Making Friends with the Gods of Sleep
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | October 16, 2021
I had a lot of trouble sleeping as a kid.
Although mom assured me that there were no vampires in my closet and that she was close by if I needed her, I still couldn’t drift off easily. I’d stare at the small, square patch of light on my bedroom door reflected from the nightlight in the bathroom. It made me feel safer. At least I could see a bit. Sometimes I’d stare out the window at the stars and think about how big everything was.
(Photo credit: Unsplash)
On the nights it was really bad I’d start to cry and call for my mother and tell her I was sad because I couldn’t fall asleep. She would stroke my hair and say, “It’s okay honey, you’re resting, and that’s good.” Sometimes she’d bring me a little glass of milk.
Eventually I got over my fear of vampires and by the time I went to college I was sleeping better, but it was still a struggle. I often had dreams about missing paper deadlines or midterm exams. My last year, when I was in grad school, my friend Maria would take me to yoga class. After I started doing yoga regularly I noticed that my sleep got a little better.
However, when I had my son at 38, I discovered that there was a whole new realm of sleeplessness with which I was only beginning to get acquainted.
I had tried co-sleeping, but found I couldn’t get back to sleep between feedings. What worked best for me back then was sleeping in a rocker recliner next to his crib in his room.
Those were the days.
I was exhausted. But I also realized something important – if I was going to survive motherhood, I was going to have to learn to make friends with my insomnia. I had a beautiful baby, a loving, attentive partner, and a wonderful yoga practice. Daytimes weren’t so bad. Nights were brutal.
So I decided that when I couldn’t fall back to sleep, I was going to relax and enjoy the quiet and stillness of the night. I might not be able to sleep, but I still had choices.
I’d allow my mind to wander around enjoying memories, or problem solving. I’d let it make decisions and clarify plans. And, as mom had told me when I was a child, I could also just rest.
(Photo credit: Wikimedia: Vishnu dreaming, Anantasayana)
That attitude shift helped. If I couldn’t control the gods of sleep, at least I could become friends with them.
After all these years and all this yoga, I still struggle with insomnia – and menopause has proven to be a formidable foe in the sleep arena.
Now when I can’t sleep, I chant mantras or sing quiet, soothing songs in my head. I use the nighttime stillness to notice the soothing sensations of my breath. Or I walk my mind slowly through my body and coax the muscles and nerves to let go more deeply.
(Photo credit: Unsplash)
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to insomnia – but there are lots of options.
Here are some things that help me: Chinese herbs from my acupuncturist, CBD oil, using table lights instead of overhead lights at night, staying off screens late in the evening, not eating dinner late, getting to bed at about the same time every night, meditating before bed, getting sunlight in my eyes early in the morning, practicing relaxing pranāyāmā and legs up the wall in the evening, taking warm baths before bed. Bedtime snuggles from my partner help too.
Weirdly, insomnia is like a radically honest friend that helps me to become more aware of myself – particularly my pitta-provoked tendencies to overthink, overdo, overwork.
It’s a huge red flag that tells me to slow down, do less, prioritize more, get organized, and shore up boundaries. It compels me to stay on top of the lifelong task of taking better care of myself.