Three Things I Think About When I Can’t Sleep

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As I get older, I find a full night’s sleep, the kind when I fall asleep at 10:00 and wake up at 6:00, elusive. Oh, I get to sleep just fine; I don’t usually stay asleep the whole night.

I typically wake up somewhere around midnight, and I am awake with only my thoughts to entertain me for three, four, five hours until it’s just about time to get up.

I certainly don’t want to become dependent on chemical sleeping aids. I tried taking melatonin, a natural sleep-inducer, but didn’t like it. My sleeping heart rate is somewhere in the high 30 beats per minute range, and melatonin depresses heart rate, which I thought might be playing with fire. 

Plus, I have weird, vivid dreams when I take melatonin, which I don’t like. I would rather just enjoy the places my mind takes me most nights.

I thought I would let you take a little peek at how my brain works on these nights, to see how the little silver ball careens around the far reaches of my memory and lights up random items stored there like a pinball game. 

Usually, I forget or only dimly remember my nightly thoughts when the sun rises. This night, however, I grabbed the stub of a pencil and scribbled some cryptic reminders.

What follows are three things I thought about one night when I couldn’t sleep, one sad, one profound, and one weird.

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Once, several years ago, before we had grandchildren, my husband and I were planning a trip over Easter weekend. We may have been going to a race. I don’t remember anymore. 

The day before we left, hoping to see some early migrants, I grabbed my binoculars and headed out the back door, looking for birds.

I crossed the bike path behind my house and climbed the slope next to the power cut. There, on top of a hill, far away from the road and mostly hidden from view, is a small Jewish cemetery. 

I was skirting the cemetery when something unusual caught my eye. It was a freshly dug grave. The dirt over the grave, which was smoothed out to prepare for planting grass seed, looked like it was studded with little colorful bits of something. I stepped closer for a better look.

They were jelly beans.

The grave was for a seven-year-old girl, and someone had scattered jelly beans over the freshly turned soil.

I could imagine anguished parents or grandparents performing this heartbreaking ritual. It was one of the saddest sights I had ever seen.

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I was stuck in this sad reverie for quite a while, then I tried to remember the destination of the trip we had been anticipating.

I could remember packing only a carry-on bag. I could remember traveling to the airport in Philadelphia. I could remember parking the car and going through security, but the destination of the trip remained lost in the dark reaches of my brain.

Then my thoughts got sidetracked by another Philadelphia Airport memory.

We had just returned from several weeks in Spain and were walking through the Philadelphia airport. I was people-watching, as I usually do, when all at once it struck me, the diversity.

While we were walking across Northern Spain and later, in Barcelona, the Spanish people were relatively homogeneous. 

Sure, there were variations in hair, eye, and skin color, and even in language and culture, but nothing like what I saw in the Philadelphia airport.

At the airport, I saw Hassidic Jews and people wearing hijabs and saris and turbans. I saw a Black family draped with Disney paraphernalia and a white family with four little girls dragging princess backpacks. I saw an Asian couple wearing I-heart-NY T-shirts and a Native American man wearing cowboy boots. 

It reminded me of God’s table.

Here we are, all of us, the diverse, the imperfect, the stragglers. The short-tempered, the worn-out, the nail-biters, the tourists, the ones who blurt out the wrong words at the wrong time, the people who leave soggy towels on the bathroom floor, the smart alecks, the whiners, all of us claiming our seats. We come, dragging our princess backpacks loaded with the baggage we have accumulated through living all these years, wearing our Mickey Mouse ears, filled with hope.

We don’t love God with our whole hearts, we covet our neighbor’s cute slouchy boots, and we cheat at solitaire, but we are still welcome.

We all have a place at the table.

That’s what I saw when I looked around the Philadelphia Airport.

Thinking of the Philly Airport made me think of the Elton John song “Philadelphia Freedom”.

I don’t know what you think of Elton John, but this is a strange song. Here are some of the lyrics:

Till the whippoorwill of freedom zapped me
Right between the eyes

OK, that’s just weird.

A whippoorwill is a bird. I have never heard of a “whippoorwill of freedom “. Maybe an eagle of freedom, but not a whippoorwill.

And how would the “whippoorwill of freedom” zap you right between the eyes?

I am picturing a muscular, camouflage-wearing, headbanded, laser-toting bird with his sights aimed squarely at the center of my forehead. 

I’m not sure that’s the image Elton John had in mind when he wrote the song.

So now you have a little peek into how my brain works, free association, and all. Three memories that were struck by the little silver ball and briefly illuminated during my sleepless hours this week. 

Maybe you can understand why I prefer the entertainment my own mind provides, rather than some graphic, melatonin-inspired dreams.


You can find the places I link up here.


  1. You, like me, have very busy nights! But your musings seem far more coherent than most of mine. Sometimes I pop out of a half-twilit reverie and come awake with a wildly off-the-rails “realization” — once when I was still in non-profit managment, I came to in a panic thinking, “Oh, no! That grant I’m applying for won’t cover my sister’s divorce!” Clearly I don’t need melatonin to be weird 🙂

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  2. I’m not one for sleep aids. If I cannot sleep I accept it to the best of my ability. I don’t have any thoughts as dynamic as yours, but I do manage to compose a few blog posts while I don’t sleep. Sometimes I even remember them. 😉

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  3. I have the same sleep pattern as you (although I tend to stay asleep until about 3:30) and I know how frustrating it can be. I try to be productive during those sleepless hours and have written a few story drafts. Of course, what seems like a genius idea at 3:30, can often look pretty silly once fully awake 🙂

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  4. I’m so sorry you have times of wakefulness at night, Laurie, but maybe the thoughts you have at those times is worth the sacrifice of snoozing. How wild and wonderful! Yes, I wake up periodically during the night but, fortunately, have little trouble falling back to sleep, and for that I’m so thankful. As we age, it seems, sleep can often allude us, but it is so necessary for our health and well-being.
    Blessings to you!

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  5. The whippoorwill must be a British thing. There’s a kid around eight buried next to my mother. I’ve spent untold hours in bed thinking about him and his parents. I’ve even written about him. The medicine I take daily at bedtime for Tourette “lengthens my brain waves” which is really good for sleeping. I feel quite lucky. Before that medication, I took narcotics.

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  6. What a thoughtful post. I could almost envision your thoughts as if seeing them on the big screen playing out before me. How very sad, that little grave with the jelly beans. My nephew died when he was 3 and my sister and brother-in-law throw confetti on his grave every Easter.
    Appreciate the many cultures passing through the airport. Like another United Nations.
    I ruminate with great abandon all night at least twice a week. Usually one night toward the first of the week and another night as the weekend closes in. We do take melatonin but some nights it works and some nights it doesn’t. When I can sleep, I also have the vivid dreams – some entertaining and some haunting. I have had good luck with ZzzzQuil so you might try that.

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  7. I meditate when I can’t sleep. I figure that if I can’t sleep, I might as well do something constructive (and I don’t have to leave the bed and disrupt the pets and hubby). I get some good meditation in, and I inevitably sleep either partway through or when I’m done. It’s a win-win.

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  8. I enjoyed your nocturnal wanderings. Your experience at the airport was interesting. I normally flew out of La Guardia, but once I had to go out of JFK. I was taking a domestic flight and was astounded at the number of foreign languages I heard as I walked to my gate. There were no English speaking travelers anywhere near me until I boarded the plane. Anyway, happy dreams and ruminations!

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  9. Sometimes, when walking through old cemeteries, or when visiting graves of family members, I stumble onto a young child’s grave. It is so sad. I’ve never seen a fresh grave for a child. I can only imagine how sad that made you feel.

    I wish everyone in this country could celebrate our diversity.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Laurie, I can so relate. I used to sleep so well and soundly but now … not so much. I can’t let my mind wander in the night as its wandering (doing the “what if’s”) would cause me anxiety. Instead I pray for the people who come to mind. Somewhere in the praying, I fall asleep. It’s like the counting sheep effect 🙂 Hoping for better sleep for us both!

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  11. Intriguing and well-written post. My nights are like yours. Melatonin does the same to me. Interesting reveries….the jelly bean story was sad indeed. And we are all indeed part of God’s table. I appreciate your wisdom and thoughts ~I like them. 💚

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  12. Right there with you on the elusive sleep patterns. I now have an old iPhone next to my bed with the Calm app loaded up and when I get too stirred up, I listen to a deep sleep meditation to help quiet my whirring brain.

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  13. I have been in that boat… it’s probably floating in a sea of anxiety. When that happens here we get out of bed, to break the weird thinking, eat a piece of bread or drink milk, read a little to try to let go. My friend here in Colorado takes cbd capsules but it’s legal here. I just have to actually get out of bed to break the weirdness.
    I am seeking peace and safety, and with the American public being told to hate each other it’s in short supply.

    on a mundane level, I take a breath in to four counts, hold four counts, out four counts and then repeat.
    On the very real anxiety level, for sensitive thinking types, there’s no real answer today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, anxiety does play into it. When I can’t sleep, the next day, I usually wake up feeling anxious. I do get out of bed at times, just to get into a different train of thought. I am going to try that 4-count breathing exercise. Here’s hoping for a good night’s sleep for both of us tonight!


  14. Well, I enjoyed rambling along the nighttimefree-association path with you. I have one of those too. Melatonin has sort of worked for me though. I wasn’t even able to *get* to sleep before. Now I average 5 hours, ramble that path for an hour or so and then get up to enjoy a couple of hours of pre-breakfast IPad time. (I used to go for a walk, but for the last year or two I find I need nourishment before even mild exercise. Age-related I suppose.). Anyway, speaking of nourishment…the morning coffee timer just dinged ))). Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone in the land of insomnia!

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  15. Hello,

    It is nice to be able to have a full night of sleep. It rarely happens with me, I tend to think and overthink and then I worry. I agree, we all have a place at the table. I am going back listen to the Elton John song again, I have never heard the song in a long time. Great thoughts and post. Take care! Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Fascinating, Laurie!
    I need a notebook next to my bed as well. Although my dreams probably won’t be as interesting as yours!
    You have a great resting heart rate. Mine is around 45ish. Well done for not taking any medication!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Bless your heart finding a look at heaven in an airport. That says a lot about your heart 🙂
    I hate when I wake up & cant go back to sleep. I tend to get loops of songs or phrases or words s tuck in my head & I cant shake it. A lot of time, I try to remember scripture & say the verses… that tends to clear my head to go back to sleep. … that or youtube videos LOL

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  18. Have you ever tried any essential oils to help with sleep? Sometimes if I’m struggling to fall asleep I will put a drop of lavender oil (I use doTerra brand) on my hand, rub it on my pillow, take a few deep breaths and I’m out fairly quickly. Jason uses vetiver oil on the bottoms of his feet. He does also take melatonin at times; I’ve taken it once in a great while. I agree I’d prefer not to take it as whenever I get up to pee during the night I feel groggy/half out of it.

    The first time I spent significant time in Chicago’s Ohare airport I had very similar thoughts to yours! I feel like airports are some of the most diverse places and it’s fun to wonder where people are coming from and going to.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Oh my gosh, Laurie—3,4,5–5!!—hours awake. Holy smokes. How can you run, as in miles, in so little sleep? I am so sleep sensitive—I’d HAVE to be napping. And those jelly beans. That did me in… 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I too have the issue of not being able sleep well. I fall asleep fine, but then wake up about 2 and that’s it. I’m not always entertained by the thoughts racing through my mind, tho! i’ve tried melatonin, but it didn’t seem to do much for me. I might not have taken enough tho.

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  21. I have tried Melatonin, but it never seemed to work for me. I have heard it’s advised to take notes of one’s dreams (like, as they happen…with a notebook beside your bed). I have had some bizarre dreams, that really make me question my subconscious. I fear that if I woke up, though, and jotted them down, I’d never fall back to sleep.

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  22. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I go through similar nights. My mind just wanders and problems sometimes magnify. I dream a lot when I do sleep and remember quite a few of them. They are even more disjointed than my awake thoughts. – Margy

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  23. Usually I have more trouble sleeping after the time change in winter than during the spring/summer months. Lately, for the most part, I sleep fairy well most nights, if the generator isn’t going and Lola’s not coughing, both of which happened in the last two weeks and gave me some pretty good sleep deprivation.

    I actually do take melatonin, but I don’t have a HR anywhere near as low as yours — that’s REALLY low! — and if it changes my dreams, I am completely unaware of it. I rarely remember my dreams. Like maybe a handful in a year.

    I’m amazed at your energy despite the sleep deprivation! And your dreams are as interesting as your blog. 🙂

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  24. I loved that song Laurie … I loved most of Elton John’s songs and I find now, if I listen to an oldies station and a song comes on, I remember most of the words. I listened to a lot of music back in the day.

    I’ve been trying to get more sleep the last few weeks with this uptick in COVID cases … it is really bad here. I’ve been existing on 5 or 6 hours’ sleep a night which is not good when they recommend 7-8 for people OUR age. I used to be able to drink black coffee at night and go to bed and fall right asleep. Yesterday I finished the end of my loading the pantry event for Wintertime and by the time I got in the house, carrying bags and bags in to deal with later, I finally had a cup of coffee around 3:30 … I went to bed at 10:00 (my new goal) … half the night I was waking up … it’s not like I had to catch a plane and miss the two alarms I set for every morning (a throwback to my working on site days). And they are in the kitchen, so I have to get up out of bed to shut them off. I would be concerned re: Melatonin too. I know it’s just an OTC med but I am hoping to stay med-free as long as possible. I take the multiple vitamin and am back on Norwegian cod liver oil for the Winter months … I took it as a kid, but this horrible stuff called Cod Liver Malt. It had the consistency of a thick syrup and ugh, the worst taste. A spoonful every morning before breakfast, then orange juice and oatmeal to take away the taste. These Carlson brand pills have no aftertaste and a good source of Vitamin D for our sun-deprived Winter months. The jellybeans on the grave – so sad. We had a 6-year old child in Detroit who was slain execution style along with his father and father’s girlfriend a few week’s ago. The mom used a crowd-funding source for the funeral expenses … so many people contributed that the grandmother made the memorial event yesterday into a type of children’s carnival, clowns, food, etc. I have mixed emotions about that, but they will have that memory in their mind forever, not this sad and horrific image.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill is a big Elton John fan too. He had a bunch of his albums.

      I hope you get some better sleep tonight, Linda. I usually fel a little anxious the next day after a night of little sleep. I avoid caffeine for just that reason. I am hoping to avoid all meds for as long as possible too.

      That’s terrible about the 6-year-old in Detroit. I hope the memorial event helps people heal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am trying to get more sleep and stepping away from the computer earlier now every weekend. I rarely have a cup of coffee after I return from walking, or on weekends, never after 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. It seems incredible to me that I could drink strong black coffee in the evening while studying and needing to stay up and then fall asleep effortlessly. Yes, it was terrible about the 6-year old … every day the news is downright cringeworthy – there is a new freeway sniper, a barricaded gunman or some horrific story like this.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I heard that the blue light from the computer makes it hard to fall asleep. I avoid computer time before bedtime too. We have friends we have traveled with and they have to seek out a cup of strong black coffee about 9:00 p.m. Crazy! What is wrong with the world today? Such sad stories!


  25. I am turning 52 and for the first time in my life, have started having trouble sleeping. I go to sleep fine, but wake up after a few hours and remain awake at least a couple of hours. Hey, I don’t like it! lol I haven’t tried melatonin and likely won’t. I usually read for a couple of hours, at least, and go back to sleep. Aging is fun! Not really…thanks for linking up and stay well.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I love these thoughts! Insomnia is not fun, but it too have found creativity and interesting insights during periods I can’t quite shut my brain off. Thanks for the reminder that creativity, joy, sorrow, and unique insights can be found in these moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. That was a rollercoaster ride of thought and I really enjoyed it. The mind is a beautiful and mysterious thing. I’m sorry you don’t sleep well. I have the same problem. I only get about 4 hours before my body’s like “ok that’s enough” when in reality I would appreciate a few more hours. When I can’t sleep I just let my mind think of things I need to do, things I could do and things I’d like to do but never really get around to. It’s boring enough to put me back to sleep sometimes.

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    • Ha! Thank you. A roller coaster is much more fun than a monorail! 🙂 I have the same problem with my body. I need to find a way to bore myself so I can get some sleep!


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