On the merits of slaying Dragons

My first memory is of not sleeping. I recall being about 3, and lying awake all night, listening to the noises of the house at night. The grandfather clock would sound every 15 minutes, my dad would snore, and rednecks would zoom down our country road in their pickup trucks. Rather than a single recollection, the state of being awake at night happened so regularly that it’s just the way I recall myself from the very beginning.

I could write a book on my lifetime of insomnia, but I can condense it simply by saying that it’s always stayed with me. Most nights, I’m up for a least an hour or two. And depending on circumstances, that period of wakefulness can be more like 4 or 5 hours. I kept a night time journal for a couple years and tracked the precise details, but what I found was what I had already suspected. Most weeks, I am awake a few hours for 6 nights out of the week, and one night I wake for a potty break but can go right back to sleep. And about once a month, I sleep through the whole night. (Which is the strangest sensation—to me, sleeping is a long, arduous process from bedtime to sunup….it’s always bizarre to close my eyes, wake up, and it’s morning.)

And once a year or so, I go through a couple weeks with absolutely terrible sleep. I will start to favor the “mostly awake” plan, and start racking up a long string of nights where I’m up more than I sleep. It’s just annoying until I start to get loopy, literally feeling drunk from being awake so much. JJ has learned to take away my car keys when I’m in this state, and generally be super sweet when I say stupid things. He asks me to let him know if I’m getting to the point of “introducing him to his own cousin”, based on a real occurrence when I was so tired that I asked him to meet his own cousin at a party, and then expressed surprise when he said that they had already met.

The part of all this that could comprise the most of a book would be the list of “whys” and “what to dos”. I’ve read my fair share of self-help books and studies on insomnia. Historical perspectives have been the most helpful, as they examine the immense changes in how we sleep since the beginning of the Industrial Age. The nutshell explanation is that humans seem to have a natural break in sleep in the middle of the night. But, in a modern world with only one short lump of time to devote to sleep, it’s a problem to be awake for an hour or two. It’s only in the last couple hundred years that we were forced into such a tight sleep pattern, with no option to sleep more when we need it. The busy-ness of our world only hinders us more, because in the silence of the night (the only silence some of us get), our brains whirl into action, and we rehash all things bad in our lives.

So, while it’s great to think that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with me, I’m still bombarded by messages of how to fix it, and that I ought to fix it. Aside from painkillers and antibiotics, I’m just not much for drugs, so I never went far down that avenue. The one time I did get prescription sleep meds, I was still awake at night, but with hallucinations. The best solution I’ve found is to download books onto my phone, and listen to those when I’m up at night. The right subject has to be interesting enough to keep my mind off worries, but not so engrossing that I can’t tear myself away. I would like to use the time to meditate, but I can only keep that kind of focus for about 3-4 minutes in one sitting, which is not enough to get me through hours of wakefulness.

And that, friends, is why I’ve been having trouble with the blogging lately; I’m in about the 4th week of mostly awake at night, and it’s taking its toll. I can handle a week of not sleeping with no real ill effects, but when I start to lose interest in almost everything, even things I normally like, I know it’s time to go easy on myself. I considered not blogging today because I felt like I didn’t have anything to say….but then I thought this story might be useful to some folks. We all have dragons in our lives, and sometimes the best method to deal with them is to just walk away rather than keep trying to slay them. When I tussle with not sleeping, I still don’t sleep, but then I also feel bad about it, too. Here’s to leaving your dragons in the rearview mirror, now and then.


One thing I did try this week was to practice gratefulness. It feels a bit Pollyanna-ish when you’re cranky, but I can always find one thing about the day that was 100% good. Some top examples from the week were walking around the lake with JJ and looking at all the wildflowers, and waking up to Mary’s homemade gluten-free plum coffee cakes. Plus, we made it through the craziness of the 4th of July, which means that 2 major summer holidays are in the history books. And while I’ve been dreading an upcoming trip to LA to get some body work done on the RV, I just decided to make it a fun mini-vacation instead. We’re thinking a few days at the beach might be super fun—did you know it’s whale watching season there!? We even went to a library in scenic June Lake today, just to enjoy the views.

Dragons in the rearview.


One thought on “On the merits of slaying Dragons

  1. Thank you for telling us about your dragons. Unfortunately as you get older you tend to encounter them a bit more, but your learn to be a bit kinder to yourself about your aging foibles an if you fall asleep at a time most consider “not normal” for most folk, you just shrug your shoulders an think well, it works for me , at least today. Tonight may be a different story. Hang in there, like your policy of having at least one thing to be grateful for. Think I will aspire to that when I can’t sleep.

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