'Dear mind, please stop thinking!'

Jean's Journal with Jean Farrell

My article, today, is dedicated to all of us who can’t sleep at night. And I especially add ‘at night,’ because I know that we don’t ever find it difficult to sleep by day!

We can sleep soundly in our armchairs, with the television blaring. We can sleep as passengers in cars, with huge lorries roaring past.

In fact, we can sleep anywhere at all, except in our very comfortable beds, in dark rooms, at night.

I wonder is this just a female problem, particularly associated with the dreaded menopause and its aftermath.

If I tell you that my husband sleeps like a baby, it would be untrue. This is because a baby doesn’t sleep well at all, as we know. My husband sleeps so soundly, that nothing wakes him. This has been the case, always. When our teenagers were out late at night, I was the one who lay awake anxiously. I’m the one who hears strange noises in the night, who hears the dog barking and who must get up to the toilet many times. And, all the while, he snores away for about ten hours and never wakes up once. The unfairness of it!

I’ll go back to the beginning of our lives. The expression ‘sleeps like a baby’ probably refers to the fact that when we were babies, we fell asleep with no problems on our minds.

Then we grew up a little and took on worries. As a child, in national school, we lay in bed saying our night prayers - prayers like, ‘If I die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.’ I was a happy child and am not a natural worrier, at all. However, as a little girl, the fear of the fires of Hell, kept me awake, many a night, sadly.

An aside here. The photo is a page in my book ‘THE SIX MARYS.’ The diaries from my play are published in book form, and this book is available in The Athlone Bookshop, under Burgesses. It costs €12. (It would make a lovely Christmas present!!)

The next stage of my life was in boarding school. There, I did sleep. I did until, at the crack of dawn, a big nun thundered into our dark dormitory, ringing a huge bell that would wake the dead. We had to leap out of bed, immediately, onto cold lino (remember cold lino?) We stood there, in shock, yearning to climb back into our warm beds.

As young single girls, in our early twenties, we lay awake, very happily, dreaming of meeting our Mr Wonderful. ‘Whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream, dream, dream, dream,’ The Everly Brothers sang for us, on Radio Luxembourg (The Station of the Stars.)

What next kept us awake were Mr Wonderful’s babies! And just when we got one baby to sleep all night, another and another came along, making us used to broken sleep for about ten years!

Our teenagers, out at night, kept me awake, for another ten years.

Eventually, they left home. I retired from work. My life settled down and I looked forward to sleeping soundly, with no distractions, for the rest of my life!

This was not to be. Awful hot flushes woke me up for ten and more years. And now my body just seems to have gotten out of the habit of sleeping all night. And, meanwhile, himself sleeps on and on and on!

Many of my friends have trouble sleeping too. One commented, “My day starts backways. I wake up exhausted and go to bed wide awake.”

With all this in mind, it was with great interest that I read an article about ‘Sleep Tourism.’ I read about hotels who have a special ‘Director of Sleep.’ This ‘director’ ensures that your bed-linen is of the finest quality. A ‘pillow-menu’ is supplied, as well as cooling eye-

cream, eye-masks and pillow sprays. This ‘sleep-director’ will advise you on sleeping aids such as chamomile and lavender. And they provide climate controlled-beds, magic ear-plugs and sleep inducing apps.

I was not impressed, at all. My father used to say, ‘Fools and their money are easily parted!’ No doubt, a stay in one of these hotel would be very expensive. We’d be paying money to be told what we know already and none of them work!!

We know! We know, because we have tried them ALL. I have ear-plugs galore, the best of bed linen, lavender sprays, chamomile tea, perfect pillows, as well as a press full of homeopathic lotions and potions. Yet, sleep elude me!

My 95-year-old Auntie Biddy gave me advice I try to take on board. She told me that she used to lie awake worrying about the fact that she couldn’t sleep. “Now, I don’t worry anymore. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. So what, if I can’t fall asleep,” she said. “I think back on all the happy times of my life and relive them. Then I say the rosary.”

Thinking happy thoughts, whilst lying awake, is a habit we must develop, because the very opposite happens. In the middle of the night, it is all too easy to focus on our worries (and the afore mentioned after-life!)

I appreciate that all the above is a first world problem. Every night, as I lie in my very comfortable bed, I thank God for it. I consider the awful conditions many many people are enduring in terrible refugee camps all over the world. Imagine trying to sleep there!

How lucky are ye!