When we fall asleep, where do we go?

Kaya Olsen
4 min readNov 24, 2020

Sleepless nights, distracted days, and the twilight in between

It’s been another one of those nights — waking up at 3AM with restlessness in every cell of my body, yet with a head heavy with tiredness. A regular, but desperately unwelcome occurrence. Something is keeping me up at night, but I have no clue what’s up. It’s been like that for years.

I usually wake up full of excitement for the day ahead. Getting out of bed is absolutely no problem and neither is going to bed at night. Sleeping is such an interesting activity. Relaxing the body, surrendering into the mystery of unconsciousness and going on an adventure of dreams. There is a lot of learning in this and I treasure every moment of it. Hence the frustration that those moments are so short and interrupted.

For despite my fascination with and willingness to sleep, I’m unable to. The nights are rare when I don’t wake up between 2–4 AM. Sometimes just for a short moment and sometimes until the break of dawn.

Something is keeping me from relaxing, from fully surrendering and from all those adventures. Something is pulling me into a twilight between sleep and awake. It’s a beautiful world. Very quiet with space for reflection and sudden inspiration. Nevertheless, I long for uninterrupted rest more than anything.

I can’t help but wonder: When we fall asleep, where do we go? – and why does that place trouble me so much?

Some call sleep the small death. Some think of it as a waste of time. I wouldn’t count myself to any of those groups. Just as I don’t wish to live forever, I also don’t wish my days to have more hours. But something keeps me from sleep, and I wish to know what, why and how I make it stop.

Could it be that by relaxing my body and mind, I feel things I normally avoid?

Could it be that surrendering to my subconscious and losing control frightens me?

Could it be that the content of my dreams (which I don’t remember as often as I would like) are nightmarish?

To some extent, I believe all of these possibilities contain a grain of truth, meaning that a part of me is afraid of sleeping. A strange thought. My conscious self finds sleep to be a sweet escape; a place to gain perspective; a chance to let go of control; a source of inspiration; a promise of a moment’s peace. However, an unconscious part of me seems to have a different view on the matter.

In a previous post, I wrote about my struggle with balancing self-development and self-control. I’m always pushing myself and have a clear picture of where I want to go and who I want to be. It takes control and discipline to stay focused on and follow that vision. Perhaps my sleep is challenging my idea of self, of how far I have progressed, and of where I actually need to go. Perhaps my sleep shows how little I’m actually in control of anything. How many unconscious patterns, issues, and beliefs actually are controlling my actions. That would probably explain the restlessness in my body when I wake up a few hours past midnight.

Regardless of the reason behind my wakefulness, I’m tired of being tired, and being a rather practical person, I have created a plan for how to get more sleep.

10 daily habits: I have created a list of ten daily habits that make me feel awesome. I know that I’ll be more centered, more grounded and more present if I manage to do all of them during the day, and my hope is that a sense of wellbeing during the day will have a positive effect on my sleep. The list goes as follows:

  1. Meditation (I have a regular evening and an irregular morning practice)
  2. Fresh air (I need to spend time outside)
  3. Movement (I need to move, to exercise, to get physically active)
  4. Morning pages (3 handwritten pages of uncensored thoughts)
  5. Personal project(s) (basically personal play time)
  6. Meaningful conversations (humans inspire and move me deeply)
  7. Learning (this also has a lot to do with mindset — seeing the learning)
  8. Eight hours rest (meaning laying in bed with the sole purpose of resting)
  9. Fresh greens (a calm and content stomach always helps)
  10. 1,5 L water (headaches fuck up sleep too)

Ease in: The sleeping process begins even before we go to bed and it probably matters what we do the last hour before closing our eyes. I’ve heard it a lot, but it’s tough to live by a rule of no-screen-an-hour-before-bedtime. Yet if I want rest, I might need to suck it up.

Write it down & let it go: Whatever I’m feeling, thinking or worrying about when I wake up in the middle of the night I will put down on paper in the hope that the act of expression will help me to let go of whatever it is and to return to sleep.

Those are the best strategies I could come up with. I guess most writers would try things out and write about the results of their trials, but I’m more of a let’s-explore-things-together kind of person. If you have any ideas on how to avoid sleepless nights, distracted days and the twilight in between, do ping me a message in the comments section. I’m more than happy to learn.

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