Overcoming My Envy and Accepting Insomnia
Last updated: October 2021
I’ve developed sleep envy. These days I have well-medicated and pretty well-managed insomnia, but I am still painfully jealous of those who drift into a peaceful slumber with nothing more than a contented sigh.
My 87-year-old father is staying with me at the moment. He sleeps 15 hours a day. Now, I realise he’s old and the elderly sleep a lot, but still - that is a lot of rest. And the reality is, he’s always slept well. He lays his head upon a pillow and slips into sleep. He falls asleep on trains, planes, and automobiles. He once fell asleep while teaching a student how to play the flute. He is good at sleeping.
My 58-year-old husband nods off at the drop of a hat. He lays down, strapped to his sleep apnoea mask, and falls asleep. Just like that. He can come home from work and sit in his comfy armchair, close his eyes, and have a nap. He can be woken by the cat crawling into his lap then fall asleep again in under a minute. How is this possible?
I am so jealous.
An obstacle to peaceful slumber
But feeling envious of those who are natural-born sleepers does me no favours. It focuses my attention on how and why I’m not sleeping. Jealousy keeps me awake. It’s just another obstacle to peaceful slumber.
My father has restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movements - which I have inherited. He looks restless all the time and is never still. But the restlessness doesn’t interfere with his ability to doze off. I sat on a plane with him from Sydney (Australia) to Los Angeles and he slept from take-off to touch down. I didn’t sleep a wink.
My constantly restless state
My body is restless and wakeful all the time. 24/7. Relaxation is a foreign concept and falling asleep an impossibility without medication. My eyes develop a painful heaviness that demands them to be closed, while my brain insists they’re open at all times.
Even now - with my regular dose of 6 hours of medically-induced sleep - I stare at the pillow with a racing heart and wonder how long it will take to drift away into blissful nothingness.
Waking up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break means another stare at the pillow, with heightened anxiety and a heavy sigh - the restlessness kicking in again until the drugs in my system override my body’s intense desire to stay awake.
My body does not know how to rest
I have always slept poorly and I have always been envious of others' ability to sleep. In recent years I developed a fear of my bed as it became a place of intense stress and frustration - lying awake for hours on end, utterly exhausted and incapable of falling asleep. My body does not know how to rest.
Making my bedroom a place of rest
With a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) I have learned to reduce my sleep anxiety and envy and start to think of my bedroom as a place of rest. Sometimes it’s only a place of rest for my husband, but most nights now I do sleep and even if I don’t, I practice acceptance and allow my body to rest when my brain does not.
Muscle relaxation and deep breathing
If I get up in the middle of the night to escape my insomnia, my body receives no rest. It’s up and active while my mind is resentful of the rest of the world snoring their little heads off. By staying in bed, practising muscle relaxation and deep breathing, there is a greater peace that brings about a sense of rest. Even on nights when I don’t sleep a wink, I can feel rested simply by doing relaxation exercises and mindfulness.
But the biggest change to overcoming my jealousy of other people’s easy rest is practising radical acceptance. By relaxing into the knowledge that sleep may or may not happen, my body can become calm anyway. Some nights that is the best I can do and that is okay.
Do you experience sleep envy and how do you manage it? Tell us more in the comments below!
What do you do at night when you can't sleep?