By Virginia Eaton —
When I was in my 20s and 30s I could sleep for ten hours and wake in the same position in which I fell asleep. As a child I never argued about bedtime, I actually looked forward to it, and as a young adult I loved slipping into the covers, laying my head on the pillow and knowing sleep would wrap itself around me! I didn’t realize how lucky I was but there are those for whom sleep is an endless struggle and I am embarrassed to say that it is only lately that I have been able to empathize with the curse of insomnia.
A few years ago that blissful escape deserted me and left me wide-awake in the dark hours of morning. Now, rather than a long night dreaming, I am either wide awake much of the night with short periods of restless sleep or, more often, I fall asleep easily until around 2 a.m. when I find myself wide-awake. The culprit may be the to-do lists running through my head, but more often than not, I’m just awake without a good reason or excuse, until about 4 a.m. when, if luck holds, I drift back to sleep. These last five years have offered me a new appreciation for those who battle sleeplessness!
Reasons for sleep disruptions abound: stress, hormones, or breathing issues, just to name a few. Managing stress — with exercise, yoga or meditation — may help with hormonal issues and often breathing issues can be reduced with weight loss, improved diet or special devices to keep the airway open. If you have addressed the most obvious causes for sleep disturbances yet still find yourself awake in the wee hours, I have a suggestion that has brought me some peace. Rather than fighting these moments (and sometimes hours) of wakefulness, I have surrendered, and now embrace them as a gift of time; how often are we handed an additional couple of hours to our day?
If I had my druthers, I’d prefer to sleep deeply through the night and, yes, I feel better with uninterrupted sleep. But like so many things in life, the decision is not always mine to make. With the years come wisdom and in this regard, I use this time for the things I rarely have time to do during daylight hours. For me, reading is the first thing that comes to mind, but if you play an instrument, if you sew or quilt or write, then you have just been handed a free span of uninterrupted time.
There are a few things that you should avoid during these midnight moments, including playing electronic games, watching television, exercising, or performing other very stimulating activities. How you chose to occupy your time should be calming and rewarding; this is not the time for things like balancing the checkbook! Enhancing the quantity and quality of your sleep should be your first plan of attack, but there will be times when sleep is elusive. If you can change how you think about these moments, as well as finding ways for them to benefit your life, you may come to look forward to the wee hour awakenings.