“How’d you sleep?” was a common morning greeting in our family. My father’s regular reply – “It was good, what there was of it.” Now, in recent years, sleep cycle researchers have taught us a lot about the importance of those hours we spend in bed. Sleep is a required activity, necessary for survival and for healthy functioning in the other two thirds of our lives.
Most of the time we take for granted the ability to go to sleep easily and to sleep uninterruptedly through the night. But once an illness or injury interferes with our getting comfortable enough to go to sleep, we long for that simpler time. When faced with a crisis in my own life or that of a loved one, my worry button gets ignited, leaving me lying in bed for hours awaiting a visit from the sandman.
So what to do to deal with that time when sleep won’t come? My husband goes downstairs to his computer to finish a project or to the television to distract him, and hopefully one or both of these activities leaves him feeling sleepy enough to go back to bed. His mother would visit a special recliner in the middle of the night and fall asleep there more easily than in her own bed. One of my sisters, after many surgeries and health challenges, gave up entirely on sleeping in a bed. She starts and finishes the night in her favorite recliner.
For me, I try to stay the course and see if I can make good use of the quiet down time. I read somewhere that prayer is talking to God or your Higher Power and meditation is listening to the answers. As to the talking part, I try to switch my focus from worrying to what I want to have happen in the world. And, since I know the answer to some prayers is “no,” I include a request for strength to accept whatever happens.
For the mediation part, I use a method that focuses on my breath, which I know to be relaxing, whether or not it brings sleep. I learned this method from Ian Jackson, a yoga teacher and trainer for the U. S. Olympic Bicycling Team. It begins by creating an active exhale, (which is wired to the relaxation response), followed by a passive inhale, (which is wired to the arousal response). After falling asleep, I sometimes awake with what seems an answer to my concerns.
During the years when my daughter Corinne was dealing with breast cancer and the effects of her treatments working or not working, she came up with a unique strategy for dealing with sleeplessness. Concerned that her illness was making her too self-centered, she asked friends who were praying for her to send their pictures, and let her know their prayers for themselves. Then she constructed a prayer wall by her bed so that her middle of the night prayers could be for them.