93: Insomnia

93: Insomnia

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive


Don’t fight with the pillow, but lay down your head And kick every worriment out of the bed.

~Edmund Vance Cooke

Most people look forward to hitting the sack, but I dreaded going to bed — I associated it with thrashing around until the sheets were bunched up and wrinkled, and watching the minutes turn over on my nightstand clock. I flipped my pillow so often there was no longer a cool side.

“I’m so tired!” I would moan in the morning when the alarm went off.

My husband would snort. “It might help if you went to bed at a decent hour.”

“But if I go to bed before I’m sleepy, all I do is toss.”

Sometimes I stayed up till 2 or 3 a.m., but still couldn’t count on falling asleep when I finally turned in. Every cell in my body screamed with exhaustion, but I couldn’t lie still. I was so hot. Off flew the covers. Pretty soon, I was cold — time to bundle myself back up.

When it became unbearable, I would stumble downstairs for a cup of tea, a snack, or a book. After a bleary hour or so, I’d head back upstairs to try again.

I avoided caffeine in the afternoon. I prayed. I took hot showers. I actually tried establishing a “decent” bedtime. I drank soothing chamomile tea right before my decent bedtime — and then I had to get up to go to the bathroom a couple of hours later.

The worst were the nights when the worries surfaced — everything I’d managed to push aside by keeping busy during the day. My life looked bleaker, scarier, more hopeless at night.

“I have the worst insomnia,” I would tell my friends. “I never get a good night’s sleep. When I was a little girl, I never wanted to sleep. One night, my mom decided to call my bluff and told me just to stay up if I wanted to, because she was going to bed. So she turned off the lights and pretended to go to bed, but all I did was keep playing with my toys in the dark!”

When I was in elementary school, I went through a sleepless period that went on for months. I was obsessed with worries and fears, and the only way I knew to keep them at bay was to stay up and read or play with the lights on, until exhaustion overtook my feverish brain. My mother was so concerned, she took me to the doctor, who gave me “nerve medicine,” which I now suspect was sugar pills. They helped a little, but she only gave them to me when absolutely nothing else seemed to work.

“I hate bed,” I said now — the same way I did when I was seven or eight. “I just can’t sleep.”

One day, I ran across an article with “sleep remedies.” I never passed up articles on insomnia, even though I already knew all the tips before I read the first word.

“Okay, let’s see what this one says . . . . Good sleep hygiene, limit caffeine, blah, blah, blah . . .” Then, incredibly, I saw something new — positive self-talk.

Most insomniacs, I read, tend to tell themselves and others they “just can’t sleep.” Over and over, day after day, they go to bed saying, “I know I won’t sleep.” Even people who otherwise appreciate the power of positive thinking in their daily lives fail to apply it to their sleep habits. The author of the article had interviewed sleep experts, and several had seen significant improvement in patients who had decided to change their inner self-talk.

I was dubious . . . but desperate. I couldn’t believe that just telling myself I could sleep would produce any dramatic results, as several of the article subjects claimed. After all, like Patsy Cline, I’d been “walkin’ after midnight” for many, many years. But I had to admit, it certainly couldn’t be helping me when I told myself over and over that I was a hopeless case. And, like several of the subjects interviewed for the article, I had already seen the power of positive thinking in other areas.

Could I change my thought patterns? All I could do was try.

When I went to bed that night, I smiled as I smoothed out the pillowcase and laid down my head. “I’m going right to sleep,” I told myself with a confidence I was far from feeling. “I feel so relaxed. I’m so tired.”

A worry tried to assert itself, but I just pushed it down and told myself, “I don’t have a care in the world.”

Miraculously, that very first night, I fell right to sleep! When I woke up the next morning, I felt a new sense of power — I could actually control this thing.

The next night, I repeated my new bedtime routine, despite a little lingering doubt. Maybe it had just been a coincidence. But once again, I fell right to sleep.

By now, I was beginning to believe what I had been telling myself. The following night, I repeated my routine with more confidence — and the same result.

After a while, I no longer even had to talk myself into sleeping. Of course, as time went by, I still had the occasional restless night. But they became the exception, and were no longer a way of life.

I’d never really realized the enormous power of our thoughts, even in controlling what seemed to be physical circumstances. I was sixty years old, and had struggled for so long — yet the answer to my years of misery lay right inside my own head.

~Susan Kimmel Wright

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