1. Identify that you actually have insomnia.
Intermittent insomnia is a constant in my life. Ever since I was little, I would have stretches of sleeplessness. The bouts erupt in times of stress or change and they stick around until suddenly, they don’t. At the worst part of my insomniac’s life, at a time of deep stress, I went without more than an hour’s sleep for 7 straight days. On the 7th day, I went to the emergency room and was told to take warm baths and relax. I eventually found a doctor who would help me. I found relief by creating a bedtime routine, using some sleep medication, and removing the major stresses from my life.
This morning, I don’t know if I have true insomnia yet. I went to bed at midnight, which is late for me, after a fun night hanging out with some friends. My cat woke me up at 4:40, which he is wont to do when he is hungry, and then I couldn’t fall asleep after I kicked him out. I found myself mentally repeating one section of lyrics from The Kinks’ “A Well-Respected Man.” I finally gave in and got out of bed at 5:45.
2. Use your non-sleeping time wisely.
When I get really bad insomnia, I get out of bed, pull out our couch and try to sleep there. On the couch, I can leave the light on, read, watch television, cry, whatever it takes to get black to sleep. I often know that it’s time to get out of bed and move the couch when my husband’s (very) light snores prove to me that he gets to sleep, while I can’t. When I want to smack him or wake him up, I get out of bed.
Today, I woke up and decided to accomplish things I don’t have a lot of time for, before my day really begins. So, my goals are to do some homework (done – sort of), do my leg exercises (coming soon), and clean as much of the house as I can before my husband gets up and we have to go to the Farmer’s Market.
3. Identify the reasons why you aren’t sleeping.
I don’t know why I’m not sleeping today. Typically, in the past, I’ve endured insomnia when I’ve had really bad stretches at work. I wouldn’t characterize my work life as bad right now. It’s actually going very well. There’s just a lot of work to be done, which takes a lot of energy. Sometimes, this extension of energy results in lack of sleep for me, as if I can’t turn off.
This weekend, my nontraditional students returned to campus in full force. I helped to organize our “greeters”, the people who assist students and faculty in finding the right classrooms and making the students feel welcomed. We had greeters Friday night and Saturday morning, so my weekend has been long stretches of work punctuated my little moments of sleeping and eating. Things went wrong during the opening, as they most likely will when 200 classes start at once, but a lot of things went really right. Our opening picnic yesterday, for instance, had the highest turnout ever.
(I am proud to say, on a side note that I am not stress eating or overeating this week. At times like these, I often don’t sleep and gorge on candy or fatty foods. This week, I’ve been chomping on the veggies and eating EnviroKidz granola bars in lieu of massive bags of jellybeans.)
In addition to this stressful start, I started my own graduate program yesterday. I already have a master’s degree in Creative Writing, and if I had buckets of money, I’d start on a doctorate in education. But, I get tuition remission at my school, so I’ve started my master of arts in leadership. Since most EDd programs focus on leadership, I think I’m starting the best program for me right now.
Class yesterday was invigorating. I forgot how much I missed being in the classroom as a student. I loved listening to and partaking in discussions about shared texts. Basically, I’m a big nerd. I also didn’t realize how weird it would be to sit on the other side of the classroom, after years of teaching on my own.
I know I’ve made the right choice in starting this program. It felt right being in the classroom. But, I also know that this will be really hard. I know that I can balance doing homework, paid work, and my creative work. I know that balance will actually feel like swinging between drowning in readings and papers, being buried in deadlines at the day job, and squeezing in poems on the bus and at night. I have to accept the choice that I’ve made and the effect it will have on my life.
4. Create a bedtime ritual and stick to it until sleep resumes.
I’ve tried lots of tricks for resuming sleep after insomnia. Warm milk. Hot baths. Lukewarm baths. Cold baths. Sleep medication, which I’m not super in love with unless it’s an emergency (see above). Not reading in bed. Reading in bed. Getting up when I can’t sleep. Staying in bed despite my lack of sleep. Counting backwards from 100. Meditation. Light exercise before bed. Not eating before bed. Some of these worked and some of these didn’t work as well as I would have liked.
The only thing that really works for me 100% of the time is to create a bedtime ritual and then stick to it every night. It triggers in my brain that I am winding down and sleep will follow shortly. During the really bad insomnia time, I took a lukewarm bath with lavender essential oil in the water each night before bed. Then, I went to bed and if I didn’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, I got up and did something else until I was tired again. Rinse and repeat. Eventually it worked.
I know that I am not close to that time yet. I’ve had one morning where I’ve woken up too early, so I’m going to keep this in my back pocket. I am hoping that I’ll be tired enough tonight that I’ll pass out as my head hits the pillow. If not, I may have to pick up some more (very expensive, I must say) lavender oil.