Here’s what I learned from a visit from an old friend, Insomnia.
A few weeks ago, I went on a camping trip. I figured that being in the forrest off grid was enough to keep me balanced. I decided to skip my Nidra and meditation practice on day 1, on day 2, on day 3… Snowball in hell.
I came back home very motivated and inspired. I started working on projects that I had been delaying. I broke some of my own self-care rules. And then it happened. Me, in the dark, sitting at my computer at midnight. Three full hours after my screen curfew. Insert smack on forehead here.
I won’t tell you about my days after my parties with Insomnia. Let’s just say I have lots to make up for, still.
Wired, tired, and now anxious. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t work anymore, I couldn’t even think straight. And this happened several nights in a row.
(Here is where I add a comment directed at parents of all ages (Goddess, bless your hearts of gold): Yes, I understand some of your smirks and sideway glances. I’ve been on the receiving end of your you’ll-see-what-it’s-really-like-when-you-become-a-parent. I don’t have a child that wakes me up at night, I have a temperamental nervous system that lives in whichever freaking timezome it wants. Neither is worse than the other. You, dear parents, have something to look forward to… when your child gets older, you might be able to catch some sleep. For me, like for millions of other insomniacs - yes, that’s what we are called - we’ll live with this unpredictable beast for the rest of our lives. So give me a break. Please and thank you.)
Here’s how Insomnia wiggles her way in:
1) She tells you a few more minutes never hurt no one.
2) She asks you a question that really needs an answer right now. Ask Google.
3) She reminds you of this thing, whatever thing, that you were supposed to order a month ago… and now it cannot wait until tomorrow morning.
4) She then proceeds to list all the things you didn’t do, should’ve done, forgot, and heck, while she has your attention, she lists all the things you failed and the many ways you’ve wronged yourself and others, including that one time you pretended not to see the woman who fell on the ice because you had to catch your bus when you were 22 years old. Sigh.
5) And, cherry on the sundae, she details all the possible scenarios of all the things that could possibly go wrong in your life.
6) With cunning kindness, she ends her pleading triumphantly and asks you what the fuss is about. If karma is about to hit the fan anyway, might as well stay up all night eating ice cream and binging on some stupid show on CraveTV.
This time around, I was able to witness her back-door techniques. She is really a master manipulator.
So the first question is this, why do I even keep her around?
At this point, I really don’t know. Maybe I enjoy how productive I feel… at first. Somehow she gives me the impression that I can “think things through” and accomplish things on hours that aren’t mine to use. Yet, fatigue catches up with me. Whatever decision I make when I’m tired cannot be trusted, I know that. I end up having to review, and mostly re-do, everything in the morning. How productive is that?!
So, here’s what I learned, and have to keep learning every so often:
1) When Insomnia knocks with her silly questions and anxiety party plans, turn off the lights and pretend you’re not home. Whatever she says, DO NOT LET HER IN.
2) If she manages to get through (maybe she texts you, d’uh!), acknowledge her presence with kindness, and put the freaking phone on airplane mode.
3) Get your legs up a wall, or come into child’s pose.
4) Draw your attention to your breath (yes, thoughts might still be roaring, it’s ok). Allow your breath to massage your inner body gently. Pace your inhales and exhales to a soft count of 4.
5) If you’re not asleep by then, if it feels like your heart is about to hammer its way out of your chest, acknowledge that nothing can be done and you are doomed. Just kidding! Keep reading…
6) In acute situations of Insomnia, you’ve got to remember to hold yourself lovingly. It happens, it’s alright.
7) Acknowledge that you are not the doer. Your nervous system has been hijacked. There is no amount of reasoning, or thinking, or negotiating, that will balance it out. Your mind cannot tame a nervous system gone rogue. It just doesn’t work that way. Try a Yoga Nidra recording and see if it soothes the nervous system.
8) Now, it’s time for a bit of unlearning. YOU CANNOT CONTROL YOUR BODY WITH YOUR MIND. In fact, mind will interfere and cause more anxiety - kinda like that mother who tries to fix everything. Not helpful!
9) Your body is a beautiful and wise lump of circuitry. Your body naturally tends towards equilibrium and health.
10) Tune into your body’s natural communication style. At first, you might feel the heart, then sensations in other areas of the body. Listen attentively with compassion. And respond in the same language to soothe the nervous system. Maybe it’s breath, or sound, or touch, or smell. Why do we sing lullabies to babies? Why do we hold them close and rock them back and forth? There is a lot of wisdom in this.
11) I guess the biggest learning is this: If you “think” you can’t sleep, you won’t.
12) I know the biggest learning is this: Your body and nervous system want what’s best for you. Communicate with them compassionately in a language they understand - sing to yourself, take a warm bath with lavender, massage your feet with warm oil, anything that floats your boat.
13) The best remedy against nervous system hijacking is regular quietude. Like anything else, this needs to be remembered and practiced. Like a muscle, your nervous system gains its tone from regular use at both ends of the spectrum.
How do you manage your friend Insomnia? Share at ∞ Permission to Rest ∞.