I am always amazed when people tell me that they have trouble sleeping. For me, at least for the last twenty years, I have found it to be the easiest thing to lie down at night and go right to sleep. Many people who know this fact about me have become jealous over the years because of my ease of sleeping. I wasn't always so lucky. If I had not learned the secret of sleeping, I, too, would be tossing and turning and looking for the cool side of the pillow. Now, whatever time I decide to go to sleep, I turn off my bedside lamp, turn off the TV or put down my book, lie my head down on my pillow and go to sleep.
When I was about 10 years old, I began walking in my sleep. I would awaken many times and find myself in different parts of my house in the dark. Since I was terribly afraid of the dark, this nighttime journey was very traumatic for me. Many times, I would awaken to find myself lying on the floor next to my bed. I would become so upset and frightened, it would take me quite awhile before I would stop shaking and make myself climb back into bed. Consequently, I became very scared to go to sleep.
Between the years of 10 and 15, I became very adept at staying awake, because I was too fearful to close my eyes. I was still walking in my sleep but not as often as I had. I began to realize that the later I would delay sleep, the less chance I would sleep walk. I began to read as long as I could until I would just fall asleep from exhaustion.
At 15, during a sleepwalking episode, I fell down the stairs and broke my nose. My room was at the top of our very steep stairs and all the time I had walked in my sleep around the house, I had never had trouble walking up and down them. But for some reason, that one night, I fell. The funny thing is that I did not wake up. I walked back up the steps and went back to bed. The only reason I knew that I had fallen is one of my sisters told my Mother that she heard a noise like something falling down the stairs. And, of course, much to my horror, my nose was swollen and red and probably broken. I looked like a boxer who had just lost a fight. I was mortified and at 15 I did not want anyone to see me. But my Mother insisted that I still go to school, and much to my embarrassment, I went. It didn't turn out too bad. I kept telling everyone that I had run into a door. But no one believed me, and the mystery surrounding me helped my popularity for a few days.
Remarkably, I never walked in my sleep again! The trauma of hurting myself must have scared my subconscious into stopping. Of course, at the time, I did not realize that I had stopped completely until a few years had passed. The doctor had told my Mother that I would probably grow out of it but I still believed it was the fall. Unfortunately, I still retained the fear of going to sleep. Thus began my habit of staying up very late and I still do even though now, I have no fear and no problem of sleeping.
At twenty, I became a flight attendant and began to fly the friendly skies. So began my rocky schedule of both day and night flying. Half the time, I felt like a time traveler because I never knew exactly what day it was or what time zone I was in. So, if it was late when I entered my hotel room, I was usually able to fall asleep pretty well. But if it was afternoon, I knew to always have a lot of books with me to read. The stretch of a long and difficult night to sleep was ahead of me.
When my Mother was 62, she developed breast cancer and began to take chemotherapy. I was living in Virginia at the time and flying out of Dulles International Airport. My Mother was living in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky so it was difficult to visit her during her illness. When I was finally able to visit her during her treatment, she told me how her doctor had taught her about imaging. After chemo, he told her to imagine that the medicine was like soldiers streaming through her body and killing all the cancer cells. I had heard about imaging years ago but had not thought much about it at the time. But as my Mother began to heal, I began to think more and more about imaging and sleep.
I began to read and research everything I could find on the subject. I discovered some very interesting mental exercises that not only helped me eventually to sleep but it also helped me in my job on the airplane when the passengers and the stress became too much for me. I discovered a way of going inside my mind and removing myself from the situation if only for a minute or so. This mental exercise helped me stay less stressed and more in control of my emotions. So began my journey of imaging.
I found the first step of learning to sleep to be the easiest and also the most difficult. And any time when I have explained the first step to other people, they have expressed the same feelings. The first step is believing that you can put yourself to sleep. At first, I was torn between wanting to believe that I could and then having doubts. But eventually, my desire to eliminate my fear of sleeping overcame my doubts and I knew that I could, with imaging, convince my body to sleep.
I built a safe place in my mind. I used a memory of a wonderful place in the woods where I use to go when I was 10 years old. A group of my friends and I had a secret place in the middle of a small woods in back of our neighborhood. There was a small creek only an inch or two deep with banks filled with green, spongy moss. The trees were tall and leafy forming a canopy over the creek. Even at 10, I was an introspective child. Many times I would walk the short path from my house to the creek and sit for hours alone and read or write stories. I was the oldest of 5 children and sometimes needed my solitude.
So the secret place in my mind became my safe place to help my body learn to sleep. I'm not saying it was easy or quick, but after years and years of being afraid to sleep, I kept trying.
Today, I am retired from flying but still use my sleep imaging some nights if anything keeps me from falling asleep. But, actually, my easy sleeping has become such a habit of my life, I don't even think about it anymore. Our bodies were meant to sleep a certain amount of time everyday, but the busy world we live in has so much activity and stress that we sometimes allow it to rob us of our rest. Don't let it. Find your own safe place and take time at night to teach your body to do what it needs to do, sleep well.