The only one awake

How I learned to combat my inability to sleep


One of my strategies to release my stress was scribbling on a piece of paper, helping me be more at ease when I got ready for sleep.

Jiya Singh

Dear Diary,

It’s happening again. I’m lying in my room at 4:00 a.m. in the morning, just sitting here and thinking because I can’t fall asleep. It’s been 6 hours, wide awake in my bed; my brain’s a sea and the sharks are the thoughts swimming in my head.

My freshman year diary said it best — I had a problem. 

It was Jan. 22, 2020, the night before one of the largest speech tournaments of the year. Considering it was my first year competing in Speech, I wanted to do well at this tournament, and I convinced myself that I would. After all, I had prepared all year for this and I was as ready as I could be. 

And so, I did all the things I’m supposed to do to get a good night’s sleep — I drank warm milk, prepared my outfit for the next morning, turned off the lights early and relaxed. Unfortunately, my brain chose not to listen to these instructions as rigorously as I did.

I said good night to my parents, got in bed at 10 p.m. and closed my eyes, waiting for Sleep to take control of my body. But lying under the warm covers, I tossed and turned for hours on end, trying to find the perfect position to get the perfect sleep so I could have the perfect next day. I shifted so much that I became physically exhausted, enough to finally drift off to sleep … when suddenly another thought came to mind, and I was back down the rabbit hole. 

Why can’t I fall asleep? I did everything right. Oh my god, it’s 3:30 a.m., go to sleep! You’re wasting time and you’re going to regret it tomorrow. OK, inhale for six seconds and exhale for seven seconds. Inhale for six, exhale for seven, inhale for six, exhale for …  Did I forget to turn in my math homework today? Let’s retrace it — I took out my homework in class and …

I couldn’t get my brain to stop. No matter how hard I tried, it churned out thoughts at a mile a minute, right as I was trying to fall asleep.

That night, as I stared at my shining red digital clock, the only light in my dark room, my eyes began to well up with tears. It was nearly 6 a.m., the time I needed to wake up and get ready for the tournament, and I had not slept a wink. 

Sleep and I are not friends. Every time I try to be friends with her, I can hear her laughing at me as each cricket chirp and clock tick taunts my brain to stay awake, swimming in my sea of thoughts. I miss the days when Sleep and I were friends and I could come home from school, take a nap and forget about all my troubles while I laid in my mom’s lap and drifted off into a beautiful dream.

But recently, it’s almost as if every single thought I’ve had in my life spews out the second my head hits the pillow. Sometimes these thoughts are recounts of my day or strategies to encourage sleep to overtake me, but they’re mostly me tearing myself down for something I have no control over. You are wasting your time and you’re going to regret it tomorrow.

My struggles with Sleep don’t suddenly emerge just before a large speech tournament or important Biology test. Ever since I began to face sleepless nights in middle school, wandering alone around my house with a blanket at 2 a.m. has become a normality, and I thought that this was just another struggle that I would come to accept.

My doctors and the internet have a boatload of strategies to combat my inability to fall asleep, and I honestly think I’ve tried them all. The “CALM” app is downloaded on my phone, my Spotify  is loaded with the best sleep podcasts, a container of melatonin pills sits on my nightstand and my mom always makes space for me to snuggle with her if I desperately need to. But at the end of the day, I always end up being alone with my thoughts. 

Even though my condition has gotten significantly better, I still am not best friends with Sleep. But I’ve gotten past cursing at myself all night for my issues and closer towards learning what I can do to stop it, or, at the very least, accept it and ride it out. The darkness of the night that I used to fear is now my “me time” to watch all the TV I didn’t watch during the evening, do all the homework I said I would complete in the morning, and yes — to fill all the pages of my diary with ambushing thoughts so that I can write them and not think them.

The diary that used to be filled with mindless recountings of what I ate for breakfast and who I talked to in class is now the place where I dump all of my thoughts that might excite me, scare me and keep me awake. Whether it’s four straight pages of ranting about my health or a mere scribble to release my anger, my diary has done more for my sleep than any other methods.

Writing in a diary doesn’t automatically make me tired or remove the problem in its entirety. But I now feel less alone at night, knowing that even though no one else is awake to hear me, my diary always is.

And so, that day of my speech tournament, I persevered, got up and competed in it like nothing was wrong. Because I may not be able to control my ability to fall asleep, but I can control myself.

Dear Diary,

I don’t think I’m ever going to sleep at this point. My head is pounding and I’m out of strength to complain any more, but I can’t exactly go to sleep either … Well, since I’m awake anyways, I might as well practice my speech a few times …

Until tomorrow night,