When I grew up in Central Pennsylvania, I would regularly fall asleep in the evening to a cool breeze blowing through my bedroom window. The crisp mountain air would hit you and bring about a calmness. Oh, you might hear a few birds chirping throughout the night, certainly a whippoorwill or two courting a mate with its “whippoorwill” call or an occasional owl hooting to its family, but sure enough though, I would lay my head down on the pillow and be out in seconds.
In that setting, I learned how to dream big dreams about the places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do. While all wonderful things to learn. Unfortunately, I also learned that sleep can sometimes be a challenge.
I’d be sound asleep, only to be woken in the wee hours of the morning by the bleating and nagging of sheep coming through the open window. We lived in the country and our next door neighbor kept several sheep fenced in on his pasture. As my luck would have it, the sheep seemed to love to cause the most commotion right before the dark night gave away to a sliver of sunlight in the horizon.
To make matters worse, the farmer had placed collars with bells around each sheep’s neck to help locate them in the pasture. The bells weren’t overly loud, but they meant an added trumpet to the early morning crescendo.
I would dive under the covers and cover my ears. If it were the weekend, I’d pray for another hour of quiet sleep. If it was a school day, I’d curse the sheep for waking me up so early. I’d think about how I knew exactly where to go to get the wool for a toasty new jacket. I’d try to go back to sleep, I’d plead with the sheep to be quiet, but eventually I’d give it up, coming to the realization that sleep was not going to come my way.
In short, I was joining the land of the Walking Dead.
Walking the floors
I’ve been thinking about those sleepless mornings lately because I’ve been waking up lately in the middle of the night, except there’s no sheep this time, just the quiet night time.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night. I try my hardest to go back to sleep, but I can never quite get there. I wake up exhausted and feeling worse than I felt when I first went to bed.
My problem started innocently enough, I had one sleepless night here, another there, but now it’s become a regular thing. I wake up and it’s like I’ve just drunk six coffees and had case of Red Bulls and Five Hour Energy drinks. I wake up wide awake.
I toss and turn for a bit, furiously trying to go back to sleep.
When that doesn’t work, I walk to our kitchen and pace the floor or go to the bathroom and then back to bed again. I dive back under the covers, pulling them up and over my head. I lie there for a minute or two, but nothing really works.
When I come up empty, I try keep my mind calm. I say to myself “don’t pick-up your phone, don’t pick-up your phone.” I repeat it like a mantra because I know how enticing my phone can be. I look up from my bed to my bedside table and see the phone quietly sitting there. I look at it the way a meat lover looks at a steak grilling on the barbecue and, of course, I inevitably pick it up and turn to social media.
I figure what can it hurt. I tell myself that I’m just checking the latest news sites or twitter, but I’m off to the races. Thirty to forty minutes later, I finally try again to fall asleep. I have to get up for work in a few minutes, but it doesn’t matter, I still want a few precious moments of sleep. I toss and turn until falling into a trance-like state right before I need to wake. My reward is short. The quiet of the room is killed instantly with the screams and loud buzzing of my alarm clock.
I have to get up and I’m not happy about it.
A problem with no solution
The next day, my wife tries to figure out what’s going on with my sleep. She questions if I’m worried about the kids, work, or something else. I check them all off in my head. I worry about it all, but nothing seems to be the cause.
I’m struggling with sleep lately, but I have learned a thing or two.
–Silence is a beautiful thing. One of the nights when I couldn’t sleep, I sat quietly in our living room and listened to the calm of the morning. Oh sure, I dreaded how I would feel the next day, but I loved that everyone was safe in their rooms. With that knowledge in the back of my head, the lack of sleep didn’t feel quite so alarming.
–Counting sleep doesn’t work. Counting lamb chops? Um, how do I say this? Okay, I’m just going to say it . . . now that works.
–Sleep has become a big time business and all the experts point to a consistent sleep schedule, getting regular exercise, putting away computer equipment and phones well before bedtime, and getting exposure to natural light during the day. These are all excellent suggestions and certainly well intentioned, but I’m convinced that most doctors and most so-called sleep experts know nothing. They’re looking for answers just like the rest of us. Sleep is a challenge no matter who you are.
Of course, I find I definitely sleep better with no sheep next door to my house to wake me up!