By Eva Bell
Insomnia, or being unable to sleep at night, is one of the most frustrating things I have had to deal with.
Overwhelmed by fatigue and so sleepy that I could barely keep my eyes open, I would crawl into bed at a good hour, looking forward to a good night’s sleep. My mind was at peace, content, even empty of thought – yet I would lie there, awake, hour after hour. Sleep simply would not come.
As this continued, I began to crawl into bed in an anxious state of mind. I knew I desperately needed sleep but was worried it would not come. This tension made sleep even more evasive. My heart raced, my mind developed a habit of glancing about fearfully, which often trigged panic attacks.
As insomnia became more frequent, I tried to wait patiently for sleep to come. Yet as the hours continued to tick by I became more and more frustrated. My body was telling me that I needed sleep. I was so tired that I could not keep my eyes open, so why was I lying awake hour after hour? I would pray, beg, and plead with the Lord to give me sleep, quoting scriptures at Him, trying to convince Him to stretch out His hand or speak a word over me to put me to sleep. Then, after lying awake for five or six hours, frustration would blossom into rage. I lost count of how many times I shook my fist at the ceiling and said, “Jesus, why do you just sit there! Can’t you see that I need sleep? Why don’t you act? Don’t you care?”
As well as getting angry with God, I became enraged with my mind and body. What was wrong with them, couldn’t they see what they were doing to me? I was so tired and sleepy yet my useless, stupid mind simply would not shut off! It was as though my body conspired against me, and I hated it, I wrote in my diary.
Following these sessions of rage against God and myself, came anguish, repentance and guilt. I knew I should not react like this, but I needed sleep!
Eventually the insomnia became so bad that for five days I would fall asleep when the sun came up, and on the sixth, sleep would not come at all. On those days I felt robbed, cheated, betrayed. When I rose, I felt dirty and unclean. Then the cycle started again.
Finally, due to a number of factors, I fell into strong depression towards the end of 1989. Panic attacks afflicted me 24 hours a day, my mind never ceased to churn through terrifying fearful thoughts, and insomnia continued to afflict me.
Attitudes We Cannot Afford to Have Towards Insomnia
As you can see from what I have shared above, the ways I reacted to insomnia made it worse. These negative reactions of fearing or fighting it released negative adrenalin into my system, elevated my anxiety levels and made it harder to sleep. What a vicious cycle – insomnia begets tension and fatigue, which in turn make insomnia worse, which causes further tension and fatigue.
Here are some reactions we cannot afford to have towards insomnia:
1. going to bed fearful that we may not sleep
2. becoming frustrated when we cannot sleep
3. worrying how this lack of sleep will affect us tomorrow
4. letting the frustration boil over into rage
Helpful Attitudes Towards Insomnia
Here is a list of what reactions we need to have towards insomnia.
1. when we go to bed, be prepared to stay awake all night
2. be content to stay awake all night instead of getting frustrated or angry
3. recognize that resting contentedly all night in bed, even without sleeping, is still beneficial
4. if we don’t sleep tonight, there is always tomorrow night.
Some Things that May Help with Mild Insomnia
In my dealings with insomnia over the decades, I have learned a few tricks that can help alleviate mild insomnia.
1. a glass of hot milk, or a bowl of hot cereal, taken immediately before bed, can be helpful
2. if still awake two to three hours later, have another glass of hot milk or cereal
3. regular exercise is crucial. This may be going on brisk 30-45 minute walks three times a week, or doing aerobics, swimming, jogging, etc. Working out with light hand-weights several days a week also helps. (Small note – avoid the above types of exercise near bedtime!)
4. eat a good, balanced diet, with lots of fruit. Drink plenty of water
5. if you must have a nap during the day, make it a 15 minute power nap, no longer. Set an alarm.
6. listening to soothing or relaxing music immediately before going to bed can also be helpful.
Another point I would like to make is that we humans have a tendency to take on too many responsibilities and get involved with too many activities. Sometimes it is good to take a step back, sit at Christ’s feet and wait on Him, and then prayerfully examine our life. Are we doing too much? Are there some aspects of our life that are placing us under pressure unnecessarily? Are there some things that we can quit or that can be put off until next year? Frantic, stressful lifestyles can cause insomnia or make it worse. I learned this lesson the hard way. (Twice…)
If insomnia has become so bad that we cannot sleep night after night, (this is typical for those suffering from depression), seek medical assistance – we must not struggle through it by ourselves. A doctor can help determine insomnia’s causes (there are many different causes) and recommend medical treatment. For someone suffering from strong depression, sleep is a necessary part of the healing process. I am so glad that after three to four months of trying to cope with depression and insomnia on my own, I finally saw a doctor and went onto anti-depressant medication that included a mild tranquilizer. The combination of the medication and being able to sleep again were important factors in dulling depression’s effects, which helped me to concentrate on the task of recovery.
It was not until seventeen years after insomnia began to plague me that I discovered that I was suffering from complex partial epilepsy. This typically begins to become apparent in one’s late teens, and I believe this was the primary cause of the insomnia. (However, the way I reacted to it during the first few years made it much worse.)
I no longer take anti-depressant medication, only epilepsy anti-seizure meds. On most nights, I fall asleep easily, but several times a year I still have those sleepless nights. Instead of getting frustrated or angry, this is what I say to myself when it happens, “If I stay awake all night – that’s fine. I’ll make myself comfortable and snuggle up in the blankets. If I fall asleep eventually – great! If not, that’s fine too. Resting all night in bed is still beneficial.” I submit my mind to Christ, dwell in His peace and take refuge in His presence. I have learned to be content, whatever my circumstances, including those sleepless nights.
Philippians 4:12-13 ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’
Colossians 3:15 ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.’
Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.