Little did I know in January 2021, when I chose my “one word” for the year (see this post), that I was in for an adventure in insomnia.
Truthfully, I thought of rest mostly as slowing down, taking life easier, feeling more relaxed, healthier, and balanced. But I didn’t think about its relationship to sleep. How dense can one be!
Then, a necessary medication change sent me on an unexpected journey. I began having trouble falling asleep, started waking up multiple times during the night, and getting up earlier and earlier. (I’m writing this at 4:30, but I have been up since 3:00 a.m.) My excellent nurse practitioner medical team suggested cognitive behavioral therapy, and I had a couple of sessions with a very astute therapist. She recommended creating a sleep ritual, so, following her suggestions, I started stepping outside to get a breath of fresh air just before bed. I made the bedroom darker and covered the digital clock. I began writing in a “brain dump” book and reading a couple of quotations from Hush by sleep expert Rubin Naiman. Then I turn out the light, make an intention to let go of wakefulness and embrace sleep, and start breathing deeply and relaxing progressively from head to toe. On most nights, I am asleep within twenty minutes.
BUT I awake again at 2:00 a.m., and often I am unable to go back to sleep. So when I awoke at 2:00 this morning, I asked myself, “What does insomnia have to teach me?
One of the wisest of Dr. Naiman’s bits of sleep advice is: “The best strategy in our war against sleeplessness is surrender. We wage war against illness. We fight disease, kill germs, and go to battle with our symptoms. This is most evident with insomnia. Many of us silently hurl expletives at our nighttime wakefulness. But the peace of sleep cannot be realized through an inner civil war. To sleep well, we must learn to approach sleep in a thoroughly nonviolent way. Giving up this fight is not about a forced supplication, but rather a gracious surrender.”
Who knew embracing “rest” would lead me to contemplate surrender? And not just in sleep, in everything. I’ve begun to notice how much of my life is about struggle, particularly struggle against something. It takes a lot of effort to pit yourself against gravity, the clock, responsibilities, aging, physical and mental diminishment, cold, heat, uncomfortable or painful feelings, disappointments, loss, unfulfilled dreams.
Some synonyms for surrender are “to cease to resist, yield, acquiesce.” I’ve deliberately chosen positive ones because I don’t want to imply that resistance is never appropriate. Resistance and struggle are never effortless, though, and rest is. So, my mid-year check-in on rest has brought some of the following concepts to the fore. In no particular order:
- Effort requires balancing with rest.
- Exerting control is exhausting; letting go, accepting, and flowing with whatever is happening is restful.
- Rest is self-care and self-respect—no guilt trip.
- Stop being so damn responsible!
- Time is abundant, not scarce.
- Rest first, do later.
- Breathe. It’s the most restful thing you can do!