To Sleep or Not...

By: Chris Hammond, MS, IMH

To sleep, or not to sleep—that is the question:
Whether it is better for the mind to ponder
The outrageous thoughts and dreams
Or to tackle the sea of problems
And by challenging end them. To wake, to sleep—
Which one—

Yes, which one. It is some ridiculous hour when by all logic you should be sound asleep yet you find yourself wide awake for reasons beyond your understanding. So what do you do? Do you lie in bed trying to get to sleep? Do you get up and do some work? Do you turn on the TV in an attempt to distract your thoughts? Or do you wake up someone up to help you go back to sleep? Which to choose?

“It appears that every man's insomnia is as different from his neighbour's as are their daytime hopes and aspirations.” F. Scott Fitzgerald realized that one solution may work for you but may not work for your friends. You are different in personalities, dreams and experiences from others and even at times your personality, dreams and experience changes from part of your life to another. So finding a solution to the sleeplessness today, may not work tomorrow. This is why you need to have multiple solutions ready at a moment’s notice.

“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep I count my blessings instead of sheep…” Bing Crosby’s gave this advice in the 1954 classic “White Christmas” when his soon to be girlfriend was having a hard time sleeping because of her pestering sister. This is a reasonable approach which does work on occasion mostly because it distracts you from the thoughts that are consuming you in the middle of the night. Counting your blessings is about focusing your thoughts on the things you are grateful for instead of the things that need to be done or are causing you anxiety. This attitude of gratitude has a calming effect and you might find that you fall asleep while counting all of your blessings.

“If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.” Dale Carnegie’s advice suggests that is it better to get up and work then to worry. If you are struggling with a deadline, thinking about the email you forgot to send, or just realized a solution to a problem you have been pondering, then getting up and tending to the issue may be the very trick that allows you to get back to sleep. The little bit of sleep that you lose in productive work may actually be less than the sleep you would lose lying awake in bed worrying.

“You sleep alright?” asks the railcar employee to Eric Little as they arrive in London just before the Olympic trials from the movie “Chariots of Fire”.

“Like a log,” replies Eric Little waking up from his overnight railcar and looking at the newspaper.

“Aha, must have a clear consciousness,” he replies. A clear consciousness is one of the many ways to encourage the elusive sleep. Oftentimes as your mind rests, you become aware of mistakes from the previous day. If the thoughts that consume you are about your mistakes or other people’s mistakes then it is best to develop an attitude of forgiveness. Forgiving yourself and others is one way to clear your conscious and allow sleep to return.

“Come, blesséd barrier between day and day,
Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!”

William Wordsworth concludes in his poem "To Sleep". Sleep rejuvenates you body and mind and is essential for productive living. So the next time you find yourself sleepless, change your attitude to an attitude of gratefulness, an attitude of productivity, or an attitude of forgiveness and see if one of these does not help put you back to sleep.


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"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2011), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit or call 407-647-7005"

About the author- Chris Hammond is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at LifeWorks Group w/ over 15 years of experience as a counselor, mentor & teacher for children, teenagers & adults.

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