Consider this: could insomnia be a gift?
It doesn't feel that way, once caught in the web of worry: thoughts swirling around and around, refusing to leave until I get up and move somewhere else, clearing my mind by reading or listening to a sleepcast. Why is everything amplified in the night?
A small misspoken word can become the worst thing I ever said, or a bad day can morph into every foreseeable day to come. With the dawn, it all feels ridiculous, but even knowing that doesn't help at 3 am (and yes, it's always 3 am).
Drugs are not usually the answer; I spend part of most clinic days trying to convince people of this fact. Research supports cognitive behavioural therapy, which translates into changing our expectations about sleep: no, we won't sleep 8 hours every night. Yes, we have some control over our sleep. Yes, we might be tired after a poor sleep but we will likely catch up. The bed must not become a place of anxious tossing and turning or things will only get worse.
We apparently need less sleep as we age, leading many elderly people to want medication. Sometimes I have to advise them to stop going to bed at 8 pm (8 hours of sleep from 8 pm equals 4 am!). At a time when the busy-ness of life settles down for most, there are suddenly more hours available. Wait: more hours? How many times have I felt there are not enough hours in a day?
Maybe insomnia is actually a gift, one which I should use. Maybe after living my entire life so far feeling pressured and busy, my body is saying here, here's an extra hour. You're wide awake, use this time. The dark hours lend themselves to quiet, reflective activities which are important to wellness and resilience...as long as those hours are not spent tormented with anxiety.
But I'll be so tired tomorrow, I say to myself. If I do something mellow, I can usually return to sleep for a while. Sometimes I have a quick power nap the next day, and I'm often not as worn out as I expect. Is it possible that the frequency of insomnia over age 50 is a way of finally getting the extra hours in the day I've been seeking?
Obviously, insomnia can be a significant problem, especially if affecting mental health or overall function, or if it signifies an underlying medical issue. Today, insomnia has given me the time to polish this blog post without feeling rushed. I'll have a leisurely breakfast, I'll walk to work.
Hi, I'm Karen. This space is a chance for me to get some of those notebook sessions out there: Motherhood, medicine, writers and writing, the state of the world. Non-published, sometimes non-polished, just a chance to open a discussion. Let me know what you think!