5 Things Insomnia Taught Me

I have always had trouble sleeping, on and off, my whole life. After making some lifestyle changes, I sleep SO much better now. But in early 2020, before COVID took over our lives and before Nadir and Fiver (my two beloved bunnies) died, I had so much trouble sleeping.

There was an almost electric charge I felt when I tried to go to sleep at night. I felt like the earth was alive and speaking to me. No matter how tired I was, I would lie awake, frustration seeping out of my pores, listening to my husband sleeping beside me, and just want to die.

I had several nights where I did not sleep at all. I had nights where I fell into a fitful sleep at 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 a.m. I tried a lot of stuff to help me get better and finally broke down and emailed my herbalist (note to past self: SHOULDA DONE THAT SOONER!). With a combination of herbs, the introduction of an herbal tincture, and some herbal capsules, and some meditation, I was finally able to start getting some real sleep.

Insomnia is insanely challenging. Lack of sleep can affect our mood, immune system, and mental health. Looking back now, I think I sensed the monumental changes life was bringing my way, not just with COVID, but with the death of my bunnies, which I knew was imminent, and my self-growth.

I got through it, and today, I sleep very well for the most part, unless it’s a full moon or I have sugar and caffeine too close to bedtime. Here are five things insomnia taught me.

1. Be Grateful for Any Amount of Sleep You Get

I need a good nine hours of sleep every night. Sometimes I get 10 or 12. For one or two days, I can get by with seven or eight, or even four, but anything less than that and I start losing my shit.

Early on in my insomnia, when I took it lightly and just read novels or took baths when I couldn’t sleep, I would get immensely frustrated that I wasn’t getting my full nine hours. This would generate more anxiety about sleeping, which was a vicious cycle that essentially kept me awake all night.

I learned to be grateful for ANY amount of sleep I got. Truly. Now, if I have a bad night and only get five hours of sleep, I am grateful that I slept at all. If I had nights where I fell asleep for only 20 minutes, I’d be happy that I even fell asleep, because falling asleep felt impossible. When you don’t sleep at all, that’s rough. I helped break the cycle of anxiety by changing my thinking from this:

“Every minute that goes by is a minute I’m losing sleep.”

“I have such a big day tomorrow. I’m going to be so tired!”

“I need to go to sleep RIGHT NOW to get my nine hours in.”

To this:

“I am relaxed here in my comfy bed, everything is ok, I will fall asleep eventually.”

“I have a big day tomorrow, but as long as I get a few hours of sleep, I’ll get through it.”

“It doesn’t matter when I fall asleep. I am ok just lying here.”

This was immensely helpful in keeping insomnia away and preventing it from changing from a one-night thing to an emergency where you’re not sleeping for nights on end.

2. Sometimes Sleep Meditation Is the Answer

So herbs helped me out a lot. I took Gaia Herbs Sound Sleep capsules and increased my amount of ashwagandha and also made a sleep tincture with lemon balm, skullcap, passionflower, and wood betony, as directed by my herbalist (I actually still take the tincture, it just helps me fall asleep better and lessens my anxiety about sleeping in general).

But I believe the thing that really broke my insomnia was sleep meditation. My best friend recommended it to me and I downloaded the 10% Happier app to try.

Every night before bed I would do a guided sleep meditation, even if it felt like the stupidest thing in the world (let’s be honest though, everything feels stupid when you don’t sleep). I think my body and mind just needed to truly REST and not be critical of the fact that I wasn’t getting enough sleep.

I didn’t do the sleep meditation for long, just a few times at the end of my insomnia, but it was enough to break the cycle and give the herbs the chance to work so I could fall asleep at night. During my transition out of insomnia, if I couldn’t go to sleep, I’d do another sleep meditation.

3. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

For me, this was one of the hardest parts of having insomnia. I was extremely critical of myself, and the lack of sleep made it harder to be kinder to myself. I was irritable, angry, devastated, and, at one point, felt like I wanted to hurt myself because I was so frustrated and crazy from not sleeping.

Bring some kindness into this space. It’s not your fault that you’re not sleeping. But you do have to figure out how to break the cycle. It’s going to be ok. You won’t feel like this forever. I know it’s hard.

It was also hard to take care of myself during this time, even though I really didn’t have any desire to since I wasn’t sleeping. I didn’t want to eat well, exercise, or go outside—but my husband encouraged me to keep up with all my normal things so that I could feel marginally better and get through the day.

4. Be Willing to Try Anything

I did some crazy shit to try and help myself sleep better while I had insomnia.

  • I stopped drinking all caffeine.
  • I put salt bowls all over our bedroom to collect negative energy.
  • I put pillows over the windows to block out 100% of the light.
  • I took those Gaia capsules, which I had to pop with a pin and squeeze onto my tongue because I couldn’t drink that much water that late at night to get the capsules down (I have a bit of trouble swallowing, a result of my misdiagnosed autoimmune disorder years ago.)
  • I sat out in the sun as soon as I woke up, even though it was freezing cold, to try and reset my circadian rhythm (at the direction of my herbalist, ha).
  • I lay on the ground outside in the freezing cold (this is called grounding, ha).
  • I tried to make myself more tired by exercising even though I was freaking exhausted and felt insane.
  • My husband and I created a game we called the “Sleepy Animal Game”, where, as we were lying in bed trying to fall asleep, we would each take turns saying different types of sleepy animals. For example, I would say, “Sleepy bears” and he would say, “Sleepy lions”. This would go on until one of us fell asleep or we got too tired to continue. The idea was that, by thinking about all types of creatures being sleepy, I would be less focused on sleeping and begin to imagine myself feeling pretty sleepy too. Some nights, it worked!

I eventually gave up and just started watching Hulu at 6 a.m. on the nights I couldn’t sleep. The point is to be willing to try anything. Did I want to stop drinking all caffeine? Did I want to lie outside in the freezing cold? Of course not, but I sure as shit wanted to sleep!

5. Don’t Give Up

Insomnia can make you feel like a shell of a human. It makes you feel like you want to die. It makes you feel like there’s nothing worth living for. These feelings are normal when you don’t sleep. But don’t give up. You’ll get through this. There is hope. You’re going to be ok.

Am I terrified that I’ll go through a period of insomnia again? A little. But I know I’ll get through it, and now I have some tools to help me cope better. Do you have anything that you do or take that really helps your insomnia? I wanna know!

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