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Calm • Anxiety

How to Sleep Better

Sometimes we have simply had too much coffee, or the bedroom is too hot…but most often, insomnia is psychological. It is the mind’s revenge for all the efforts we have, largely unbeknownst to us, been making not to have certain thoughts in the day. We are being woken up by a need to think about something that we have assiduously been ignoring, probably thanks to our work, or our social and family commitments. Having attempted to get our attention by more normal means in the clamour of the day, our deep minds are now trying to get us to have an appointment with certain insights in the quieter hours of night. 

Our 3am awakenings are signs that we have repeatedly not been doing the sort of self-reflection we need to do in order to be at peace. We are not being lazy; we are not shunning our responsibilities out of wilfulness. We are simply escaping, for very understandable reasons, from what are liable to be a range of difficult thoughts, perhaps about work, a relationship, or our childhoods. 

If we are to regain sleep, we should begin to visit — with greater tenderness and imagination than we allow ourselves in the day — some of the bolted and locked rooms of our mind. In a spirit of gentle curiosity, protected by our duvet, under the care of darkness, we might dare to raise certain sorts of enquiry:

— What am I truly, truly sad about at the moment?

— Who has hurt me?

What needs to change?

— What is the real grief beneath the surface anxiety?

— What is my gut telling me I need to know now? 

— And what should I do next?

These are uncomfortable questions no doubt, but we can use the night to help us to face them. Everyone else is asleep. It matters a little less now that we think in conventional ways. We can be odd, fanciful, imaginative and kind. We can go a little mad between 3 and 4am and no one will ever need to know. We can write things down in a notebook and destroy the pages in the morning. What counts is that we give ourselves the chance to understand our shy and pained psyches a little better. They have been crying out for our attention and we have — till now — run away from our duty of care.

Our minds’ ultimate responsibility is to our growth and self-understanding. They want us to sleep of course, they understand as well as any expert that rest is important, but they have as a priority something even more important than energetic limbs: psychological insight. They need us to have felt what needs to be felt, to have been angry where we are in a rage, to be sad where we are grief stricken. They are irrepressibly driven to try align our surfaces with our depths. They are trying to send us to the School of Night, not to be unkind, but so that we can catch up on some very key lessons about who we really are that we have until now been too distracted or squeamish to attend.

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