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When you just cannot fall asleep at night

Have you ever experienced this situation- you are tired, but when you lie down at night, you just could not fall asleep. It is as if, you suddenly become alert even though you have been mentally and/or physically tired prior to going to bed. The moment you lie down, and hours later, your brain just does not seemed to know how to go ‘offline’ or send you to slumberland.

Once a while it’s okay. Perhaps you can pin it down to an over dosage of caffeine. But if it is a perpectual situation- ie it’s happening almost every night?

Years ago during my second year in university, I’ve suffered from this condition- and it dragged on to almost 2 years. At  night, when I sleep, my brain just could not fall asleep. And when I do sleep, I have active dreams- therefore I feel very tired when I wake up. And because I could not sleep well at night, I was tired throughout the day. Having to study for exams, I douse cups of coffee and tea in an attempt to stay awake in the library. After I started working, I could sleep but the active dreams continued.

In this article, I will address the “inability to fall asleep” as the active dreams problem has been covered in other blog posts.

There are few possibilities:

1. Stress at workplace and having too many cups of coffee.

With the constant pressure to meet deadlines and expectations, our brain and heart have to always work overtime. When they are tired, we pump in coffee. When the doses don’t work, we pump in even more coffee. At the end of the day, the mind is unable to shut down- the caffeine is forcibly keeping it up. And when we cannot let go and constantly worry about that deadline or a very important project, the mind cannot stop working. So, sleep eludes us.

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The thing about the body is that, it can get quite stubborn- force it to stay awake, and at night, it would just stay awake to teach you a lesson. Perhaps, it wants to tell you, ‘take it easy, bro. The company is not going to fold or neither you are going to get fired for giving your best’. And if you have been constantly giving your best but find that you are ‘under threat’, perhaps you need to:

  • understand that the company does not belong to your grandpa- so slog your guts out and kill your health in the process
  • learn to be less of a perfectionist and endlessly obsessing about ‘worst case scenarios’
  • see if you need to look for alternative employment- especially if you are constantly being demoralised, overworked and underpaid.

2. The mind is unable to let go of something or someone.

Sometimes related to the matters of the heart. Perhaps you have suffered from a heartbreak and unable to forget someone. The mind clings on the memory, relieving the entire situation where you are together with the person, thinking if perhaps you have done something wrong, or just reliving happy times together.  You thought that perhaps you can keep yourself busy during the day time and tire yourself up but at night…. but sigh…..still cannot fall asleep. Because most of the time, if we try to escape from the memory by distracting ourselves, the memory would haunt us at night, when it is quiet and there’s nowhere to run/or things to do to distract the mind.

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Solution? Find ways to get over the past- talking it out with someone who you can trust or a counsellor. Don’t think that going to see counsellor and therapists are only reserved for those with mental problems. Inability to let go, resulting disturbance in sleep and affecting daily life motivation and productivity is not something to be looked upon lightly. It can lead to serious depression. In fact, one of the signs of depression is insomnia.

3. Guilt or remorse

Sometimes when we have done something so bad, so unspeakable- that it bugs us and literally keep us awake at night. Feeling guilty can literally take away the zest in our life. If you can, try to find ways to make amends.

For example, if you have wronged a person terribly, try to muster all the courage you have and sincerely apologise or seek forgiveness from that person. Be prepared for the worse- perhaps that person may chase you out with a broom. Or humilate you in front of everyone. But you’ve eaten that humble pie, you have admitted you are wrong and have put the demons to rest.  A mistake is a mistake and it had happened in the past. After going through the apology, you can close the chapter.

Or, try to make amends indirectly. Like I read in a book that a lawyer swindled a money of an old lady- as a trustee, he was supposed to help the old lady (who died without a heir) distribute the money to the charities of her choice. Because he was a young and struggling lawyer then, he actually took some of the money and use it to grow his business. The guilt haunted him constantly for years even though he eventually did become a well-known lawyer who had helped many people.

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In the end, the lawyer donated twice of the money he had taken from that lady to the same charities. He considered what he had done to be a small black dot on a piece of white paper. At first, the black dot was all he could see. After doing the donation, it was as if he took an eraser and erased the black dot. The paper is now white. That was how he symbolically erased the guilt.

Certain mistakes or experiences in life are meant to make us into a better person. Without it, we may not place ourselves in the position where we untapped our inner power to make a difference. There’s no use beating ourselves up over past mistakes- since we would make these choices hoping we can be more happy and/or escape suffering. There’s nothing wrong with making choices in the hope to be happy- when we realise we have made the wrong choice, decide on the next course of action and then move on.  Compensate for our mis-steps in other ways that can benefit others.

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