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get by, I am pretty sure I shift into reverse and begin working down in hopes of finding the sleep of my youth that has been replaced by insomnia.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.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Does anyone else in your family have insomnia?