A hand paints a colorful painting with a brush as part of paint therapy for insomnia

Painting as Insomnia Therapy

This week, we had an opportunity here at Health Union to participate in a team activity that involved painting on canvases in a group of about 30 of us. I was thrilled, you see, as one of my wind down activities when I can’t sleep is painting on canvas, either alongside Bob Ross or just following along to his paintings.

Painting when I can't sleep

I’m not a professional painter or even good by any means, but painting has been something that I’ve been able to just...do when I can’t sleep. I’ll head downstairs to my studio/office and get my paint supplies ready to follow along with the instructions on TV.

Sometimes, I’ll be a bit lazy and just go through my supplies and do a little inventory while I listen to Bob Ross in the background.

Turning to my plants and my paints

This has been my routine for several years now, especially when I haven’t been able to sleep. I turn to two things: painting and gardening.

If I’ve already watered my plants too much that week (ha!), I’ll usually sit down at my easel and sink into my seat and just as if I’ve been doing it all my life (I haven’t), the utensils just find themselves in my hands.

The soothing voice of Bob Ross

I’ve found myself in the psychiatric unit of a hospital when I’ve really been having a hard time sleeping or just not sleeping at all. A lot of symptoms seem to all come at me at once and I quickly find myself needing help.

During my times in the past 2 years when I’ve had to be hospitalized, I was lucky enough to have a nursing care team and nursing assistants who cared enough to have episodes of The Joy of Painting by Bob Ross downloaded onto an iPod so I could listen to it at night. They knew it was my nighttime routine and they tried their best to make me feel at home and feel comfortable.

I’ve had the same bedtime routine for a few years now. Usually, I follow the no-screen rule, but Bob Ross is my only exception. When going to bed, I’ll turn the screen off and just listen to the soothing voice and it just helps me wind down. For me, painting has always been soothing, cathartic, relaxing, and a reminder that when we mess up, we can get up from the table and come back to things later and fix them.

Painting is part of my long journey with insomnia

My journey with insomnia has not been a short one. It’s been full of trials and errors, including medications, meditations, grounding exercises from therapy, and oftentimes, a bunch of ugly paintings that I end up painting over (and over). And if that’s not a euphemism for my insomnia, I’m not sure what is.

No matter what, I continue to put forth my best effort to practice the best sleep hygiene, wind down techniques into the evening, and new practices for myself that might be more challenging.

While my group painting may not have been the best, it will sit in my kitchen as a wonderful reminder of the amazing people in our health communities that all come together each day.

Is painting part of your wind down routine too? Tell us more in the comments below!

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