When Life Keeps You (Me?) Awake at Night

April 10, 2013

From time to time through the years, I have slogged through seasons of life when I struggled to get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes it was my own darn fault, like when I’d have a drink at night, and while that helped me to fall asleep, when the alcohol would wear off, it created a rebound effect, waking me with enough stimulant to keep me from sleeping well the rest of the night.

But sometimes what has kept me awake at night was a constellation of other things—problems, projects, worries, issues, etc. A number of years ago, while struggling through one of those seasons, I “broke the code” to come up with an idea that has been a help to me whenever that kind of thing comes along again.

By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert on this sort of thing. I’m not a doctor (OK, I am, but not the kind that will do you any good), and this blog should NOT be interpreted as a cure for insomnia. Well, maybe reading it will put you to sleep. But I’ve learned a lesson or two, and want to share the journey.

Years ago, when in the midst of one of these stretches, I got the idea. I sat down in my office one afternoon, and wrote on a legal pad, “What Keeps Me Up At Night.” Then I simply listed the things that were waking me up, or hitting my mind whenever I woke up in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep.

Under each of those things, I then made a bullet list of the things I was doing to address each of the problems or projects.

I played with the list for a few days, tweaking it, adding to it, amending the bullets that I’d written under each of the primary entries.

Then after I felt I had pretty well nailed the list of the things that hit my consciousness in the wee hours (I’m unfortunately one of those folks who, when I wake up, I am instantly alert) and got me going, as well as the bullet points, I printed it out and took it home.

And I placed it on top of the refrigerator.

So when I would wake up, and my mind would kick in, and I’d suddenly be wide awake at 2:17 in the morning with no hope of rolling over and going back to sleep, I would simply get up, walk to the kitchen, and get a glass of water. I’d reach up to the top of the fridge, and pull the list down and read it. (I would NOT turn the kitchen light on, I would operate by way of the tiny light on the water dispenser on the fridge door. I would read the list, and look at the bullet points of the things I was doing to address whatever it was that got my mind going in the middle of the night. Then I would say to myself, out loud, “OK, I am addressing this in the daytime hours; there is no need for me to deal with it in the middle of the night.” Then I’d put the list back on top of the fridge.

And I’d walk back to the bedroom, climb into bed, and—believe it or not—go back to sleep.

Why this blog entry today? Well, you see, a little while ago, I wrote on a legal pad: “What Keeps Me Up At Night.” Right now, there are five primary entries. Bullet points to come.

Oh, that stuff? Ambien, NyQuil, Tylenol PM and the like? I’ll admit that through the years I have used them, but frankly, I’m at a point in my life when I’d rather have to get through a day based on raw nerve, in the expectation that my body is going to take over and give me a good night’s sleep at some point in time, than allow myself to develop the psychological dependence on a sleep aid. For me, while they may help me sleep through the night, I don’t get the deep rest I need, and too many of them leave me feeling too sluggish in the morning.

So for me it’s a list, raw nerve, and Vitamin B that keeps me going.

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