The Unexpected Benefits of Insomnia
You can’t beat a good night’s sleep, but you can spend your waking hours better
For as long as I can remember, I have had a difficult relationship with sleep. When insomnia strikes I can find myself awake for 3–5 hours a night. This has gone on for so long that I’ve basically accepted it as an inevitable part of life.
Studies have shown that people who tend toward stress, or perfectionism, are more likely to suffer with insomnia. Well, that’s me. And whilst these are traits I am working on, in the meantime I’m trying to appreciate the gifts that insomnia can bring.
There is something surreal about the time spent awake when everything around you is sleeping. Even inanimate objects seem to breathe like they’re in blissful slumber, recovering from their busy daylight hours. If you look hard enough you can find the good in most things, so I want to share with you some of the unexpected positives that insomnia can bring into your life.
The chance to reflect
At 3am my thoughts are scattered but if they were brought together they would form a patchwork quilt of my worries and concerns. What insomnia does, if you stop fighting it, is give you space to consciously work through these thoughts.
Much has been written about the value of journaling. The process of not only observing your thoughts and feelings, but literally getting them out of your head can bring about a noticeable sense of peace. I personally have no problem using my laptop during the twilight hours, and my reflective space of choice is Penzu. So much of blogging these days is about getting views and making money, but Penzu is a private diary. Perfect for having a conversation with yourself in the small hours.
Often, I find that once I’ve gotten those thoughts out my mind begins to relax and I can go back to bed feeling much more confident that sleep awaits.
“Insomnia can be a thinker’s condition” — Rafael Pelayo, sleep specialist
Enjoying peaceful time alone
I am quite a solitary person. I enjoy having nobody around. For people like me it doesn’t get much more peaceful than those early hours of the morning when even the noisiest roads are quietly resting. This is a perfect time to practice mindfulness, if you’re into that. It may be the mixture of fatigue and the gentle hum of silence, but focusing on my body and breath is simpler at this time. The sensations are magnified. In his book Fast Asleep, Michael Mosley quotes mindfulness teacher Tim Stead:
“Mindfulness helps because it encourages you to accept that you are awake and that is fine. Once you stop worrying about going to sleep, then sleep will come” — Tim Stead, mindfulness teacher
Perhaps it’s the knowledge that nobody is going to knock on my door, or send me an email, or call my phone, but those sleepless hours, inhabited by nobody but me, offer the permission to focus on myself.
Seeing the morning slowly appear
In the summer it begins to get light at about 5am where I live. That transition from night to morning can be a wonderful thing to behold. It’s warm and clear, and the sky drifts from black to pink to hazy blue, easing in the day.
This is a sight privileged only to us insomniacs!
I’ve always felt that the morning brings with it a sense of optimism, but by this point the fatigue often becomes overwhelming. If I’ve spent those waking hours well, I am usually able to go back to bed for a couple of hours. And so as the sun comes up, my head goes down again for sleep round number two.
From restlessness to peace
If you’d have asked me a few years ago to tell you about the benefits of insomnia I would have possibly cursed at you (especially if I’d slept badly the night before). But accepting it as simply a part of my temperament, and trying to make the most of time spent awake, insomnia has become less of a disruption.
In fact, for restless minds like mine, insomnia can even help to work through anxieties and problems. I still have my bad nights when I’d do anything for a fistful of hospital grade sedatives, but more often these days I welcome my insomnia with a far friendlier “hello again”. Mindfulness, reflection and beautiful skies will never replace a solid night’s sleep, but if you struggle with insomnia maybe you can begin to take some positives from your restlessness.