‘You’d better get some sleep…’
‘All you need is a good night’s sleep’
‘We’ve got 4 hours sleep until we need to get up at 3am on the dot to go and catch our flight’
‘You can always have a nap on the plane’
‘Haven’t you slept yet?
‘You really need to get some sleep!’
A sleeping cat sprawled on its back
A snoring person on a noisy plane
Someone you’re sitting next to nodding off
Someone telling you they fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow
Being on a hospital ward after an op, having to listen to the other patients snoring or a machine grinding in the next room
If any of these phrases that people come out with, or images and experiences you recognise all too well, make you wince, sigh, or want to scream and shout in protest, then you probably have difficulty getting asleep or staying asleep on a regular basis. So regular, in fact, that it’s a way of life for you and then it’s probably safe to say you ‘suffer’ from insomnia. I’ve put suffer in inverted commas here because this is very much a subjective perspective, which can change, depending on your attitude. However there are undoubtedly times when you are dog-tired and your brain is frazzled and all you want to do is to sink into oblivion on a mattress, any old mattress will do, and if there isn’t one of those, then you’ll be happy on the floor.
Here are the lyrics from an Alison Moyet song that illustrates the torment that you can feel when you are desperate for sleep:
“Where Hides Sleep”
Where hides sleep is she watching me
Don’t desert me now
Where hides sleep you’re tormenting me
Don’t forsake me now
Take hole of my soul and pull me into darkness
Cover me over and stifle my anguish
Where hides sleep she’s avoiding me
Don’t evade me now
Where hides sleep please don’t torture me
Don’t forsake me now
I open my lips to your warm ancient potion
I would be still and devoid of emotion
For I would be slumber that I could be rest
Curl in warm embers of such peacefulness
Caressed by oblivion and swallowed by dreams
I want you to hold me and cover my eyes
From the cold distant daylight
Holds no surprise
And the video if you fancy listening to it:
I’ve always had trouble sleeping – specifically getting to sleep in the first place – once I’m there, I’m fine. I may wake up a couple of times, but I can soon find sleep again. When I shared a room with my sister when we were girls, I had to wake her up if she began making breathing noises. I was merciless. I needed peace and silence. My mother tells me I had a room all to myself when I was a baby, and that I would stretch out a hand if anyone entered the room, so that may explain it, either that, or there’s some esoteric explanation to be found in a past life! Thankfully my sister was magnanimous enough to just roll over and go back to sleep, but this problem soon led to separate rooms, with me in a box room. Hallelujah! – what bliss – for a good few years anyway. When I was 18 I got some kind of virus that left me with tinnitus, so that meant using a late night radio chat show as a distraction to lull me into sleep – babble, babble, blah, blah. But this practice was under my control, so I managed with the radio until I was able to sleep without it, and eventually I accepted my tinnitus has my very own sound of silence.
But later on, along came my partner, and a while after that, married life. At first I tried hard to tolerate light snoring or heavy snoring, but I would become incensed at the unfairness of it, the sheer injustice of it – to have someone sleeping alongside you oblivious of the noise they were making, safely tucked away in the land of nod, while I was expected to love them so much I was willing to try breathing at the same rate to find a way of enduring it, or use earplugs or this or that and still not get any sleep myself? You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. Forget that! So I decided separate rooms were in order and since we didn’t ever have children, this was the arrangement that we both got used to from then on in. Nice tidy bedroom for me, messy one for hubby, just how he likes it. Now I’ve noticed this household arrangement being mentioned more these days as a problem solver, and it certainly makes so much sense when sleep is so vitally restorative. But despite my self-preserving flouting of convention at the time, I did feel a little guilty and certainly didn’t broadcast it. But hey, it worked.
Holidays brought the trouble to the fore again where even twin beds weren’t a perfect solution. The only answer for one extended length holiday was sleeping pills, which worked beautifully, like a dream you might say, on a self drive tour we were on where I’d promised to do the driving. Then it was back to ‘normal’ at home. And these days I read until I drop off, reading my kindle, my form of heaven. And a more difficult book to digest, like a hard to comprehend philosophy book, is even better. I’m a bit like the princess in the story of The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Anderson, with all that sensitivity going on, where the princess proves herself to be a true princess by detecting the presence of a pea hidden under a pile of mattresses which prevents her getting to sleep – she knows something isn’t quite right…and though I’m not comparing myself to a princess (well, would I? :>)), I understand this particular princess perfectly! Things have to be just so.
Although insomnia is becoming more common in this stressful and fast-paced world many of us live in, I was wondering recently whether creative people in particular have more difficulty sleeping. Maybe their commonly shared trait of extra sensitivity makes it harder to switch off? It certainly seems to be true for writers, where intense thinking is a prerequisite for the craft. Greg Johnson points out in this article, ‘On the edge of an abyss: the writer as insomniac’
‘this painful and usually chronic malady has plagued writers so frequently, and with such intensity of anguish, that the insomniac state and its attendant longings might justifiably be considered metaphorical of the writer’s rarefied inner world. If insomnia is the very image of his unblinking consciousness, his stubborn refusal to conclude, however briefly, his voracious scrutiny of the world and of his own mental processes, then it is not surprising that sleep— especially “dark, dreamless sleep, in deep oblivion!”— becomes the corresponding image of his most profound and unattainable desires’
So we have an image of a restless writer, tortured by their own compulsive thinking and observing processes, where they yearn for a ceasing to their musings in a dreamless sleep. It’s a wee bit dramatic and elitist sounding, isn’t it? The tortured genius comes to mind (yet again ;>) But nevertheless, many revered writers seemed to know all too well the stretched out nature of the early hours where they were unable to shut off their minds to swarms of buzzing thoughts out to bite them. We’ve got D.H Lawrence, Franz Kafka, Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath, William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, Charlotte and Emily Bronte (who both walked around a table together until they were ready to drop) and Shelley.
However it’s important to realise there may be some benefits…
In this article ‘Sleepless at the Serpentine’, it’s pointed out that ‘Night owls say creativity flows in the small hours, when the pressure and demands of daytime have ceased and they can sink into their imaginary world. Exhaustion can twist the mind and bring a whole new meaning to life’
‘Tiredness has inspired many artists. The French writer Colette once said: “Insomnia is almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge.” Rudolf Nureyev used his extra hours of consciousness to pursue his greatest passions – dance and sex. The artist Louise Bourgeois suffered terribly from insomnia and made a series of drawings on the subject, including sketches of a ticking clock and an interpretation of the wild sleepless eye of an insomniac that will haunt any fellow sufferer. Another artist, Tomoko Takahashi, works through the night to create her elaborate installations.’
But despite all this, we know we need out sleep for our health and well being…so let’s move on to look at a few tips on how to get our creative brain to sleep, from a post written with creative people in mind: How to get your creative brain to sleep – ten tips
And for what it’s worth, here are some tips from me:
Do some exercise during the day
Eliminate all ticking clocks
Never look to see what time it is once you’re in bed
Never tell yourself, I must get some sleep
Tell yourself instead just to relax and rest
Read a hard to comprehend psychology or philosophy book, and if you’ve got a kindle which you can adjust to read in the dark, even better.
Jot down any next day tasks you suddenly think of on a notepad by your bed
Jot down any promising ideas that pop into your head for your current creative work
Tell yourself you’ve got it all covered, as you read to fill your mind with something outside of yourself, relax, and enjoy the fact that the world has gone to bed, you’re not missing anything. It’s all stopped, and so have you ….zzzzzzzz.
(and no, I’m not an early riser!)
(pic from pixabay)