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May 7, 2014

How to Love an Insomniac. ~ Kathryn Muyskens

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I am a lucky person. I generally have no trouble falling asleep. When 11:30 rolls around every night, I am out for the count.

But some of the closest people to me aren’t blessed with the same ability. Both my father and my boyfriend have significant sleep issues. Both have struggled with insomnia for most of their lives, starting from childhood.

Insomnia is horrible and takes a toll on both the body and the mind. As someone who cares deeply about the insomniacs in my life, when I read articles about what one night without sleep can do to a person, or what chronic insomnia can lead to, it scares me. I want my loved ones to be as healthy and happy as possible. I want a magic sleeping wand to wave over them. But I just can’t seem to find one.

I have researched a lot of things trying to find tips and tricks, recipes and cures to help my insomniacs. Some have helped but some have not, and often a particular technique will work for a time, but it’s almost as if the insomnia itself is a sentient being. It realizes it’s being foiled and figures out how to overcome whatever sleep-inducing technique that has been applied.

But this is not an article about how to cure insomnia; this is an article for people like me.

There’s only so much I can do to help my beloved insomniacs, since I am on the outside looking in. But, I have learned a few things recently, and I’d like to share them.

1. Don’t worry.

I can worry all I want about how insomnia might be effecting my loved one’s health, but worry doesn’t really help. In fact, it might give me insomnia, and that wouldn’t help anyone. That said, I think it’s especially important not to lay my worries on the insomniac. I know they already wish they could sleep. If I lay my worries for their health on top of that, it just adds to the pressure and feeling pressured doesn’t help with relaxation or sleep. We don’t need to keep our concerns bottled up, or dismiss them entirely, but we need to take a deep breath, relax, let go. If you believe in a higher power, let that higher power do the worrying. Otherwise, just let go. Sleep isn’t something we control or command. It’s something to which we must surrender in order to receive.

2. Change any sleep defeating habits.

This is something the insomniacs have probably already heard. Stay away from screens at night. Exercise in the morning. Eat tryptophan foods, etc., etc. But this one goes for people like me too. I don’t have sleep problems myself, but I can help my loved ones who do if I adopt these habits too. If they need some chamomile tea at night to help them sleep, I’ll have some too. If they need to minimize screen time before bed, I won’t beg them to watch scary movies or The Walking Dead until the wee hours of the night. Solidarity, my friends.

3. Timing is everything.

The evening is often the time when we reconnect with loved ones. After working all day, evening is the time we get to talk. But not everything in the process of reconnecting is relaxing. Some things can actually be upsetting or worrying. Sometimes we need to talk about a relationship conflict, or concerns for the future, or even exciting future plans. These are discussions that sometimes need to be had, but they can add fuel to the insomniac fire. I’ve learned there is a time for everything, and the time for those discussions is nowhere near bedtime. We can find other times to talk about those things, even if that means we have to schedule it in.

Sometimes I’m dying to talk about these upsetting/anxious/exciting things at night, but if I get my insomniacs’ mental gears whirring and they can’t sleep that night, I feel cruel. I can be patient, I can wait. I can write it down to get it out of my own brain and remind myself to bring it up when the time is right.

I’m not able to cure anyone’s insomnia, but if I can do these things at least I am not adding to the problem.

If you love an insomniac too, maybe you’ve already learned these things. For myself, I think I’m still learning how to love and support the insomniacs in my life.

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Apprentice Editor: Kathryn Muyskens / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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