Waiting for sleep to find me
I can fall asleep nearly anywhere, if I must. I've let myself catch a wink in an airport, on the plane, in class, at my desk, and in a noisy room. I have found that there are a few simple rules for falling asleep that work for me. They may not work for everyone because people associate sleep with different environments. But the key is what you associate with sleep.
There is a book called, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problem, by Richard Ferber. He talks about how babies associate sleep with their environment. If you co-sleep with your child, he associates sleep with having you to snuggle with. If you lay with your child until he goes to sleep, he will wake briefly in the night only to see that you're not there, and he will cry because he can't restore his surroundings to the way they were when he fell asleep. For kids, this is a problem, but for adults, not so much, because adults can restore their surroundings.
So I've learned to associate my sleep with a consistent environment. My bedroom doesn't change much over the years since I started living in houses instead of apartments. The problem I find with apartment living is just that they can change more often than a house. So I have found that more effort is required to maintain a consistent sleep environment in an apartment than in a house.
I have learned that if I just lay still, close my eyes and breathe, then sleep tends to find me in a few minutes. Of course, I follow a certain routine before I sleep. I wrap up whatever I'm doing, brush my teeth, set my glasses and my hearing aid aside, and lie down. I do the same thing every night before sleep. Every day. Then I lie there, eyes closed, breathing, waiting, and with patience, sleep finds me.
Falling asleep is an interesting and curious experience because I can actually feel a sort of tingle all through my body as sleep finds me. Sleep, in this story, is almost an entity, a character as a part of my life. I have dreams, sure, but I don't usually try to recall them the next day. I've even had some recurring dreams. But that tingling sensation, when it comes, I know that the bliss of sleep has found me.
I've had nights where I was distraught, angry or frustrated. I'm careful not to take those feelings out on others, the people I love. So I take responsibility for them by finding ways to soothe myself.
Shortly after moving from LA to Salt Lake City, we landed in the basement of a distant relative. We arrived on the day of the summer solstice and it was hot. One night, days or weeks after our arrival (I can't remember the exact day), my wife wanted the fan on. I did not, for the air would rustle the hair on my arms and keep me awake, or so it seemed. I was angry, but I deferred to my wife so she could sleep with the fan on. I remember now, that little detail. I wanted the fan pointing somewhere else, she wanted it directed at her. I didn't mind the sound since I'm hard of hearing anyway. But the hair on my arms...
So there I was, in bed, still awake while my wife slept. I was angry and disturbed. But I knew that I must make some peace for myself. So I closed my eyes and began to take note of everything that I was grateful for. I was grateful for my health. My life with my wife. That we had a car, and a young reliable car, at that. That we had a place to stay while we planted roots in Salt Lake City. I just kept going at noticing things I was grateful for. And then the tingling feeling came, and with it, the bliss of sleep.
There is another tool I use, The Serenity Prayer:
God, please grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I have found that I can chant that prayer silently, in my mind, to find sleep. I just play it back in my mind, in my own voice, over and over until my brain kicks me out. There, I see myself alone, and sleep finds me.
I've attended many meetings and I have learned to use some of their prayers. I've found peace in those prayers, even if I'm not religious, and I just happen to be agnostic - about everything. Whether or not there is a god, well, that's beside the point. The point is to have faith. And here, I make a distinction between faith and belief. Faith is to keep the mind open to new information, it's a reservation of judgment, a state of mind distinct from belief.
So I have faith that I will find the peace I need to sleep. I don't always know that I will, but I have faith that I will. And I am at least willing to try, dutifully, every night, to wait for sleep to find me.
I don't will myself to sleep. I wait for it. For I have found that I cannot force myself to sleep. I can only hold still long enough for sleep to find me. And yes, sometimes, that may be awhile. My wife says that I'm usually asleep within 5 minutes of laying myself to rest. But when sleep finds me, I sleep very soundly.