What better time to write about insomnia than before 4am, after having been up tossing and turning for an hour and a half already?
Some people’s insomnia hits them as they go to bed, leaving them tired but unable to fall asleep. I fall asleep fine. My insomnia wakes me up four or five hours later. I wake up, my mind’s a little fuzzy, but ready to start the day. Only problem is, it’s the middle of the night.
So, I lay there. Roll this way. Roll that way. Covers off. Covers on. Don’t look at the clock, don’t look at the clock…oh, it’s only 2:23? I didn’t even make it ’til 3 or 4. Roll back the other way and pull the covers over again. Maybe this time. Wait. Nope. Then I’m reminded of that perfect description of insomnia at the beginning of this piece by Gilbert & Sullivan:
Sometimes I’m up because of a particular problem on my mind. While I would prefer to be sleeping, the middle of the night is a good time to think and pray about whatever’s on my mind without distractions.
Other times, like tonight, I’m up just because. I have no idea why. Even during the day, my mind never shuts off. I’m always thinking, usually about several things at once. It’s just what I do. So if I wake up in the night because it’s too hot or too cold or whatever, I’m probably going to have a hard time getting back to sleep for at least an hour.
I have a rule about my insomnia: I’m not allowed to get out of bed until I’ve been lying awake for one hour. That means I’ve given sleep my best shot, but wave the white flag of surrender. That’s when I get up, go out to kitchen, make coffee, and sit either on the couch in my living room or in my study.
So what do I do when I’m awake? I try not to do anything before Bible reading, no writing, no social media (when I had it)… Tonight, since I already spent time in prayer while in bed, I decided fire up the laptop and write. After an hour or two, my mind relaxes. It’s like a dog that nags you for a walk and then finally settles down once he’s had it. After that I’ll get about another hour’s sleep before it’s time to get up for work. That seems to help, so I’m not plowing straight through the day from 2:30-3am onward.
“So whether you sleep or don’t sleep, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Cor 10:31, NIV (New Insomnia Version)
Know who else deal with insomnia? My wife told me recently that one of her heroes of the faith, Elizabeth Prentiss, author of the hymn, “More Love to Thee, O Christ” and the Christian novel Stepping Heavenward (1869), dealt with it all her life. And prior to his salvation, Martin Luther so tortured himself over the sins he forgot to confess in the confessional that once he fasted and mistreated his body so badly he suffered insomnia for five weeks. Famous pastor-evangelist and Moody Bible College President, R.A. Torrey also suffered from it; in fact, I’ll post a quote from him next time about how he dealt with his insomnia.
One story I found was about an esteemed academic, an editor of an academic journal, Bibliotheca Sacra, for 50 years, back in the 1800s, named Dr. Edwards A. Park. He talked about his insomnia when asked about his favorite hymn:
Professor Park replied, “My favorite hymn is one which I repeat to myself often in the watches of the night. I have been much troubled with insomnia and frequently occupy myself by repeating hymns as I am forced to lie awake. I find that I forget now and then a word and sometimes a whole line in other favorite hymns. But there is one hymn of which I never forget a syllable. Its first line is, “When I survey the wondrous cross.”(source)
What about you? Do you regularly deal with insomnia? I’m not a fan of Big Pharma, so pills are not an option for me. Besides meds, how do you deal with your insomnia? Do you sing in your heart? Pray? Get up and work puzzles? How do you occupy the time? Comment below!