Rules for Insomnia

I’ve been having a hard time falling asleep lately. One would think that with as fast as my brain moves during the day, by bedtime all operations would shut down.

Unfortunately for both me and my husband, this is not the case.

Somehow, the transmitters in my brain actually come most alive as I lay my head down to hit the pillow. I imagine them saying “It’s show time!”

I have tried everything to guarantee a smooth transition into slumber. Essential oils (cedar wood makes me smell like a gerbil), Melatonin, deep breathing. Apart from medication, which I try to only use when absolutely necessary, nothing seems to work.

Falling asleep is actually one of the most mentally active parts of my day. If you have an anxious, fast moving brain, perhaps this list will resonate with you. Here are the phases my mind flows in and out of as I try to sleep most nights:

1. Ponder 

As I lay in bed, suddenly all the questions of the world seem to come to mind.

Some are deep and some are trivial.

Can an unmarked police car pull me over?

Where was I when Thomas Jefferson was alive?

What are all the animals in the forest doing right now?

The anxious mind likes to use the time during this stage in bed to wonder, ponder and investigate.

2. Panic

Did I lock the door?

Did I lose the garage door opener?

Are there two alarms set?

Did I forget anyone’s birthday today?

What would happen if coffee stopped existing?


During this phase, the anxious brain likes to doubt my overall safety.

3. Marvel

The phenomena of the world is suddenly so clear at night when my brain should be shutting down.

Suddenly, I am hit with amazement as I think about the intricacy of the highway system in the United States.

How the did someone build that? How did they all connect it? Does anyone even take the time to appreciate highways?

Where are all of those construction cones stored? How long does it take to lay them all out on the roads?

(Clearly my anxious brain is very concerned with construction and traffic related phenomena)

4. Replay

Sometimes the anxious brain likes to play a game called “Replay.”

In this super fun game, the brain will bring everything that happened during the day, or over the course of your entire life, and replay them.

Sometimes they will be things that happened that day: an interaction with a colleague or a road rage incident that left you emotionally scarred.

Others will be events that happened long long ago: a fight with a friend, your first tooth falling out, or when your dog died.

The events will replay in your mind like a movie, and then if you are bored and exhausted because you are so tired but can’t fall asleep, you can change the stories and give them alternative endings.

It’s like going to the movies, but free!

5. Dread

This almost always happens after you have cycled through the previous phases. You look at your phone and realize you have been in bed for forty minutes and are no where close to sleeping.

At that point, you do that little calculating thing in your head where you figure out exactly how many hours of sleep you can get if you fall asleep right then.

You dread how tired you will feel the next day, which raises anxiety and opens up a whole new set of issues to worry about.

This brings us back to Our House Rules for Insomnia. My husband is as sweet and selfless as they come. On nights where I am struggling to fall asleep, Max almost always stays up with me. (Usually voluntarily and not from my whining).

He reassures me that I didn’t forget how to sleep. He strokes my arm and and reminds me that I have the ability to sleep and it will be okay.

So for both of our sakes, Max told me yesterday that on nights I can’t sleep, I’m not allowed to check my phone to see what time it is. This usually escalates me into a panic filled dread (see point 5) that he then has to work to not only bring me down from, but bring me down even further to a point of sleep.

I established the second rule last night.

I told him that I wanted him to sleep even if I couldn’t; there is no sense in us both being exhausted the next day. Someone’s gotta make the dinner.

I appreciated the moral support more than anything, but the man gets up at 5. He can’t be spoon-feeding me to sleep until 1am.

The world’s most patient, kind, amazing man. Also, yes, cutting caffeine might help but that isn’t an option I’m willing to try.

In addition, I let him know it added to my anxiety to know he was waiting to fall asleep until I did. It was too much pressure.

Anyways, those are 2 rules for insomnia in our house. I would love to hear any suggestions you have for shutting your brain off each night!

Sleep tight!





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