I did the worst thing for my insomnia last night—and boy, did I pay for it.
When I went to bed, everything was handled. My suitcase and carry-on packed, house plants watered, perishable foods tossed.
I was all set to leave the next morning to help my mom get a new hip. But when I woke at 1:30 a.m., my mind wasn’t “handled.” Apprehensions about travel and family dynamics popped up like a whack-a-mole game. I didn’t want to deal with them, I just wanted to sleep... unfortunately, that was not happening.
The great distractor
So I picked up the best distraction ever, sitting next to my bed: my phone.
All I wanted to know (so I thought) was why it so hot and stuffy. The Dark Sky app answered, wildfire smoke.
What was the weather on the East Coast (which I already knew because I’d packed for that, but still…)? Cooler and rainy. Would it be bumpy on the flight? Couldn’t tell. Would there be any food on the flight?
My mind was getting more distracted and less focused on rest. I knew enough to not check out Facebook (postings about the news would set me over the emotional edge). But other questions kept me going.
Now I was into finding the knitting pattern I'd misplaced. I wanted to make a market bag during the tons of hospital waiting time. I searched Google, my browser history, Ravelry patterns until I finally found it. The problem was, the pattern called for double pointed needles which I hadn’t packed.
I set a reminder to get them in the morning, as I needed some rest. I started on body relaxation, but l was fired up from the phone activity and light.
How would I manage my mom’s post-recovery exercises?
Would I have time to give the dog a flea treatment before I left?
If I forgot to get to get the knitting needles in the morning, I wouldn’t be able to buy any before the surgery. I really wanted to knit…
... and I was awake….
Might as well look for the knitting needles, even though it was at 2:35 a.m.
I got out of bed and trundled down to the basement. The needles must be somewhere in my disorganized fiber art supplies—embroidery hoops, leftover yarn, half-finished projects, needlepoint patterns, and every kind of knitting needle and crochet hook I owned… but not double pointed ones. I searched another craft spot, rarely used dresser drawers (they must be here somewhere, I used them a few months ago…). No luck.
Finally I took one more look in the central supply chaos until yay! a mismatched set way in the corner.
Up. Up. Up.
Now I was up.
Up. Up. Up.
Though the knitting needles were in my suitcase, my mind was not satisfied. It kept devising more picayune ideas to prepare for my trip. Even though everything had been done.
Enough! While being awake had its own momentum, I knew I needed rest. Time to turn away from my mind. To transfer my energy from needlessly planning a perfect trip, into creating a restful night.
I turned off all the lights and returned to bed and Restful Insomnia techniques. I started with my environment: adjusting the fan and putting on an eye mask.
Then I focused on my body. Letting the pull of gravity soften my face and shoulders, letting that ripple down my torso and legs. Soon my body felt softer and more ready to rest, though I still was battling the urge to pick up the phone.
Walking into rest
It was time to move to another technique for the mind. I turned to one of the tools I’d just recorded in Renewing in Chaos: imagining walking around my block. That helped me drift into rest… and into a stretch of sleep.
When I moved into a lighter phase of sleep and my mind started to roll, this time I did not pick up my phone. Instead, I just went for another imaginary stroll in the neighborhood. I rested and slept until it was time to get up.
Though it was a ridiculous and imperfect night, I was glad that I didn’t beat myself up for doing the worst thing for insomnia. Instead, I put the phone down, moved into deep rest, and slept.
Now I’m looking for a good alarm clock (but I won’t shop for it in the wee hours of the night) so I can move my great smartphone distractor into another spot in my home. Lead me not into temptation for more wakeful nights.
Renewing in Chaos on the Horizon
The recording is done! I’m editing the tracks—though I never thought I’d become a semi-expert in Audacity. While being a sound tech is an expected learning curve, I’m really happy with the series. From those I've shared it with, I’ve gotten positive response on how powerfully it opens the door to rest in stressful times.
When you’re anxious, you tend to use limited parts of your brain – you get stuck in a neural feedback loop, replaying a vortex of imagined tragedy. However accessing under-used brain areas helps you pull yourself out of the emotional spiral to the present, safe moment.
An easy way to do that is with bilateral stimulation. You use both sides of your brain by creating or honing in on rhythmic left-right patterns through:
Many energy medicine techniques incorporate bilateral stimulation. And EMDR* (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) uses it to heal post-traumatic stress issues.
Bilateral stimulation** helps you to:
Relax, decreasing your body’s agitation
Become more flexible in your attention, rather than stuck imagining the worst
Distance yourself from feeling the problem is happening now
These are not only good ways to reduce anxiety, they’re pathways to rest…and sleep.
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet on the mattress. Press one foot down, then the other, repeating back and forth. Pick a rhythm that feels good.
Then experiment: Speed it up or slow it down. Try rolling through each foot as you press it down – through the heels, balls of your feet, and toes (or reverse from toes to heels).
Notice yourself becoming more grounded in the actual moment, instead of the images and emotions of your mind and body. You’ll have more space to move into rest.
For most people, bilateral stimulation is relaxing, diverting, and perfectly safe. Again, with all Restful Insomnia tools, pay attention to yourself and your response. If you find you’re getting more agitated rather than relaxed, choose another tool to move into the restful place you seek.
My mother used to take Tylenol PM, which contains the anti-histamine Benadryl, every night, until I explained what was uncovered in the Harvard Medical Health Blog:
These drugs block the action of a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. There is "mounting evidence that anticholinergics aren’t drugs to take long-term if you want to keep a clear head, and keep your head clear into old age.”
And to top that, this article points out how Benadryl can cause serious hallucinations in the elderly.
"Even without insomnia, so many of us suffer from sleep deprivation. From busy lives, kids waking us up, to losing ourselves in the computer, TV, or books. Find some help in this article on sleep deprivation, including my contribution about the value of rest."