I stare blankly at the ceiling in the dark room for the fourth time that week. I thought this night would be different, I felt so calm and relaxed when I went to bed and wasn’t expecting to have a difficult night. After hours staring at the same four walls I hesitantly look at my watch, seeing it’s 3:30am. The light is already beginning to pour through the cracks in the curtains, and the world is slowly rising, already.
It seems quite apt that I am writing about my long night not being able to sleep, on the longest day of the year. For me, it will feel like the longest day, in more ways than one.
I have struggled with bouts of insomnia for most of my adult life. At 18, I first experienced the frustration that comes with not being able to sleep. Something that seems so instinctive, so natural, started then to become difficult. It was the summer of my final A-Level exams, I hadn’t slept a wink before stepping into the exam hall. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the exam, let alone perform to the capacity I needed to, to get into university. Somehow I did. To this day I don’t know whether that lack of sleep influenced my grades, but it still feels remarkable to me, what the brain and body could cope with on such a severe lack of sleep.
I’ve always been a “difficult sleeper,” one of those people that wake up in the night from even the softest noises. My mum always remembers the inconvenience on Christmas eve when I was younger, me always stirring in my sleep as she came to deliver my stocking. Since my first experience of insomnia it has come in waves. Throughout lockdown (over twelve weeks now) I have been reading with curiosity about peoples’ struggle with sleep during isolation. However, until now, I’ve never recently had a problem. In fact, my sleep was probably the best it has been in a long time, I was regularly clocking between 8-9 hours a night, usually falling asleep instantly. A few nights ago, I began to experience the racing mind, throwing my months of beautiful sleep out of whack.
I have effectively been awake since 3:30am (it’s 7:30am when I’m writing this) but I don’t feel tired. My eyes feel sore and itchy and my body slightly heavier but my mind is working as it usually does. In the hours before now, I managed to finish a book, write in my journal and now I’m writing this. In my experience, the crash will come soon enough during the day. However, I have never been someone that finds napping easy, nor beneficial. I hope to wait it out, to try and tire myself out as much as I can.
Me at 18 would get incredibly panicky at the prospect of not sleeping. You can’t blame me really, as this was happening against the backdrop of my final exams. It had never happened to me before and I didn’t know how my body and mind would react. Ever since, throughout my experiences of bouts of insomnia, I tend to look to this moment when the same creeping concern arises. I managed to do my A-Levels off the back of no sleep, I can get through today…
The funny thing is – last night my mind was completely at ease. I felt clam from an evening of unwinding, and when I closed my eyes for the night, nothing was on my mind. It was dark and quiet. The perfect conditions for a good nights sleep. But sleep just never came. I was simply laying there, my mind empty, with nothing happening. How can you explain that? I don’t let myself ponder on it too much. I find if I occupy myself with it, I will worry all the more when the time comes to go to bed. Nowadays, after several years, I have come to accept the situation and try and get on with the day as best I can.
I haven’t ever spoken to anyone who has experienced insomnia or sleeping difficulties. Explaining it to someone who has never experienced it is hard. Going to sleep should feel like the easiest thing in the world. A treat, even, in this modern world of overload. I feel like it’s one of those problems that you can only understand fully when you’ve been through it yourself.
Even after days of not getting enough sleep, it seems crazy that my body still won’t naturally succumb to rest. Even when my mind feels at ease.
I’m writing this in the hope that it may enlighten some people and shed light on the struggle. But also, because I need to do something to fill the spare hours! I hope that it may be insightful or comforting to people in some way.
Have you ever experienced insomnia? If so, what are your tips for a good nights sleep? I’d love to know. Although I think I’ve tried most things at this point...