Fighting sleeplessness

Sleeping seems like such a natural and normal thing to do. It comes naturally to birds, animals, rich, poor, even small babies, maybe even plants. Everybody and everything sleeps. But a few years back, a good night’s sleep was so elusive to me. I’ve had trouble sleeping for many years. But my sleep quality has gotten much better now over the last few years. I hope my story and learnings help you in some way.

I’m not sure when and how my sleeplessness became a chronic problem. A few years after college, I once had a bad case of acidity and heartburn because of irregular diet. I would wake up many times at night because of the discomfort and pain. Work related stress and anxieties would keep me up at night some times. Pregnancy and childbirth also came with its share of sleepless nights. I should mention that I was otherwise quite healthy. It started out with an occasional sleepless night, usually for a specific reason. But slowly, it turned into a full blown problem. When the problem was at its worst, I’d sleep well only once or twice a week. When unhappy, I’d stay up feeling sad. Excitements made it difficult to fall asleep. Problems woke me up in the middle of the night. Even all my creative ideas and solutions only came at night.

I’d typically start my day feeling down, complain about lack of sleep to friends at work, come back home feeling tired and go to bed anxious, keeping my fingers crossed. I tried looking for solutions on the internet and found many articles which said it’s very important to sleep, typically adding that not sleeping leads to all kinds of diseases and concluding with simple suggestions to solve the problem. Anyone who’s had trouble sleeping doesn’t need someone telling them how important a good night’s sleep is. I found myself worrying more after reading such articles. But I don’t remember taking sleeping pills.

Looking back, I can say, sleeplessness was only a part of the problem. Overthinking, analyzing and worrying had become a habit for me. I would mostly think about some external situation at night.  It’s a big project with tight timelines. The boss is being unfair. My baby is cranky. Internet connection at home is bad. It goes on… The first step towards a solution was realizing that the problem was inside and not someone or something out there. Whatever the situation, I could find something to worry or overthink about. This was so bad that I was forced to look inside and find out the reason. I looked closely at a particular situation that was giving me a hard time. I used ‘why’ and ‘what’ as tools to dig in and find out more and more. This gave me a very powerful insight into the nature of fear and left me so utterly surprised about my ignorance. Ignorance about what was going on inside me. Since then, its been a journey of learning for me. My problem with sleep didn’t go away easily, but slowly, with many months of close observation and awareness. And definitely divine grace and blessing, which has brought a lot of change in my attitude.

Here’s what I’ve learnt

  • Not every sleepless night is about a complicated health or emotional problem. It could be a bad pillow, too cold, too hot, barking dogs, thirst, etc. etc. These are low hanging fruits. Simple problems with simple solutions.
  • If I can’t sleep well because of a sore throat, bad stomach, headache, or any other physical discomfort, there’s nothing wrong with me. It’s normal to lose sleep in such cases.
  • If I don’t get good sleep, I don’t have to obsess and make a huge deal about it.  I don’t have to go… “There I lose sleep again. My whole day is screwed!” I don’t have to build a story in my mind. I can deal with things as they come. Whether it’s tiredness or lack of clarity or anything.
  • If I have a chronic sleep problem, something needs attention. I can’t expect it to just disappear. It’s time to face the problem. Whatever it is. Even if it disrupts my routine.
  • Unfinished and unresolved things will keep disturbing me. I need to finish it or resolve it. If thats not possible, I should give it a symbolic closure.
  • Giving full attention makes aches and pains disappear. Body relaxes and sleep comes easily.
  • Closely observing makes thoughts slow down or go away. Body relaxes and sleep comes easily.
  • Being aware of my thoughts and bodily sensations throughout the day cuts into the heart of worry
  • Sunlight has magical powers. Problems that look big at night look insignificant in bright daylight.
  • Exercising and physical activity helps a lot.
  • Just because something went wrong in the past, it doesn’t mean it’ll repeat. Mostly, it will never happen the same way. Life is an adventure. Let me take things as they come.
  • Many people who sleep less, lead great quality life. Research findings are not the ultimate truth. Researchers are learning. We can learn on our own from our experience too.

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