I was an insomniac for 34 years. I became an insomniac at 16. It was not a big deal. I had a lot to do with school, sports, homework, and taking graduate level courses at night at the University, and most importantly, talking to friends for hours on the phone. It never really bothered me that I would only sleep five or six hours max a night. I was highly productive. I managed to graduate from Stanford in three years. I started a company at 23, sold it at 26. This not sleeping was useful. At 30, I started a family and didn't really mind that the babies kept me up at night. I would head off to work in the morning no worse for the lack of sleep. In my forties, I travelled internationally extensively and again the insomnia worked in my best interest. I would arrive from a red eye into Frankfurt or London or Tokyo and head right into a meeting.
I loved my insomnia--I bragged about how I could get by on so little sleep. I was one of the macho elite insomniacs. And then about five years ago, I stopped sleeping altogether. This was a new zone. There was a great deal of stress in my life--a serious family illness, and the disintegration of my marriage. I would wander around at night. I would try hot milk, hot baths, hot anything. I had learned to self-hypnotise in order to master childbirth without drugs, so I tried that. I could give birth to a nearly 10 pound kid, but I couldn't put myself to sleep. I started taking Ambien and that worked for a while and then it made it worse. I couldn't nap, I couldn't rest...but suddenly, I was tired all the time. I started running, which helped. I would work Sudoku puzzles on airplanes which caused me to doze for a bit--something about numbers I guess. Then, I left my husband. That really helped. I had a bed all to myself. I moved back to Seattle, where I grew up which felt right. Slowly I got back to that zone of five to six hours of sleep. Life was good. But I began to notice that maybe I would actually benefit from more sleep--from that magic seven or eight hours of sleep that doctors say is crucial. Maybe I wasn't really so macho after all. I realized I looked a bit haggard. I forgot things from time to time. My energy lagged occasionally. That was a year ago.
Recently, I slept for 10 straight hours. Last night, I slept for 8 hours. I got up, did some work and "re-racked" for another hour. Amazing. The night before that I slept nine hours. Tonight, I will probably sleep for eight hours. What happened? I did everything that would generally cause sleeplessness: I quit my job, and started a business and I fell in love (which eventually meant sharing my sleep with someone). But I am sleeping like I haven't slept all my adult life. Why? I realize that what really happened was that I started spending time doing things I love and spending time with people I love. Finding my own true north turned out to be better than Ambien, hypnosis or hot anything for sleeping well, for sweet dreams.