Sleep in Heavenly Peace?

The Battle for Sleep in the 21st Century

Have you ever seen those paintings of the nativity scene with Jesus sleeping peacefully in the manger?  And the animals looking lovingly on?  And there’s just enough light shining from the star of Bethlehem to frame their faces in a halo of light.

(c) AdobeStock Photo

(c) AdobeStock Photo

It’s bucolic.  Peaceful.  As the songwriter puts it, heavenly peace.  Everyone is glowing.  Filled with joy.  And yes, peace.

Cut to the 21st Century.  Sleep doesn’t look as peaceful as the nativity scene.  Our minds race with all the things we’ve left undone and have to catch up on tomorrow.  Our bodies cry out in distress – tight from the stresses and strains of life and inflamed from a diet of processed foods.  Our body clocks are off from the ubiquitous blue light emitting from our electronic devices.  And we’ve bought into the lie that says busy = important, and are living in a state of perpetual motion.

WHEW!  No wonder sleep doesn’t feel so peaceful.  In fact, it can feel like a battle.  And we’ve got the scars to prove it.

I’ve fought this battle for 12 years, ever since my husband suddenly died.  Immediately I was thrust into shock and grief, and what could be described as hyper-stress.  My body and mind could not make sense of something so horrible, so it worked overtime to try.  The scene replayed again and again as my subconscious mind tried to change the ending.  And couldn’t.  So round and round it went.  And sleep became a distant memory.

Eventually not sleeping became a habit.  The stress of living as a widow and not-so-great sleep habits kept me in a perpetual state of sleep-deprivation.  I read articles like “7 hints to a great night’s sleep.”  I tried all that stuff.  It sounded so great.  And it wasn’t enough.  Nothing changed.

Have you found yourself in that situation?  Battling with sleep and can’t seem to win?  Maybe you fall asleep and wake up in the night and BAM!  Your mind starts going and that’s it.  You count about 20 million sheep and then give up.  Or you can’t even fall asleep for ages.  Or both.

Maybe you’ve read those same articles with 7 simple hacks for a great night’s sleep.  And they didn’t move the dial enough, if at all.  So, even though you know all about the importance of sleep – its benefits to your body, emotional state, and creative problem-solving, you feel as though you’re stuck in the no-sleep zone.  You want to wake in the morning with a clear head – energized for the day.  You want to spend the day not yawning through it, aching for a nap.  You want to sleep in heavenly peace, but it’s more like hell.

I so know how that feels.  It did feel like hell to me.  I had no emotional or physical reserves.  No perspective.  I couldn’t make effective decisions.  I didn’t enjoy even fun activities.  I was too exhausted.  And I felt shame for failing at Sleep 101.

And now the major battle is in the past.  What I experience now is the occasional minor skirmish.  And I feel so much better in every way.  I have a clear head, emotional resilience in the midst of extraordinary stress, a stronger and healthier body, and energy to maintain both a full-time job and a personal development business.

It took a lot to get here.  And it still takes a lot to keep it up.  At least for now until I’ve been doing it longer.  So I have an important question for you, and I want you to be honest with yourself:  Are you willing to do what it takes to sleep well?  Really?

Maybe you’re fortunate enough that it might take only a few simple tweaks to make it work for you.  Or, like me, it might take commitment.  Even sacrifice.  The sacrifice of extra time you could spend accomplishing something.  Or having fun.  The sacrifice of change to your diet, media habit, exercise routine.  Things you don’t want to change.

And you might not see results right away.  Your sleep system is in the most primitive part of your brain.  You can’t tell it what to do.  You can only lead it in the right direction with consistent behavior that promotes sleep…at the right time.

So I ask you again – are you willing to do what it takes to sleep well?  It’s important to be honest here.  I wasn’t honest with myself for a long time.  I made a lot of progress, but something was keeping me from reaching my goal.  Which leads me to my second question:  What story are you believing about your sleep?

My story was buried so deep that I hid it even from myself.  In trying to get more sleep, I set a goal to go to bed earlier.  And yet every time I turned around I wasn’t making my time deadline.  I tried “everything”, or so it seemed.  I couldn’t figure out why I kept missing the goal.

One day I realized I didn’t really want to hit it.  Because one of my primary drivers is achievement.  Subconsciously I believed that if I went to bed earlier I’d achieve less because I’d have less time.  I told myself out loud that by making this temporary sacrifice, I’d ultimately achieve more, but that didn’t work.  Because I didn’t know when the benefit would kick in.  And the story I believed was different from the story I told.  I said the sacrifice was worth the temporary productivity drop.  I believed it wasn’t.  It took a long time to honestly believe that a good night’s sleep was an achievement equal to or better than getting stuff done.  Then I was able to change my behavior without shooting myself in the foot.

Do you believe it’s possible for you to sleep in heavenly peace?  Really?

Maybe you believe it’s possible for other people and not you.  Maybe you believe that struggling with sleep is a natural part of aging.  Or menopause.  Or (you fill in the blank).  It IS possible.  You just need a better story, some coaching and/or experimentation, and commitment.

It’s also worth it.  The changes.  Struggle.  Yes, and even the sacrifice.  Because a good night’s sleep is heavenly peace.  And earthly peace too.

Why not commit today?  Find a story that’s helpful and you can honestly believe.  And then commit to a new way of life.  A new way of living.  A new way of sleeping.  Sleeping in heavenly peace.

What’s your story?  Have you been trying (and struggling) to get enough sleep?  Any idea what’s preventing it?  Or have you tried something that actually worked?  The best conversation happens in the comments, so let ‘er rip.

Are you willing to talk to me about sleep? I realize that your experience could be quite different from mine. Email kathleen@kathleenannthompson.com to set up a 15-20 minute conversation about your sleep story.
NOTE:  This post was first published on Medium on 12/20/16.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Thank you Kathleen for raising this important subject and sharing your journey with sleep. I identify with you as also being very achievement driven. I too for a long time thought of sleep as an unnecessary inconvenience that got in the way of getting more done. The problem is there is always more to do and any satisfaction with achievement is short lived. Also at our most basic level we are human beings and not human doings! Achievement and activity that is meaningful and fulfilling is birthed out of rest and not the other way round!