Sleep Series: Insomnia (Part 3)

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

When Everything Fails 

You have taken your medications, avoided the after-dinner coffee, cranked down the bedroom temperature, and yet, once again, you are wide awake in the wee hours of the night. Sometimes nothing we do will coax that elusive creature called sleep to come near. What now?

Bad Night to Fun Night

Fear. Desperate tears. Frustration. Absolute misery.

These are the feelings that typically creep in when we can’t sleep. In part, it is being exhausted, physically and mentally, only for pain to rob us of sweet relief. In part, it is the darkness and silence that presses down in the dead of the night, turning small fears and doubts into a nightmarish carnival ride that spins round and round.

 Let’s change that. Let’s change all of that. No more fear. No more tears. No more frustration. No more misery. Let’s turn these lengthy nighttime hours into something . . . fun.

 Yes, you read that right: fun.

 First off, pull out a piece of paper and grab a pencil. Or pull up Notes on Mac or whatever the Windows’s equivalent is on Windows. This is to be something handy that you can keep nearby to add to and refer to as needed. On this piece of paper (or digital equal), brainstorm various activities you can do on nights you are in too much pain to sleep. These activities must:

  • be fun

  • not wake up other household members

  • not make your pain worse

 (So don’t list chores or homework or taxes.)

 Pick things that can easily occupy your bedside cabinet. Or if you share a bed, things that can be placed nearby a nice, cozy chair in another room. You don’t want to go rummaging for things in the dark or when you’re in pain. That leads to stubbed toes and even more frustration (which we are trying to remedy). Here are some examples from the list I created years ago:

  1. Read a book

  2. Create a music playlist on iTunes

  3. Listen to the sound of rain on YouTube

  4. Solve riddles

  5. Research random topics of interest online

  6. Watch something funny (e.g., Friends, funny animal clips)

  7. Search for “Can’t Sleep Humor” on Pinterest (this one was quite entertaining)

  8. Knit something

  9. Sketch any dreams I had

  10. Answer online personality tests or questionnaires

At the time that I wrote this list, I slept alone, and so it was easy for me to sit up in bed, turn on the light, and grab my laptop. Some of you may have to tiptoe out of bed, but make sure your midnight trip is already preplanned and pre-stashed. Include multiple pillows, blankets, a sweater, slippers or socks, a glass of water, some crackers to snack on (especially if you have medications that need to be taken with food), etc.

Insomnia shouldn’t be a punishment. We shouldn’t be forced to lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, tormented by our own pain, exhaustion, and thoughts. The hope of this list is that on nights you can’t sleep, you can instead look forward to doing something fun.

When the Pain is Excruciating

There will be nights in which the pain reaches such levels of intensity that you can’t cope. Sleep becomes an impossibility. If you can make it to the morning (and it’s not a weekend), wait and call your pain specialist or local doctor for advice. If you can’t wait, have someone take you to the emergency room. The ER doctors cannot fix your pain, but they can provide temporary relief from it.

Tips on Surviving Bad Nights:

  • Stress ball (a wadded up sheet of plastic wrap or balled up towel will work in a pinch)

  • Play soothing music (ideally something without words or melody)

  • Turn on the TV to something mindless (e.g., HGTV, Cooking Channel, Bob Ross’s painting)

On these nights, know that there is hope. The human body cannot survive very long without sleep and, eventually, it will shut down, regardless of pain levels. It may take until dawn, the next night, or several nights down the road, but sleep will come. I promise.