I get exasperated by insomniacs. Go to bed, don’t look at bright screens all evening, lie still, stop talking, relax and you will fall asleep.

I should probably mention that I am an intermittent insomniac. I am fanatical about my sleep space. It has to be dead quiet. It has to be pitch black dark. I can’t sleep if its hot. I can’t sleep if I am cold. I can’t sleep if I have any caffeine after lunch or more than one drink in the evening.  I have a bed time routine and if I can’t follow it I can’t sleep.

I also have a multitude of symptoms that keep me awake if I don’t keep them reigned in. The creepy crawly leg sensations of restless leg syndrome. Joint pain. Leg pain. Indigestion. Headaches that get worse when I lie down. The breathlessness of a tight chest. Worry. Stress. Anxiety. Depression.

Lie still, my husband mutters at 2 a.m. Mum, if you just relax and be quiet, you will fall asleep soon, my almost six year old tells me. My words thrown back at me in a polite and kind manner. I growl. Not sleeping makes me irritable. I can’t concentrate. My productivity drops to almost zero. I can’t read a book. I can’t concentrate for more than a minute on any task at hand, I just wander off leaving a trail of half completed tasks in my wake. I am perpetually late. I am perpetually misplacing my keys, my phone, my toothbrush, my shoes, my glasses and occasionally my car – not that I would drive if I can’t sleep.

I haven’t found a miracle cure just yet – I am lucky to have intermittent insomnia and with that comes the reassurance that if I just keep doing the right things eventually, sleep will return. I have found many things not to do when I can’t sleep – chatting with other insomniacs, playing The Witcher, writing, listening to music I like. I have found a few that help immensely:

  1. Be sensible and stick to good sleep habits. Don’t be tempted to think well I’m awake anyway, might as well… [insert activity here]
  2. Don’t stare at the ceiling. Don’t stare at the clock. Do not check the time. Do not worry about the time. Don’t worry about how much precious sleep time has already been wasted. Getting out of bed doesn’t work for me most of the time (occasionally relaxing in a lounge chair with a kindle helps, but not often), so I stick to my dark, quiet, calm bedroom and refuse to dwell.
  3. Listen to the right audio book. Not any narrative will do. Make it too interesting or dramatic and it keeps me engaged and awake. Listening to a new book doesn’t help either. I often pull out old favourites – The Vorkosigan Saga or The Empire of Man or the start of the Safehold Series with Off Armageddon Reef. There is something reassuring in a familiar fiction where the characters feel more like old friends than fictional creations.

My daughter told me a few nights ago that she often can’t sleep. She was surprised that I was not surprised by her revelation. It’s not as if we have worked our way down a list of different types of music, audio books, meditation exercises, relaxation exercises and stories to read in our quest to find something, anything that works reliably!

“I have found a solution”, she said. “I count sheep. “I imagine them lined up on a hill and then they run down the hill one by one and jump over a fence. You should try it, Mum, I think it might really do the trick.”