two light switches side by side, one is off and happy while the other one is on and unhappy

Working Down to a Good Night's Sleep

As far back as I can remember – before the days of flip phones, before Trapper Keepers and Aquanet, and before my days watching Mr. Rogers – I can recall hearing adults using the phrase “work up.”

Someone was always having to work themselves up to doing one thing or another. It’s a strange little turn of phrase when you think about it. I teach literal and nonliteral language to my third graders, and when you look at this phrase literally, it’s pretty comical.

It’s so funny it’s not

Jerry Seinfeld has a great bit on “up” and “down.”1 I can remember my own 2 kiddos listening to it and cracking up – ha! Up – there it is again! Seinfeld is dead-on; we have so many phrases that incorporate the word “up.”

I feel like I spend the better part of my day working myself up, especially after a night of lost sleep. After a day of just trying to get by, I am pretty sure I shift into reverse and begin working down in hopes of finding the sleep of my youth that has been replaced by insomnia.

Working down, not up

Working down involves a different set of skills than working up. There are a lot of mindless activities involved in working down toward a good night’s sleep. Noisemaker, ceiling fan, a book or television series in which I am not even remotely emotionally invested, and nothing in sight that even looks like a chore.

It’s taken a few years, but I realize now that I have to make sure the washer and dryer are both done and off. If I even think of hearing the dryer’s buzzer resonate through the house, the working down process has to start over from – well – from the top.

Letting go of the day

While working myself up to perform an unpleasant task or trying to convince myself to take on a new responsibility requires a lot of self-talk and positive boosts, working down to sleep begs the opposite.

I don’t want to hear anyone, not even my own thoughts. Actually, I want negativity instead of positivity – a room void of light and only white noise. As far as boosting goes, that’s the last thing I want. I don’t even want to “boost” myself out of the bed to make one last trip to the bathroom.

Trying and trying again – and again

Working down isn’t exactly hard work, but it is sometimes frustrating and repetitive work. Little things can interrupt the work-down process – very little.

The cat cries? I start over. The temperature in the bedroom feels off? Back to square one. I remember I forgot to shut down my school computer? Time to reset. One small interruption and I am worked up once again. Working down should be as effortless as sliding from the top of that horrifying tall metal slide on my elementary school’s playground. But it’s just not – at least not for me and others like me with insomnia.

Ways I can work myself down

The longer I have insomnia, the more I think about ways I can work myself down into a relaxed state prepared to sleep. As it happens, the working down process starts earlier every evening. I start thinking about sleep long before I ever make it home. If this pattern continues, the 2 states may cross mid-day, and I won’t know up from down anymore.

Oh, well. I won’t give up. I will keep up. Maybe working down will eventually help me catch up – on winks, that is.

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