Everyone can identify with that feeling of frustration at not being able to nod off. The seconds tick by, the eyes won’t quite slip shut and the ears prick for reasons to remain awake. It can induce anxiety about the knock-on effect for the next day. Visions of groggy mornings, caffeine over-indulgence and failing to make the most of the time in daylight hours can quickly extend in the imagination to weeks and years of missed opportunities, somehow all tied down to this very moment of not sleeping.
I feel as though I am currently, very reluctantly, in the next stage on from that. It’s been around two weeks of failing to sleep normal hours. If I had to guess, I’d say perhaps an average of five hours a night but figures often invent themselves and simply aren’t helpful: suffice it to say that I’m not getting enough Zs and the signs are only increasing in abundance.
I am late for everything. Not just my usual five minutes. Hideously late. My appetite is puzzled by my extended hours of wakefulness and restlessness. I shake. I have aches and pains that paracetomol can’t see. I have taken on that distinct pallor; it shares with people that weakness that I try to keep under wraps. It whispers to them that I can’t look after myself. I can’t take responsibility for my own sleep pattern. I feel like a failure as a result.
It is 2331 on day who-knows-when of my not-sleeping regime and I have decided to write down all the things that I’ve tried so far in the hope that I might finally doze off at some point. I feel the need to engage critically with it, to stare my failing solutions in the eye, examine them from afar and question them under the light of a dingy ceiling lamp with an old but steady swinging beam. Of course, this overactive 11pm mind is a large part of the problem, but if you can’t beat it then you just have to join it. Despite my current despair, I know I will sleep soon. It’s the law of nature, and you will too.
- Get up and do something boring for ten minutes – This depends on your susceptibility to engaging in late-night cleaning sprees which are only useful up to a point. If this isn’t you, then try washing some dishes, folding clothes, something really dull that gets you up for no more than ten minutes and then pop back into bed and enjoy how warm and nice it is not doing anything.
- Read a book – preferably with pictures. Go to the library and get something soothing and pleasant to look at if you know you are going through a restless spell. I’m reading the Exhibition Catalogue for Alphonse Mucha at Kelvingrove. It is sublime. Only problem is it makes me want to paint right then and there.
- Listen to an audiobook or podcast – I always have to listen to something I know inside out otherwise I will invariably remain awake. Harry Potter works well. I use Audible as it’s so easy to use. It has a sleep timer which turns it off after an hour – and if you’re still awake then you just press play again, relax and try not to think about it!
- Make some sleepy-time tea – peppermint if you don’t like camomile. Although Pukka’s Night-Time tea really packs a drowsy, relaxing punch if you have it early enough in the evening. It’s so great that I worry drinking it after midnight will cause me to doze off for days. Then again… maybe that’s exactly what I need.
- Have a bath or shower – bonus points if you also put on clean bedsheets. On the bed. Not on yourself. Now you’re just being facetious.
- Meditate – I find meditating really, really difficult. I am not one to accept my thoughts, and not least one to do it quietly. For this reason, I am still looking for a good bedtime meditation spiel for myself. Recently I’ve tried Buddhify (app on Google Play and iOS) and I’m determined to try and keep up a bit of momentum with it. Little and often seems to be the key.
- Keep a Gratefulness Log – I write down three things each day that I am grateful for. Helps to put a more positive spin on the day if I’m feeling cloudy.
- Write – I’ve reached number 8 in real time, too. Hence why I’m writing this. I’m already surprised and slightly disheartened that I’ve gotten this far without getting too drowsy, but I’ll get there. Thanks to you for reading this far, though. You’re awesome!
- Plan my next day – this is something that I do, but I’m not sure whether it’s particularly helpful to allow myself to do this when I can’t sleep. At this time of night, I tend to feel that I have the time to get far too detailed with my plans and all it does is set me up to skip bits/run behind my insane schedule the next day. As a night owl more than a morning person, though, I definitely prefer to have as many things ready as possibly the night before so that in the morning I can just get up and go in my little cloud of sleepy dust.
- Listen to White Noise – I use an app called Rain Sounds because nothing satisfies my hygge obsession more than the ‘Rainy Evening’ sound effect which comes complete with crackling fire noises. Amazing.
- Make a hot water bottle – it takes up a little time and you can pretend it’s a super cute kitten or puppy lying on your chest and zzzzzz.
- Origami – I’m trying to fold 1000 paper cranes. I can’t do it right now though because I can’t remember what I did with my sheets of paper and if I get up now to look for them then it’ll start off a whole new game that I don’t want to be playing in my sleep-deprived state.
- Think of how you would advise a friend with the same problem – chances are that right now, you can’t stop thinking about how stupid you are and how annoying it is to be awake and all sorts of negative things. I usually find that I am a lot nicer to myself when I treat myself as a friend rather than as an enemy who I sometimes spoil with toffee nut lattes and new stationery only to then cry at in anger and despair. Jeez. What a lot of drama.
- Talk to someone impartial – or at least someone who is still up. If you’re feeling really down and like you’re going to do some harm, then call Samaritans or 999. If you’re just feeling sad and like you’d enjoy come virtual company in your sleeplessness, then try MIND’s Elefriends site. There’s literally always someone as sleepless as you are. It’s okay.
- Doodle – Keep a pencil and pad on hand to draw spirals and stars until you feel calm enough to let go and doze off.
- Read poetry – the more beautiful and obscure, the better. As a pretentious literature student, nothing beats John Donne. Find your niche and read it quietly aloud until you are chuckling to yourself about how ridiculous the whole situation is and are ready to go to bed.
Busy old fool, unruly sun,Why dost thou thus,Through windows, and through curtains call on us?Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?Saucy pedantic wretch, go chideLate school boys and sour prentices,Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,Call country ants to harvest offices,Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.Thy beams, so reverend and strongWhy shouldst thou think?I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,But that I would not lose her sight so long;If her eyes have not blinded thine,Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mineBe where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.She’s all states, and all princes, I,Nothing else is.Princes do but play us; compared to this,All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,In that the world’s contracted thus.Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties beTo warm the world, that’s done in warming us.Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.John Donne, The Sun Rising (1572 – 1631)