Insomnia – that 5am feeling….

I haven’t been able to sleep too well recently. In the past, bed has been a safe place I long to reach at the end of a long day; somewhere I can lie comfortably close to my husband, or turn away and stretch out with a little gap creating a cool space between us. No less love, but a rather lower temperature. I’m getting to a funny age where such things matter.

So what is the problem? Why can’t I sleep beyond 4.30? By the time the clock turns over to 05:00 I am lying there trying not to think about the increasing need to get up and go to the loo – as our bathroom is downstairs there is no staggering out with sleep-filled eyes. If I am not fully awake by the top of our steep staircase I know I might as well throw myself to the bottom and be done with it. So by the time I have done the necessary and returned to lie back underneath the duvet, my mind is working harder than it does at almost any other point in the day – the physicality of the whirling mass of thoughts, fears and anxieties that manifest themselves in those small hours is literally palpable.

If my husband can’t sleep he gets up and watches something boring on the television, waits patiently until he feels dozy and then tries again. Not a deep thinker during the day, he doesn’t become one at night so even if sleep doesn’t eventually overpower him  he isn’t beset by demons taunting him over things half remembered or taking him to task over things said or done. Whilst I will lay there imagining all manner of horrors; seeing darkness in every nook and cranny of my life, he will simply re-run the last Ireland rugby match. Perhaps he will even celebrate scoring the winning try….

I have camomile tea and read quietly before I lay down. I have a routine. I don’t eat loads before bedtime. But I do have anxieties that creep up on me during the daytime, so I have to assume that they have nocturnal relations – the anxiety night-shift – that are shiftless and grey and lurk camouflaged in the balls of fluff under the bed….

I know some people suffer far greater problems with sleeplessness than me. Insomnia leaves you unrefreshed, fatigued, irritable and ill-prepared to meet the challenges of the coming day.  I can be all those things but I can’t blame them all on lack of sleep. I would just like to find a way of nodding back off at 5am before the night-time niggles take hold.

There is a wonderful poem by Fleur Adcock that does at least offer the small comfort that I am not alone…


There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse
and worse.

Fleur Adcock

Clearly 5am is ‘that’ sort of time. However, on the one occasion when I gave up trying, creeping out of bed, slippers on and wrapped up in an old sweatshirt to my desk, I logged on to find that there is a whole group of people up and working at that hour. At least I think they were working – they were certainly on twitter and Facebook – and I sat back  quite abashed. Dissertations were being written, essays marked and blog posts put up. Children were running around the feet of mummybloggers and the ubiquitous cat pictures and inspirational quotes were already appearing in my Facebook timeline. It actually crossed my mind that if I got up early every morning I would actually ‘live’ longer – or have more ‘life’ at any event. What would an extra two hours asleep do anyway?

I suspect it would make up for the fact that I had been typing away or reading  until 1am. How easy would it be to change from an ‘owl’ to a ‘lark’? As I sit here writing I can hear my husband cleaning his teeth and getting ready to climb the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire. Perhaps I should follow. Night night  – see you on the early twitter shift tomorrow…

This entry was posted in Mental health, Poetry, Random musings on family life, love the universe and everything, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Insomnia – that 5am feeling….

  1. Angela Buckley says:

    I used to sleep very badly when I was working full time as a teacher so I know exactly how it feels at that strange time between sleeping and waking with all the anxieties flying around your mind. I don’t suffer as much now but when it happens I usually force myself out of bed and read downstairs for a while with a herbal tea, which seems to help. I hope your sleeping pattern resets itself soon and thank you so much for your thoughtful and honest post – it’s great to share our experiences xx

  2. dannj says:

    I really do believe in the philosophy of early to bed, early to rise, even though I read in bed until abt 11.30pm each night…I never sleep longer than four hours but am always happy to rise withe lark. I don’t worry about sleeping for longer as I know my body would sleep if it needed to.

    • keatsbabe says:

      It is the ‘early to rise’ bit that I find difficulty with. I think it might be because I have got so used to extending my working day late into the evening that to get up any earlier would be too exhausting!

  3. MarinaSofia says:

    I have that problem too, 4 a.m. or thereabouts being my time. There is a very funny talk about this witching hour on TED, a performance artist/poet called Rives.

    But I have learnt to embrace this insomnia. Instead of just tossing from side to side and worrying or making endless lists in my head, I now get up and start writing and then reading. I find that after about an hour of that, I am ready to go back for another snooze.

  4. Martin Lake says:

    I used to suffer from insomnia and worry about it…until my brother said that no one died from it.
    It took me a while to realise that some of the people tweeting and Facebooking (let alone doing disserations) are in a different time-zone. And then there were the workalohics.

    i recently saw an article (I think on the BBC website) that found evidence that people in Medieval times quite commonly woke after a few hours sleep, remained awake for an hour and then returned to bed. It suggested that this may be fairly normal human way of resting.

    Finally, Simon Hoggart has this advice for the insomniac. Don’t count sheep or close your eyes, try to keep your eyes open all night long. Within minutes you’ll be dreaming sweet dreams.

    • keatsbabe says:

      Great advice!! i do often think that it is the pace of life now that throws our sleep patterns out. Might take the medieval approach from now on (although I appreciate life expectancy then would have meant I had my eyes shut on a permanent basis by now…)

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