Can't sleep? Don't fight it.

If you can't sleep, don't fight it. This suggestion may run counter to messages you hear in media or popular culture because we all know sleep is regenerative and helpful. But if you are a caregiver for someone with mental illness, much as you need sleep, you want to be careful about your attitude to sleep.

Getting angry at yourself because you cannot sleep or forcing yourself to sleep in some other artificial way does not go with the flow of life. It is not the way of the zen master, it is not the way of anyone who wants to move from separation to unity, from a stressful way of living to effortless living.

The person who fights their insomnia will lose. You do not want to have a fighting relationship with yourself. This will create a constant feeling of being on the edge for you. This won't be helpful for caregiving or for any other activity in your life.

Sleep is one of those tender things, like meditation, that comes when you let go, when you surrender. You cannot force yourself to sleep because then you are not actually letting go--forcing yourself to sleep is a contradiction in terms.

In fact, forcing yourself to sleep through various means, is the wrong direction. It sets up an inner fight, a division--between you...and you. Between the you who wants to sleep and the you who can't sleep. If you are on the road to enlightenment, on the road to helping your loved one recover from a serious mental illness, do not create divisions in yourself. Move toward integrity, not division.

So, your attitude, your relationship to sleep is the key point here. You want to go with what is happening. If you can't sleep well some days or even a lot of days, be with it. Be with what is happening by befriending it. By seeing what it feels like. By being curious.

There is a natural wisdom in your body that many of us ignore at our own peril. When you can't sleep and you fight it or cover it up somehow, you are not listening to that wisdom. The right thing to do is to listen. What is your body, what is life trying to tell you? Here are some possibilities:

  • This is an intense period in your life and there is something you must do, so don't worry about not getting your 9 hours of beauty sleep right now. Maybe you need to finish a big project and there is a deadline. Do it.
  • You need to learn about how it feels to be with less sleep. Sure sleep is great and all, but maybe you need to learn what it's like to not sleep so that you can understand your loved one better.
  • You are totally out of whack. You are working way too much, eating poorly, drinking too much caffeine, and not paying attention to the needs of your body. Pay attention and STOP treating it so poorly.
  • Other possibilities?

As you can see, there are multiple messages that your body or life could be giving you when you can't sleep. To ignore these is to live in ignorance. They may change quickly. For example, you may be working hard to get your loved one into a safe setting and you lose some sleep over this (first point). Then, once you have accomplished this, you might still be on overdrive and yet you don't need to be anymore (3rd point).

So, the first critical step is: don't fight it! If you can't sleep, just let it be. The second critical step is: listen! Listen to your body, to life. What is it trying to tell you? Only after you have received that message should you take action. All of this can occur in a few seconds, by the way. You don't have to make it a big deal. But remember, it's important. Stay on the path of enlightenment, of integrity. Not of division. Don't fight your life. Don't ignore it.

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