When Staying Asleep Is Impossible...
Recently, we asked our community which they found harder in their struggles with insomnia – falling asleep initially, staying asleep during the night, or both.
At first, my answer was a quick and easy “both!” But after really thinking about the nature of my insomnia over the last 25 or so years, I realized something.
Struggling to fall asleep happens to me in seasons
There are undoubtedly some nights I lie awake for hours before drifting into the unconscious world. There are nights that I toss and turn, feeling so frustrated by the mental gymnastics required to rest. But, there are also other nights where within 45 minutes, I have comfortably entered some sort of sleep phase.
There are days in a row, even weeks in a row, where falling asleep feels impossible. I listen to meditations and change positions and practice all of the sleep hygiene things, but nothing seems to make a real difference. And then, whether it's overwhelming exhaustion, or my body's rhythms, or something entirely arbitrary, there are weeks where falling asleep isn't so difficult.
Staying asleep is my consistent struggle
The thing that is consistent, that as an adult I have struggled with for almost every night of my life, is staying asleep throughout the night.
I’ve blamed this challenge on literally everything you could imagine – everything including but not limited to:
- I woke up to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t fall back asleep.
- The dog woke me and then I was awake.
- I fed the baby and then I was thinking too much.
- It was too cold in the room.
- It was too warm in the room.
- It was too quiet.
- It was too loud.
- Chronic pain prevented me from getting comfortable.
- There's too much on my mind.
- There’s too much on my to-do list.
You get the idea.
Stuck in the same old cycle
For me, the resounding characteristic of a lifetime with insomnia is the inability to stay asleep during the night.
I've found that sometimes, medications can help with this. Sometimes, it's an accidental benefit to my anxiety medication. Other times, it is medication prescribed for sleep that truly does provide some support. However, the help never lasts. After a series of better nights, the effect wears off, and I'm left in the same old cycle all over again.
My go-to tips to relax and pass the time
So, here's what I want to share with you.
When I'm awake during the night, whether for the first time or the fifth, whether it's been 10 minutes or 2 hours, there are some go-to tips I use to both help my body stay relaxed and pass the time.
- Meditations. I use an app like Calm, Headspace, or NuCalm to play soft music that gets me feeling less restless and frustrated. I'm lucky that starting this doesn't seem to wake my partner, but if it did, I would probably just use headphones.
- Relaxing breathing. When I get frustrated, I get anxious, which prevents me from unwinding or drifting back off to sleep. I find that practicing breathing can help. I like to do a 4-count inhale, followed by a 7-count hold, and then an 8-count exhale.
- Journaling. When there's too much on my mind, or I don't want to forget something, I grab the notebook I keep on my nightstand (or the notes app on my phone, to be honest) and jot it down. Releasing it from my mind can help me "let go" and eases me back into rest.
What do you do to support your body during awake times throughout the night? I'd love to read below!
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