My show was invited to Smith College for a performance on January 30. I was so happy to have another college booking in the Northeastern USA! I like experiencing the weather…fleetingly; I like walking through the lovely campuses and quirky-familiar main streets; I like the comfy New Englandy inns they tend to lodge me in; and I love how they manage to get people in the seats even though I’m not a “name.” The Smithies were wonderful to me and I’m so grateful.
Oh, and I had insomnia.
By sheer good luck—or the process of elimination—I learned how to kick it.
It began the night before my flights across the country. This was not unusual, but I was afraid that I might also have insomnia the night before the show, which was the very next night. Two nights without sleep is already rough, but leading up to a show it’s intolerable. It’s also, frankly, scary. You don’t ever want to mess up a show. You really don’t want to mess it up when they’ve flown you across the continent and put you up in their nicest hotel and are paying your fee. Your business reputation is on the line.
I’d forgotten how draining it is to fly cross-country with a stopover in the middle and then have a little road trip from the airport to yet another state. The whole thing took 11+ hours from the Lyft pickup at dawn in L.A. to the van drop-off at night in Northampton.
It was a relief to arrive at the very nice hotel and scarf down a late supper. Prepping my props in my carry-on for tech shouldn’t have taken long—I’ve done it umpteen times—but exhaustion slowed me down. Right before bed, I followed my usual routine: took melatonin and magnesium, did gentle physical therapy, and looked forward to passing out as soon as my head hit the pillow.
As we say in Spanish: ja aja ¡AJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJAJA!
No sleep. Tossed, turned…no sleep. I wasn’t awake with anxious thoughts, though. Quite the opposite—I was in a zombie state: braindead…but conscious…ish. At one point I heard voices outside my door, thought it was morning, and was sickened by how completely wrecked I felt. How would I articulate at tech? How could I perform at all that night?
Finally looked at the clock—4am. Tried everything: turned down the thermostat, pushed off the bedcover, tried sleeping with my head at the foot of the bed and vice versa—no dice. Took deep yoga breaths, counted sheep, tensed and relaxed each and every muscle and then all of them together—no dice.
Finally at 5am I gave up. Surrendered to reality and said aloud, “Well I’m Not Going To Sleep. Fine.” I decided to at least try to make my wakefulness pleasant and think about how grateful I was for the booking and each element of it—all the people who helped to make it happen, the quietly cordial van driver, the nice hotel, etc.
Almost immediately my entire body relaxed. I kept mentally listing the myriad positive aspects of the booking…and was asleep within five minutes.
Best lesson I’ve learned in a long time.
Tech rehearsal went well and the show was very warmly received by the almost full house.
Funny thing about surrender. Every time I do it, when The Thing That I Want The Most Will Not Arrive Or Be Granted Or Manifest In Any Way, and I believe I’ve tried everything—or at least everything I can bear to do—and I ultimately decide to pursue fulfillment/happiness/satisfaction/peace/whathaveyou some other way (and let myself grieve the unfulfilled wish if it’s a very big thing)…an unexpected reward comes a-callin’. In this case, it was the exact reward that I had originally hoped for and worked toward, but it took giving up and making peace with that that brought the peaceful reward.
I know it’s not a new idea but it never dawned on me that it could work with insomnia.
We’re told to stop trying to sleep if we’re still awake 20 minutes after turning the lights off and that we should read or journal instead. But if you’re like me, you won’t want to give up on it so quickly when you’re desperate for it and convinced that it’s bound to happen because you’ve had a draining day. In that case, try it my way in Northampton in winter: give up on sleep anyway. (A long-suffering, resigned sigh might accompany this surrender.) Then, mentally call up the things you’re grateful for in your current situation. (I’m assuming your general situation is pretty good or you wouldn’t be on the internet reading a solo show blog.) Think of every single thing for which you’re grateful. No detail is too small. It’s your detail, so claim it and silently express your gratitude for it.
Let me know what happens.
Full Disclosure: I tried it again last week when I hadn’t had an exhausting day and didn’t have a performance the next night…and it didn’t work (so I read instead). It was still good to feel gratitude but I think context is key: you’ve gotta be sleep deprived already and/or exhausted by the day’s events, need to perform the next day/night, and feel glad about the latter.
In other words: this tip is for insomnia the night before a show.
I hope it works for you. If it doesn’t but something else does that does not involve alcohol or drugs, please let me know! Let’s help one another to have sweet dreams.
BONUS: A link on how to live and breathe through uncomfortable moments and come out stronger (hint: baby steps!):
- Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits
[Added 7/28/16. -EL]
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, so please draw any and all reasonable conclusions from that fact.
Announcement: I’m taking my show to Singapore in April and to Citrus College (Glendora, CA) in May. More info: aliencitizensoloshow.com.
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