The Gift of Insomnia


Let me begin by saying that insomnia is nothing to make fun of. It is a true malady that causes many people periods of depression, irritability, immune deficiency, and sometimes death. However, for me insomnia has been an integral part of my life since childhood. I don’t remember a time when I was able to either get to sleep, stay asleep, or sleep for any length of time. That’s not to say I’m sleep-deficient, for I always seem to find time to snag a power nap most afternoons. And I rarely anymore have issues with getting to sleep or sleeping well. My issue is this: when I wake up, whether it’s three in the morning or 6 a.m., it’s impossible for me to get back to sleep.

When I was raising my children, the hours between 3 and 4 a.m. and when they woke up at 7:30 were some of the most productive of my day. During that time I exercised, wrote in my journal, and prepared for either a show I was directing or a class I was teaching. Years later, I discover I now do much the same. The only difference is I’ve now added stretching to my morning regimen and getting the 2500 words I require as a novelist in before I truly begin my day.

I call my insomnia gift because without it I would not have finished my graduate dissertations, nor the nine books I now call my own. Insomnia has also given me a chance to have my own time away from family members, my jobs, and my daily errands. Those hours in the morning allow me time to not only organize my day but to reflect on what it is I have accomplished and to envision what it is I hope for my future. Plus, there’s something quite lovely about waking up while the stars and the moon are still high in the sky, watching the sun rise in the east, and listening to the morning-doves who their greetings to the day along with the chirping sounds of the starlings, the swallows, and the screeching scrap-jays.

Every being in my house snores—my husband, my child, my two aging pugs and, of course, me as well. When I awaken and go about my quiet routine in the morning, I listen to the sounds outside my room of the other creatures who populate my home as they joyfully slumber, and I am comforted, for it’s good to know that in just a few hours we will greet each other and begin our collective days around the breakfast table. In this regard, insomnia is soul time—a time to appreciate the grace insomnia offers as it elevates my productivity, dignifies my imaginative wanderings, honors the gift of sleep to my family and pets, and magnifies the simple benefaction of nature welcoming the day.

Gwen Overland