Insomnia: Mostly I’m Not Afraid to Go to Bed

Mostly, I am not afraid of going to bed anymore. But there are nights, after a cup of chamomile tea, some yoga, and a bit of journaling, when I think, “Maybe tonight I won’t be able to sleep,” even though the Sand Man is laying it on thick and it’s so quiet I hear the clock ticking. So I crawl into my husband’s arms and he prays that I will learn to sleep again. We just lay there, silent, and then I flick on the fan for white noise and get into my bed.

Because I can’t share a bed right now. When my husband twitches as he falls asleep, I startle, the dropping veil of melatonin jerked back. So we dragged in a twin mattress and squeezed it between my dresser and the big bed. Some nights, he hangs his arm over the side and I reach up and we hold each other’s fingers for a few seconds. Before I walk into the night alone.

I lie there and coach myself to sleep.

Relax your jaw and forehead. Count your breaths and see if you can make it to 100 tonight. One … two … three … fourteen … twenty-three. A kids’ song grinds through my head in the rut that used to fill with Arabic. Drat. One … two … three. Thank you for the orange zinnia I picked today. Thank you that I made dinner tonight and cleaned the bathroom. I will lie down and sleep…for you alone make me dwell in safety.

The metal closet doors ting, adjusting to cooler temperatures. Somewhere—next door, downstairs, across the street?—someone drops something. Thud. Adrenaline. Breathe. You are safe. You are brave. I settle a warm rice sock on my chest. Its name is Gildan, after the sock brand. We can’t have pets in our apartment, but we do have Gildan, my ever-present anxiety calmer.

A baby cries—a toddler, my boy? My eyes snap open. No, no, it was just the whir of the fan mingled with…something. My faulty ears again, tuned to phantom sounds. My tense body, responsive to unreality.

Breathe in: God is our refuge and strength. Breathe out: an ever-present help in trouble. In: Therefore we will not fear. Out: though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. I meditate, murmur silently, exchange words for words. Though my health falls into the heart of the sea. Though my dreams fall…though my plans fall…though I fall…

Poof! My eyes fill with the cloudy white burst of a camera firing. I sit up, press my hand on my racing heart. How long have I been sleeping? I crawl out to the living room and check my phone.

23:02.

Two hours. I can never get beyond two hours. I lower myself onto the couch. I don’t cry; this is too normal. Breathe. You are okay. You can do this. Though he slay me, yet will I praise him. I will not die but live.

Back in bed, I reach up to the dresser. My ring clinks on the tiny coffee cup as my fingers search out the orange pill. I used to serve coffee in that cup. There were so many tiny, sweet coffees on trays, dishes of caramels or chocolates beside them. I used to live somewhere else. I used to speak another language. I used to, I used to…

I swallow the pill and sit for a minute so it goes down. Now I will sleep for four or five hours. I used to feel the icy blue of the medicine spreading to my extremities, to get panicky as I lost control. Now, mercifully, I just fall asleep.

4:00 a.m. Why is it I always wake at 4:00 a.m.? Is it the seventeen months of 4:00 a.m.’s when their god would shout at me to get up and pray? (Prayer is better than sleep, you know, but is it possible to pray if we cannot sleep?)

I try to go to a peaceful place in my mind. That’s what my counselor told me to do, but the trouble is, I have a hard time finding those places. The last year and a half hold none. In the four years before, I can find the park where I walked almost every day. I can take a walk now, under the maple trees. Make sure you don’t get ambushed, someone chides. No, self. There are no men in that park. There is no one to assault, violate you again.

My mind returns to Psalms, the only safe shore to wash up on. My soul waits for you, O LORD, more than watchman wait for morning, more than watchmen wait for morning. Preserve me, O LORD, according to your love.

“Mama!” I hear. A few minutes later, running feet, and the boy joins me in bed. I cover him with my blanket and hope he will rest a while longer. Then I wake up and he is not there. He never was there; I was dreaming, hallucinating it all. The bedroom door is still mostly closed, a crack of predawn gray coming through.

It is almost morning.

Psalm 42:8 talks about the LORD’s song with us at night. How have you experienced his presence or clung to it in the literal darkness of night?

How have you persevered through the fear and loneliness of insomnia or broken sleep?

14 Comments

  1. Jenilee January 23, 2017

    what a powerful story and you wrote it so beautifully. Thank you for sharing your story and your process with God in the night. Isn’t it amazing that He is with us in the night? I could see Him with you. Through it all. Nights have been very hard for me since coming to West Africa. A continual battle for peace, learning to trust and rest in Him. Believing that He is with me there in the darkness of night. Prayers for sleep for you!

    1. esther January 23, 2017

      Jenilee, he has been with me, that’s for sure. This insomnia has been a huge trial, but all along I have felt him there and have grown in ways I didn’t expect. I’m so grateful for the chance to share here and know that I’m not alone in this struggle! Lifting up your rest now. Jesus, be so present with your daughter and keep her clinging to you, hiding in your everlasting arms through the night.

  2. Ruth January 23, 2017

    Wow. Yes, powerful and beautiful and honest. Thank you. I don’t think I ever realized before coming overseas that sleep could really be a battleground.

    1. esther January 23, 2017

      Ruth, I didn’t realize it either. I was such a great sleeper before moving, even when I had a newborn. So it has been a weird journey of figuring out what to do with those awake hours…especially after trauma got involved. I am grateful that Jesus is healing me exceedingly, abundantly. This week I have gone six nights without my sleeping pills…and I’m sleeping well! Jesus, please lift up my sister, wherever she is serving you, and hide her in your refuge each night.

  3. Corrine January 23, 2017

    Achingly beautiful; I had to re-read it as much for your writing/voice as for its content. . . We often pray Psalm 4:8 before bed (or when awakened in the middle of the night), but I am encouraged by the other scriptures you reference and your modeling of “breathing prayers”, which I’m trying to implement more throughout my day (and nights).

    1. esther January 23, 2017

      Thank you for your kind words, Corrine. I like Psalm 4:8 as well. I don’t know if I ever thought I’d say this, but now that I am falling asleep faster, I kind of miss those meditation times and being forced to focus on scripture. May His Word dwell in you richly in your days and nights!

  4. Hadassah January 23, 2017

    I struggled with not being able to sleep a lot in high school and college. School was extremely stressful for me, because of my perfectionistic tendencies. When I lived at home, my mother was always very patient with me. She’d pray with me if I went to her and woke her up, and sometimes lie down with me until I relaxed enough to sleep. My sister, who shared a room with me, was less patient, and likes to tell stories of how she would squeeze my hand to get me to sleep. I tried countless things, much like you…counting, repeating psalms, praying, begging God, etc. But the battle was always with the voices in my head. Worries. After reading “Beautiful Battle”, I definitely see it as a very real example of spiritual warfare in my life. I not only had to learn to give those worries to the Lord and put them into perspective (looking at eternity), but also to silence the voices in my head. To talk back at them and tell them, “Not now. Go away!” There are times, like you, that I too am woken up by the early morning prayers, and if I’m not careful, my mind takes over and my sleep goes with it. At times like those, and before I go to bed at night, I will think of you and others like us, who have struggled with sleep. May the Lord give you His rest always. Looking forward to eternity:)

    1. esther January 23, 2017

      Thank you for sharing your story, Hadassah. Yes, it sure takes discipline of mind to stop the voices and worries and lies. I have been doing a study called Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George, which focuses on Phil 4:8 and Matt. 6:34 as guidelines for our thinking. Keeping my thoughts within those boundaries has definitely helped me in the realm of sleep. Jesus, bless Hadassah with the rest and sleep she needs as she serves in a dark place, so that she will powerfully bring your light to the people around her!

  5. Monica F January 24, 2017

    Esther, my heart was so heavy reading this post, because I know that insomnia well. My husband developed a disorder called PLMD- periodic limb movement disorder- a few years ago, which means he twitches constantly throughout the night unless he takes medicine. He also uses a CPAP which is great because he doesn’t snore anymore, but now he twitches!! There have been seasons of separate beds, waking babies, and just plain old ‘can’t sleep at all’. I’ve also had colleagues and friends overseas who have suffered from severe insomnia. I have worn ear plugs for the last 22 years, starting in college, to help with noise (room mates, snoring husband, firecrackers in the ally, and honking horns, etc)….even though they drain out the noise, it doesn’t mean I’ll sleep. I’ve learned to pray, to breathe deeply, even get up and walk around and then lay back down. I’m sleeping better now, but still have those nights where my mind is racing and nothing seems to help. Thank you for sharing such a real description of insomnia- praying for rest for us all!

    1. esther January 24, 2017

      Monica, it’s so helpful to read about your experience. I’m going to mention this PLMD to my husband. He has figured it’s restless leg syndrome for years, but there’s not much he can do about it. He’s seeing the doctor tomorrow, so maybe he can ask about PLMD. We also wear earplugs, but, yes, they don’t get rid of everything. LORD, you are King, even over our sleep. You have plans for us on those nights we can’t sleep and the days afterward when we’re tired. Please strengthen Monica and her husband and continue to give them faith in this trial.

  6. Katie January 24, 2017

    thanks for your honesty sharing this. I had extreme insomnia earlier this year and in the darkest times I felt desperately crazy and so full of fear that it would never pass. It has been a very hard journey for me, living in a country without counsellors and doctors who specialise in sleep. I fought vicious battles with God, have had to get over my independent streak and learn what it really means to rely on local friends here and look after myself more. i’m single and so it was comforting to know others who are married have felt loneliness at night too.. i have found the loneliness at night scary and it has been challenging to believe God has been with me. But the psalms have been a great comfort. After 3 months of almost continuously not sleeping for more than 1-2hours a night and many times not at all I got signed off on sick leave and spent some time out with close friends living in another country where I didnt know anyone else or have anything to do. I had a couple of counselling sessions. I have started finding the routes of some of my anxiety. I’m gradually learning boundaries and practical things that help and learning to sleep naturally again without medicine. Sometimes though nighttime can still be a scary experience. Thanks again for your honesty!

  7. esther January 25, 2017

    Oh, Katie, what a dark road you have had to walk! I’m so sorry for your struggle with insomnia–I understand. Mine started out with two months of not falling asleep until 4 or 5 a.m., then sleeping for a few hours. I listened to a lot of music in the dark, especially Psalms by Sandra McCracken. I am glad to hear that you’ve been able to see a counselor and learn more about self-care. Lord, please take away from Katie the terror of night and bless her with peaceful, restful sleep so she may serve you with joy and a sound mind.

  8. sally January 27, 2017

    Thank you for this beautiful article – as another sister said, achingly beautiful. I too suffer sleepless nights – not as dramatic as yours, Esther, but they are still worrying sometimes. I even take cough mixture for the cough and sleep i don’t have, in case that helps. And yes, meditating on the psalms during day time seems to help a lot. And white noise.
    Thank you again for the medical reference, and the raw reality of this state. I am definitely not alone. Thank you, Esther. I pray you will have a breakthrough one day, that you may sleep like a baby…Please take care.

    1. esther January 27, 2017

      Thank you, Sally! am happy to report that I am doing much better since I wrote this two months ago. I have even had nine nights without my sleeping pills in the last 10! I’m rejoicing in Jesus’ kindness to me. May he bless you with healing in this area and perseverance as you wait.

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