12:43am on a Wednesday night.
I’m snuggled up top-to-toe with Grace in a single bed (she needed some Dad cuddles tonight) at my sister in laws on a typical freezing winter’s night in Melbourne. Although her cute little semi-snore is barely above a whisper, as it mingles with the occasional snort from Albi on the mattress next to us as he does his usual sleep acrobatics, by now it is starting to resemble the aural version of Chinese water torture and I have serious thoughts of “accidentally” jamming a knee into her back to disrupt the pattern. I toss and turn every few minutes trying to convince myself I’m comfortable and sleepy, but the limited space leaves little room for my preferred deformed-seagull sleep configuration.
But that’s not the problem. It’s that bloody grey matter inside my head. Stupid, inconsiderate brain.
Three hours ago I was literally unable to keep my eyes open as I tried in vain to watch some TV that for the first time today had a rating over G. Yet as soon as my head hits the pillow, my mind seems to make an automatic subconcious decision to turn the lights on, look around for anything that I may have neglected to think about during the day (or anytime for that matter) , and instantly begin to over analyse, ruminate, extrapolate, dissect, ideate, fantasise and generally pore over.
As if this is not enough, my mind seems to have the uncanny ability to do this with several thought streams simultaneously. And most irritating of all is the revisiting of thoughts I assumed processed, like an over zealous teacher double checking to make sure the work is complete.
It’s like a mad monkey in my head.
Now I’ve tried everything to subdue this mental monkey. Drugs, distraction, even mid-night exercise. All except one, to no avail.
The only thing that has worked, and not every time mind you, is meditation.
Now before you conjure up images of me sitting in the lotus position in my Peter Alexander boxers while insence burns on the nightstand and the gentle rhythm of a warbling sitar complete the scene, (a sight no one should be subjected to) let me be clear on my late night meditation practice; I simply strive (hence why it doesn’t always work) to focus entirely on one thing. That’s all.
Singular focus. On anything.
Sometimes I manage to think only of the rise and fall of my belly as I breathe. Sometimes I repeat the words “no thoughts” over and over in my mind. Most effective usually however, is what I’ve discovered to be called a “body scan”. I didn’t realise it until recently, but I’ve actually been doing this since my teenage years to help bring on sleep. You know, when you had such stressful sleep depriving issues as school and sex. (I bloody wish!)
It’s pretty simple really. (gee, haven’t heard that before!) I start with my toes and work up to my head. With every breath out, whatever part of my body I am focusing on, I relax to the point of not being able to feel it (this also works great for chronic / persistent pain). Sometimes I can do my entire body in a matter of breaths. More commonly it takes me 10 – 15 minutes before I feel like I’m floating above the mattress like I’ve just had a little too much “herbal” tea. The good thing about this technique is that you aren’t even really aware that you are quieting the mind. Constantly changing focus on areas of your body to relax seems to make it easier than trying to fix your mind on just the rise and fall of your belly (which inevitably leads you to focus on that particular area and if you’re like me, shortly thereafter, about how many crunches you are going to smash out – tomorrow). Try to hold this intense feeling of relaxation for as long as you can and then roll over to your side. It seriously feels like your body is made of a lead like jelly substance. Sort of like finally climbing into bed after a 28hr bender. Soooo good!
So fast forward the time it has taken me to write this article and it’s now 1:27am. And I’m still awake, obviously. Maybe I should have been practising what I preach rather than staring at a screen… Idiot.
So it’s not an exact science but I thought I’d share how I tackle my day to day insomnia. It doesn’t work every time but the vast majority of times, at the very least, it aides in the process. I can attest that typing an article on not being able to slept does not.
As a single dad you don’t have the luxury of leaving things to someone else, unfortunate the buck stops with you. And this means ALL the worries become yours too. Finances, nutrition, health, emotions, friendships, chores, love, life, all the usual suspects.. the list is virtually endless and as you all may well know, unable to be dealt with in just daylight hours alone.
So as much as you may be able to check off that physical list during your day, there is inevitably a whole heap of shit that is waiting patiently in the wings for you to assume that sleep will come easy at night.
Maybe next time you’re desperately contemplating taking 37 Zanex at 4.30am, fully aware you have to get up at 6.30am, just to get even a wink of sleep, you may want to have a crack at this meditation technique.
I guarantee you, there are far worse things to try and far more positives to gain.
If nothing else, it feels amazing to not think about anything for a few minutes. And we all know that’s a modern day holy grail right there..
Peace, love, and sleeeeeeppppp y’all ✌