I know one or two things about sleepless nights. I suffer from insomnia sometimes. Ideally, I can’t sleep because I’m anticipating something exciting. For example, I barely closed my eyes the night before my wedding. And for as long as I can remember, I have never been able to sleep well the night before I travel. I go through my methodical packing ritual, and then I lay awake wondering what adventures await in my destination.
Sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m riddled with anxiety. I worry about a task or situation that is overwhelming to me. It sits in my way like a mental mountain I can’t fathom how to climb. And the pressure is increased if there is any sort of deadline.
For better or worse, insomnia is always a case of my brain working overtime—either contingency planning or humming with expectant excitement. Either way, I find myself daring (then begging) my brain to dream. This is when falling asleep, something that often enough happens without any conscious effort, begins to feel very, very complicated. Trying to fall asleep makes falling asleep impossible—the goal engendering its own obstacle.
The worst are the calculations I’m unable to stop making. If I fall asleep right-now, I’ll get this many hours and minutes of sleep.
Actually, the worst is when I start thinking about life and death and eternity. What does forever really mean—especially historically—as in no beginning? Sometimes it’s enough to bring me across the brink of panic. It is like being locked in a dark room floating in space never to be seen or heard from again. It makes me wonder if I’d rather not exist. My brain can’t comprehend the infinity of time and falters in the attempt. Pondering the expanse of eternity feels stifling—like all the oxygen in the room is solidifying. Fortunately these night terrors are rare. And even when they happen, they’re not long-lasting (even though they feel immense).
Although I know well what it is to stare at the ceiling or (and worse) the clock with a hyperawareness of time’s passage and how tired I’ll be in the morning, I have no guaranteed cures for insomnia. I do my best to trick my brain into relaxing and letting me find slumber. I’ll watch a bit of television or listen to a podcast. I’ll solve a crossword puzzle or plan tomorrow’s outfit out in detail. And if all else fails, I’ll try to get some work done—check something of my “to do” list, like writing a blog post. And if the insomnia persists and I never fall asleep, then I hope to see a beautiful sunrise at the very least.