The Dreaded Insomnia

By Nancy Freeman 

Sleep. It can be elusive. Last month, I saw two TV ads for sleep medications; ironically, at the same time I had insomnia. The advertisement that struck me the most featured Olympic Gold medal skier Lindsey Von. As she struggled to sleep, the voices in her head became people, dramatizations of her night-time worries such as finances, reporters, and training, all talking to her as she tossed and turned in bed. The commercial is relatable as it highlights how our nighttime minds so often race. Unlike Lindsey Von, however, I’ve not had reporters asking me endless questions after winning a skiing championship, but perhaps this could be because I have never skied! 

I usually fall asleep easily. Now and then, I’m hit with a week when I can’t get to sleep. My own worry enegine can be powerful as my brain bounces rapid fire between multiple random topics. Did I pay that bill due on the 15th? (It’s the 16th.) Is my daughter going to pass a required chemistry class? (When she did, I fretted about her passing other classes.) Should I have watered the newly planted tree in our yard? (I had forgotten until after three days of hot, dry weather.) Then there are the state of the world worries: covid, global warming, wars, and a seemingly endless list of other problems. Instead of drifting into slumber, I tumble into worry world.   

As I contemplated my recent insomnia, I searched Biblical references to sleep. Many verses speak to resting in God’s love, peace, and comfort. I wanted more. Surely writers of the bible had trouble sleeping. Then I found Proverbs 3:24: When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  

What happens, though, when fear and worry get in the way? How do I get back to not being afraid? What can I do to find that elusive sweet sleep?

Over the years, I’ve fine-tuned several methods to help.  The first method is to repeat the Hail Mary while holding my rosary. I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition with a grandmother who believed in praying the rosary. But here’s my confession: I never learned how to formally pray the rosary with the mysteries, the days of the week, the beginning/ending prayers, etc. Rather, I hold the rosary, which I keep by my nightstand, and with each bead, I say the Hail Mary. Sometimes I don’t move my fingers; I just hold on to one bead for dear life and recite repeatedly. It’s meditative, repetitive, and works much better for me than counting sheep. 

I never quite understood counting sheep, although some folks find it helpful. The technique keeps the mind occupied and focused on something other than worries and racing thoughts. But, as an ex-farm girl from Iowa, my brain cannot get over the idea that if a sheep should jump a fence, someone will have to go after it. Count sheep if you will, but I will stick with the Virgin Mary. 

The second method I use to beat insomnia is a breath-prayer technique. The technique is to take a deep breath while saying, “Lord Jesus,” and on exhale, “Be with me tonight.” I try to match the words with my breath, saying the words slowly for a deep breath. I do this mostly when my body feels tense or wound up tighter than one of those party favor tops that kids spin into a crazy spiral. 

During my most recent insomnia bout, I used both methods alternately and eventually, an hour or so later, I fell asleep. After about a week of Hail Marys and breathing, I returned to my usual head hit the pillow, and ZZZ-out.  I know, however, that sometimes I’ll have insomnia again. That’s when I’ll rely on my two techniques, both of which help calm my fears so that my sleep will be sweet. 

What do you do when worries disturb your sleep? How do you experience God during those times? Do any insomnia techniques help? Whether you count sheep, do breath work, or pray, the important thing is to fall asleep resting in God’s love and peace. 

Photo by Deanna Langle


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