—at least until I fall asleep. Unfortunately, it’s almost 3 a.m., and I haven’t slept a wink. My body’s fatigued from relentless tossing and turning through the night. My blankets are in disarray and one has even fallen off the bed. I jolt up with an exhausting yawn and punch my pillow in frustration.
Chronic insomnia...I know it too well. It’s been a habitual intruder for years. Its persistence steals another day from me. It takes away my mental clarity, my ability to work at peak performance, and sometimes robs me of my zest for life.
Some nights, as I lie in bed, I ponder where it all began.
My inability to sleep through the night is due to a multitude of factors. Chronic health issues are one of them including a screaming and inpatient bladder. A hysterectomy and removal of my ovaries years ago also served to exacerbate the problem. My hormones are off-kilter, and my estrogen patch isn’t doing the trick. Another issue is unresolved conflicts of the day that roll over and over in my mind. My entire body is on high speed, and I can’t slow it down. Perhaps my neurotransmitters are out of whack and my waking ones have taken over. I suppose growing older doesn’t help matters much either.
I’ve tried nearly every trick around to create a positive sleeping environment. I have removed my glaring alarm clock from my room and replaced it with a small faced watch that does not glow in the dark. My lights are off, and I’ve hung blackout drapes to reduce glare from the moon and other outside sources. My sound machine churns on in hopes of soothing my mind. My mattress is rather new and my sheets are clean and dust-mite free. Relaxing nighttime teas have not helped put me to sleep, and I refuse to take sleeping medications for fear of getting hooked on them. I have no caffeine or stimulants of any kind. I’ve even resorted to childhood games like counting sheep but to no avail. I avoid naps at all costs because they throw my body out of rhythm even more.
The more I try to fall asleep, the worse the situation gets. My racing mind takes over; it’s an endless cycle. Most nights, my busy brain contemplates all the things I never got done and all that I have to do the following day. I tell myself that I will sleep no matter what, but my brain knows it’s just another useless gimmick. Some nights I panic about my lack of sleep and how it might be affecting my immune system, killing off my brain cells, and making me more accident prone as I drift through the days in a fog.
I find that the little bits of dreams I do have, in a semi-conscious state, are strange. It seems a lack of sleep causes me to conjure up bizarre and somewhat terrifying, hallucinatory images. Dark, demonic faces come through walls of fire in these dreams and tease me; I can almost hear their screams. Sometimes I’m running through a dark void as lost souls cry out to me. I find these dreams distressing, and they usually leave me with an uneasy feeling for the rest of the day. My only relief is that these disconnected images are not real but merely a result of my weary brain reacting.
Sometimes I surrender to insomnia. I give up and get up. I’ve accomplished quite a bit during these times. It’s a great time to attend to pending household tasks, a good time to read despite my fuzzy mind, a good time to tune in to late night talk shows, and a good time to pray. It’s also a good time to reflect.
I lie back and allow my thoughts to drift to my past. My mind evokes remembrances of real-life scenarios when my fatigue actually benefited me. I see myself walking into a classroom at work filled with dozens of people waiting for my lecture. I had slept zero hours the night before. The funny thing is that as I entered the room, I felt at ease. I was so tired that my public speaking anxiety completely dissipated; I didn’t care what others thought. Words came out of my mouth as I taught, but it was as if someone else was speaking for me. It turned out to be a great class and no one knew that my secret to success was my lack of sleep.
Losing sleep has also resulted in some humorous mishaps that make me laugh. I recall when a woman in a hardware store informed me that my top was inside out. I hadn’t noticed it despite having looked at my sleep-deprived self in the mirror before I left my house. Most humorous was the time that I mistakenly put on lemon pledge furniture polish instead of deodorant.
Another great thing about being an insomniac is that, on occasion, I crash. Those nights are blissful because I am so tired that I manage to capture a few hours of sleep. Even five hours is greatly welcomed and a special treat.
Most of the time, however, I fear bedtime. I dread another night of eerie dreams, another night of restlessness, and another night of sheer exhaustion. I’ll read another chapter from a book—make another phone call to a friend—anything to avoid facing another night of madness.
Perhaps as I grow even older, I won’t require too much sleep anyway. Perhaps it will be a time to celebrate the addition of having more time to accomplish things I never had time to do. Perhaps my body and mind will adjust. I fantasize that insomnia will become my friend and not a curse. For now, though, I dare to lie down again and place my head upon my pillow as I wonder what tonight will bring.