The Surefire Way to Beat Insomnia
I’ll tell you a secret: You don’t.
I have had serious, clinical, no bullshit (aka “primary”) insomnia since I was a child. Not the “oh man, I only got like six hours of sleep last night” kind of insomnia. Or, the occasional “I woke up too early on Saturday” type of insomnia. No, ma’am. I have the kind of insomnia that means “I will stay up for days and be perfectly fine about that. Until I’m not.”
I have only slept well twice in my lifetime: when I was in bootcamp — due to mental/physical exhaustion, and not being able to eat all the cookies I wanted to because of mean people; and when I was pregnant with my son, who still gets the hairy eyeball from me because I’m 99% sure he tried to kill me from the inside and 100% sure he knows it.
When I was a little kid, my dad tried teaching me different methods of self-hypnosis and meditation to get me back to sleep. He even bought me a little cassette player and a tape with a creepy shrink who could supposedly put anyone to sleep. I would just lie there and listen to the first side of the tape, and then get up, and turn the tape over and listen to the other side. I never had the heart to tell him that he’d wasted his money. Both sides had the same content. And neither put me to sleep.
He would poke his head in at 3:45am — when he left for work — see my little happy face staring back at him, and just sigh.
“Here,” he’d toss me the NyQuil bottle. (This was before they’d changed the ingredients.) “Just drink a little of this.”
That would work for a few years, but I eventually built up a pretty good tolerance for it. To this day, I still can’t sleep with alcohol in my system.
When I was a teenager, I was able to just be more productive. Dad had completely given up on me. The NyQuil had run dry. His new go-to was, “Just see how many days you can stay up before you pass out somewhere.”
For the record, that number is 4 nights, and it’s at a friend’s house in her hallway even though her dog smelled bad.
In my late twenties, I decided to give prescription drugs a try. This was a grave mistake. All the side effects you can think of happening to a person, happened to this person.
The worst was when we discovered I had been sleepwalking. Luckily, I was still married at the time. And, luckily, my husband discovered me in the garage before I got into our family SUV and headed out for some sleepy-time joy riding. To this day, the thought of what could have potentially happened that night terrifies me.
There’s nothing worse than finding out your body has spent three weeks engaged in unauthorized activities that you still have no memory of. I was able to piece together some of it, but only when it involved other people. That final evening in the garage when my husband found me is one. That night also involved me running around the house and slamming into all the walls.
I did also find many, many emails I’d sent to family and friends. Embarrassing.
And my favorite: Calling my sister, who lives in England. I spent the entire conversation talking to her in Clockwork Orange lingo. Exclusively. I’m not exactly sure what my plans were. But they could not have been good.
Now I have a more simple nighttime routine: I take some OTC sleeping aids — which rarely work, but I get maybe 3–5 hours if I’m lucky. I have a pretty blacked out room situation, and very soft sheets. I have a nifty little diffuser with essential oils, and a sound machine pumping that sweet sweet white noise. In the dry winter months, I add a humidifier.
I also have to exercise every day. I don’t really like to exercise, but I make myself do it. If you think I’m bitter about this, oh yes I am.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
If we did, I wouldn’t have to exercise. I’d sleep 20 hours a day, like my cat. I’d eat nothing but cookies that someone else has baked for me. And I wouldn’t have had to waste 15 minutes this morning downloading the new iTunes on my work computer.
I don’t even use iTunes.
But then, maybe I would have missed the sunrise.