Insomnia and Why You Have It
The Tragic Secret Behind Van Gogh's Insomnia
Writing about insomnia is more difficult because there really isn't a clear, one size fits all definition.
If you're a sufferer, it might seem fairly simple, but research shows that a lot of odd pieces get thrown into that collection.
When I decided to put together my thoughts about Insomnia and Why You Have It, I looked around to see what others had to say, fairly certain I wouldn't find anyone who'd already published my conclusions, but curious to know more about the consensus on insomnia anyway.
Not surprisingly, I found that the medical profession has cornered the market on definitions. Not surprising because in our restricted culture, anything far off the predetermined norm gets defined as a symptom and in need of the assistance of one professional or another, frequently medical doctors.
Insomnia and Why You Have It
Simply, let's define insomnia, for our purposes here, as an inability to sleep not attributable to other causes out of your control. Other causes may be things like environmental distractions, such as noise and bright light. They may be include pains or physical disturbances, such as sleep apnea.
These need to be addressed as issues separate from the simple inability to sleep.
What Is Sleep?
On odd thing I noticed was that definitions of sleep itself were barely touched on.
Yet, it seems impossible to talk intelligently about insomnia without it.
This comes, I think, from a cultural preoccupation with symptoms as our holistic sense of self deteriorates. We're inclined to see ourselves as made up of parts that connect, rather than interlock and define each other.
Another subject entirely, but to understand sleep and insomnia, it's important to discard the idea of symptoms and look at how our body and mind work as inseparable parts.
Sleep is more than a single thing. We oversimplify an experience that includes a wide range of conscious and unconscious experiences and physical processes that can't take place without it.
The border is muddy, but the best way to define the difference between sleep and wakefulness is by observing mental control and the lack of it. As we drift into sleep, we take our hands increasingly off the wheel and and put them back on as we wake up.
During this time of non-control, we have memorable experiences that, while often unrealistic, are true enough to the rules of waking life that we remember them intact. Those that are wildly unrealistic are lost for the lack of a frame in which to place them.
If you don't remember your dreams, they might just have been too vivid and fantastic to be retained.
The most fascinating kind of sleep is the deepest.
Religious, philosophical and medical thinkers have weighed in on what's going on when our conscious minds seem to disappear or nearly disappear in deep sleep.
Since sleep is physically restorative, chances are high that we go into a more profoundly peaceful state in which we connect more fully with our roots in infinity. Others may argue over what those roots are, but we know we're infinitely connected, even as we know our hold on it usually evades us in conscious life.
Deep sleep may be spiritually palliative.
Our sleeping self, I have concluded, by the way, is very likely to think its waking counterpart to be the less dominant side, sent out in search of experiences to process before bringing them back to the workshop of sleep.
We do seem to need that independent processing time, however it happens. Without regular sleep, studies show, we fail to learn as well, and this may be the key to it all.
Insomnia and Why You Have It
Keeping to the ongoing theme of simplicity, let's take a step out on the edge and acknowledge that, just maybe, you are not sleeping because your larger self doesn't want to.
This never seems to occur to anyone.
Is it possible that we're jolting ourselves with remedies, from addictive pills to hot baths, to treat a perfectly healthy condition?
It surprises me that the human animal, attuned as we are to prompts for hunger, pain aversion and alertness, becomes so out of harmony when sleep is involved.
Can it be a chronically unresolved conflict with our willingness or unwillingness to relinquish control? Or might it be that sometimes our lives lack real, involving experiences that our sleeping self, believing it's in charge, wants us to deliver?
Maybe we don't fall asleep because we haven't brought enough baggage for the night's ride.
Lifestyle and Insomnia
Two causes dominate the experience of insomnia, keeping in mind now that our definition includes only situations within our control. If you're awakened by apnea or disturbances like noise or cold, those are another subject. We're talking pure insomnia.
First, maybe you can't or aren't prepared to let go of your control. Something has your attention. A fight with your partner, difficulties at work, and concerns about finances are all good candidates for keeping you cling to control.
The good news is that these are all circumstances you can do something about, and your greater self is expressing a desire for action. Easily enough, you can make peace with your partner, map out a plan for your work or financial challenges.
Once you stop fighting wakefulness and take action, sleep will come to you naturally as it should.
But do try getting away form the resistance. If you're awake with issues, stay awake and deal with them. Don't let artificial rules about how much sleep you need trump nature's own guidance. It doesn't work that way.
The other cause is more difficult and probably more prevalent. You may have to confront yourself about whether the content of your daily experience is enough to reward you with restful slumber.
Recently, we had guests in the city for a few days for a special event. Apart from the event, we explored the city on foot, went to museums and sat for conversations on park benches. My friend kept declaring that, after all the activity, he'd now "get a good sleep tonight."
Why shouldn't your life be like that all the time? The opportunities are there.
American culture has increasingly become virtual and vicarious.
We sit in front of televisions four and a half hours a day and have our emotions jostled by scenes from imaginary lives. We watch news shows that are geared to provoke more than inform. Our work is often considered less than vital, and our family lives are splintered and unfulfilling. Not for all, of course.
But if insomnia is your problem, the way you're living your life while awake might be the most enlightening thing to look at.
Again, here is something you can fix.
Get out of that chair and do something real. Start having family dinners where conversations take place, even if the skills need some sharpening. They will come.
Read a book. Ride a bike. Make new friends. And most importantly, turn off that television. It's the anti-sleeping pill.
Oh, and happy dreams!
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