Maintaining Practicing

The Insomnia Alphabet: Counting Joys vs. Sheep

I’m a longtime, card-carrying insomniac. I’m often awake for several hours a night. We don’t have a clock in our room, and I never look at the time on my phone. But there are little signs that I wait for. My husband puts his watch in the sock drawer so it won’t keep us awake, but it still beeps the hours, and I know it. Across the street, the house where the blinds are never open shows a glow around the closed blinds every morning at 5 a.m. The “five a.m. lights,” I call them. I like to watch the birds convene and reconvene in the dawn light or fly over, in sparse flocks, and gather for a moment in the trees and then move on. Sometimes as the sun is rising I’ll get some sleep for an hour or so, and have strong, strange dreams

Over the years I’ve become accustomed to being awake during the night. I know it’s a rookie mistake to panic about not sleeping, but it still happens sometimes. The middle-of-the-night brain is not easily persuaded by calm. rational arguments. Worry feeds upon worry; you can tell yourself that your problems will look solvable in the light of day, but the middle-of-the-night voice is an unreliable narrator.

Like every other insomniac, I’ve developed some methods to cope. I never get out of bed to read or watch TV or any other very “awake” thing. I try to take advantage of the time awake to think about things I’m writing, things I care about. I lie and watch the light change.

But one method I’m fond of lately is my Insomniac’s Alphabet. This is an alphabetical list of things that I love. It’s an exercise of assigning each letter of the alphabet to something that I love more than I love most things. My sons said it would be sleepier to compile an alphabet of things you don’t care about, and I have tried that. You can compile a list of fruit & veggies, the names of players on your favorite soccer team…any topic you like.

But the pleasure in compiling an alphabet of things you love is that you’re thinking about them, rather than things that worry you. You might be awake, but more power to you, because you’re thinking about things that make you happy! If you focus on it enough, you can drive the worries from your mind, and replace them with ideas that delight you.

My current Insomnia Alphabet starts like this: A is for “apples.” (Mundane, I know, but I really really love apples. I eat an apple every day and have for at least half my life. Of all the things I’m anxious about doing without, apples are probably top of my list, or near to it.) B is for “Barcelona football club.” Madly in love. C is for “Clio” (my dog). D is for “dappled light” and “dappled horses.” E is for “empathy.” F is for “flying foxes eating bananas.” And on and on it goes. My Insomnia Alphabet changes from night to night, as I find new things that bring me joy. But that’s the beauty of an Insomnia Alphabet; it never grows old. It’s a constant reminder of the joys in your life.

What does your Insomnia Alphabet look like?!

-Claire Adas

Photo by Max Saeling on Unsplash


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