Insomnia: Gift or Curse?
I woke up this morning at 3 a.m. My brain was alive with ideas. After about a half hour of trying to force myself to go back to sleep like so many other nights, I decided to do something different. I went with it. By 3:57 a.m. (a significant angel number for me, I’d like to point out) I had filled myself a big glass of water with lemon juice, put on my wizard robe (it’s not actually a wizard robe; it just has stars and constellations on a deep blue fabric so it feels like a wizard robe), a pair of pink fluffy slippers that I have to eternally hide from dog and had sat down in front of my computer.
I managed to crank out a marketing deck, an analytics review, set intentions for 3 months of working with a new client and basically mark off every major assignment for the day. Then I had a late brunch, by 10 a.m. I was tired and took a nap and now, here I sit at 11:33 a.m. blogging to you, dear friend.
Why did I feel the need to share this? Because I was surprised that I could do it. I have lived all of my life by structure, routine predictability and whatsmore, I LOVE sleep. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. More accurately, my body that is often in chronic pain loves sleep. So giving myself permission to get up when the rest of my world was slumbering was a big deal. I kept telling myself, I’m a grown ass woman. I can sleep when I want, I can work when I want, I can nap when I want. But I don’t think I truly believed that until last night.
It’s true though. I left a life ruled by corporate America so that I could create the life I wanted. I can work odd hours of the day or night, I can take a nap after lunch, I can snuggle my dog while he lays in the grass and does his afternoon sunbathing. It is a luxury that I designed myself, but I just now, after a year and a half, am coming to take advantage of it and enjoy it. Up until this point, I had still been trying to fit my schedule into a classic M-F, 9-5 arrangement. Why? I’d still been telling myself that I had to go to bed early every night to wake with my husband at 5:30 a.m. every morning to maximize my day. Why?
I’m not even a morning person dammit! I can wake up early and enjoy the early sunlight with the best of them, but I don’t like noise or to be talked to and I definitely don’t like talking back until after about 9:30. I especially dislike morning meetings before 10 a.m. and prefer to use my mornings in solitude in meditation, journaling or studying Kabbalah. So again I ask, why have I been robbing myself of that experience?
I can answer that question and it has some deep roots in a feminist belief and a little bit of science too.
We get comfortable doing the same things over and over again even though those things may no longer serve us or make us happy. Our brains get trained to just automate certain things, the robot side of your programming kicks in and you just do over, and over and over again. To do something different would be to majorly rewrite your neurological programming and that takes a lot of work and let’s face it, most humans are work-averse. We biologically, systematically look for ways to streamline our lives all the time in every way possible. So having the instinct to rewrite that programming, goes against evolution. This is a big factor in why so many people stay in bad jobs, bad relationships, repeating the same bad habits. This is where mindfulness comes in to play, because it invites you to do just what we’re talking about here. Stop. Be in the moment. And identify why you’re doing what you’re doing, feeling what you’re feeling, thinking what you’re thinking and then you have the opportunity to course correct so that your actions, your thoughts, your feelings can be more aligned with your authentic self.
Let’s be real, women adapt our schedules, needs and wants all the time to match that of men. And we do it without even thinking about it. Just because going to bed at 9 p.m. and waking up at 5:30 a.m. is ideal for my husband, does not mean it’s ideal for me. And just because he and most men I know find the mornings to be their most productive hours and he winds down around 4 p.m. (again that’s classic male biology) that is not what the female body does at all. And yet…. And yet, the entire working world and society has constructed itself around the male internal clock. Well, I say no more. If you’re intrigued by this concept by the way, I have a book on my reading list called “In the Flow” that you should definitely check out.
Stronger Today Podcast, Resources, New Skills
After having these realizations, it actually felt pretty empowering to wake up and work at 3 a.m. or 1 a.m. or whenever I felt the call to do so. I might also romanticize this concept because I often read of prolific Roman emperors who only slept three hours and work away through the night because there was less interruptions, Kings who only surfaced at night, eating, working and taking the grand palaces in only by the view of candlelight, philosophers, poets, authors, all who had their heads so filled with inspiration and ideas that they simply could not sleep until they got every last word down on paper, writing in a feverish frenzy through the night.
So you see, I think secretly, I always wanted this. Isn’t that odd? It makes me giggle a bit that it would be a fantasy of mine.
I see so many people sharing about how they cannot fall to sleep or get a solid night’s sleep because of insomnia and it seems to have gotten particularly severe during the pandemic for many of you. For that, I truly do sympathize and I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing here, because I can imagine that wanting to sleep so badly, but physically just not being able to would be a remarkably frustrating experience. I usually can get myself back to sleep if I listen to a sleep story on the Calm App, put on an old show like “Perfect Strangers’ or ‘Bob Newhart’ or do a visualization technique that I love where I imagine myself walking through the gates of Disneyland and picturing every detail I can remember – every storefront and window display, every sign and flowerbed, every bathroom and food stall, all of it. I am obsessive about Disney so it works for me, but you can try this with any room in your house or location that you deeply know.
No, the truth is that for me, I’ve been discovering the last few weeks then when I wake in the middle of the night, my thoughts have crystalized into clarity. My mind feels hyper-focused and crisp. I get ideas for things that I struggled to conceptualize during the day. I feel energized to create and suddenly a list of blog topics, reel themes, plot twists for my novels, all coming spilling out of me in these beautifully precise ribbon-wrapped packages. It feels like a subconscious gift I’ve been giving myself. I had the thought the other night that this happens because it is truly one of the only times where my brain is quiet and still. There is no stimulation, no distractions or interruptions, no pressure, just nothing. And that is when my brain becomes alive and wants to play. And from now on, I’m going to let it. I’m going to spoil it rotten. I’m going to honor the crap out of it, because it serves me well and I let it sleep when I need to. It just isn’t always during regular hours…
I want to point out that I do meditate, pretty much daily, but what I’ve discovered is that even when I meditate, two things happen. I usually have an agenda or am doing some type of guided meditation and after the meditation concludes I move on right away to the next agenda item on my daily planner. So when I say that at night, my brain is truly free to explore without boundaries or parameters, I mean that. It has me wondering if I might enjoy using a sensory deprivation tank? If anyone has done that, please let me know! I’m curious to try.
So to all my fellow artists, night-souls, starwalkers and dreamers out there, I encourage you to listen to your bodies and to intentionally carve out time during the day to be still, silent and open, because maybe then, our brains won’t always be waking us up at 2 a.m. with an idea it is just too excited not to share!
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