If you never have trouble going to sleep, this post is not for you. This post is for friends and strangers who have trouble letting go of consciousness – who find sleep elusive – or who wake up in the middle of the night in the clutches of anxiety, wide-eyed – or face morning in a weary state, due to insomnia. The treatment I propose cure costs nothing to try, and I will exact no future royalties, if you need help losing yourself in sleep, for whatever reason, what have you got to lose?
First, a little background: Warm milk? Maybe, if it works for you, but the most obvious way for me, a reader, to get to sleep is to read myself into oblivion, and it usually works. That is, it works unless the story is too exciting, and I have been known, on occasion, to stay up all night over a book rather than fall asleep. That’s a potential problem. Another is the necessity, brief though it is, of rousing myself from the desired drowsy state to turn out my reading light.
We sleep with our eyes closed. Open eyes, then, are not the intuitive way to court sleep.
My ideal is to have my sweetheart read me to sleep or tell me a story until I drift off. Snuggling is a nice bonus to this method. “Tell me about when you were a little boy in Detroit” is my first ploy, but I usually have to prime the pump by asking more specific questions about that Detroit neighborhood and its characters.
But maybe you’re alone. Or maybe your bed partner isn’t in the mood to tell you a story or read to you or is already asleep. Sometimes self-care is not just an option but a necessity.
And here’s where my free, bookish sleeplessness cure comes to the rescue. If any of my blog readers are not book readers, however, fear not. I have a non-reading variation for you.
But first, for the readers --
Reading With Eyes Closed
Get as comfortable as you possibly can. Close your eyes, snuggle down in the dark, well under the covers, and tell yourself a story from a book you’ve read, either one you’ve been reading recently or a familiar book re-read many times. You know the story: someone else wrote it, and you read it, so start on the first page and picture the opening sentences. Picture the scene as well. What is the setting? Who was there? What happened? See it all, in as much detail as possible, and recall, in paraphrase, the sentences from the story’s first pages.
If the story you choose is a book you’ve read over and over, you may see the book’s pages vividly in your mind, and that can work for you. In which paragraph, for instance, on which side of the book, does his father tell Marcel of the plan to travel to Italy in the spring? What are the boy’s associations with the various Italian towns? Picture the pages, and recreate the movement of their lines, as well as the movement of the story, in your mind.
If instead you choose a book you’ve been reading for the first time, you’ll be strengthening your memory of the story as you rehearse your initial reading, retelling the story to yourself in the dark. Maybe you’ve only read a few chapters of the book so far, but that’s no problem. Start with the first action scene. The horses are toiling up the hill, the passengers trudging along beside the carriage in the dark. Who are the characters in the scene? What happens?
The first important feature of this way of inducing sleep is that the destination (sleep) is not the end (of the story). You don’t want to reach the end. You want to fall asleep long before the end. So include as much detail as you can recall, and if you realize you’ve skipped over something, go back and pick up the story with the skipped passage, retracing your mental steps. Should you reach the end (I never do), simply begin again at the beginning or start with a different story.
The second important feature is to stay with the story. As with meditation, if your mind strays onto the morrow’s to-do list, bring it back to the story. Begin again. (No scolding yourself.) The object is to lull yourself to sleep. The story is your lullaby....
Walking With Eyes Closed
My suggested alternative for non-readers – or those who want a change from reading -- is to take a walk or a drive. Either one, but take it in your mind, with your eyes closed, in the dark, under the covers. Choose a walk or a drive that is familiar, interesting, beautiful if possible but definitely peaceful.
Walking to school, long ago, might be a pleasant memory exercise, but if your walk to grade school was made fearsome by bullies, don’t take that walk! My drive to work is heavenly, but if yours is a stressful commute, don’t take that drive! What you want to do is slow down your mind, take yourself somewhere peaceful, and take in the sights along the way as if you have all the time in the world.
I like to recall my walk to grade school, leaving my backyard and cutting across a vacant lot to the narrow, shady, secret path between garages where an alley would have been, if our neighborhood had had alleys. I peer into the neighbors’ gardens, greet their cats, watch for birds....
Time is not of the essence. You are in no hurry. Picture as much detail as you can recall and see the trees and houses along the way, the dips and curves in the road. Is there a dog that always barks at a certain point? A place where roses bloom? Busy intersections to cross? Familiar faces and billboards along the way? See it all, beginning with walking out the door.
When I set out to picture my drive from home to Northport, I seldom get beyond the end of the driveway (sometimes not that far) and never more than a mile down the road. There is too much to see along the way, and it is so pleasant to dawdle at a leisurely pace, looking all around at everything along the way. Other times, when I set out to drive from the ghost town cabin in Dos Cabezas to the town of Willcox fourteen miles away, I seldom reach the playa, let alone Willcox. The sun feels so good, and the mountains and clouds are so beautiful....
Sweet Spot Words for Today
Lull: to soothe or quiet
Dawdle: to do something very slowly, as if you do not want to finish it