The Princess and the Pea is a classic children’s fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson. The story tells of a young prince desiring to find a princess to marry. On a dark and stormy night, a wet and dirty young lady appeared at the castle’s gate proclaiming to be a princess. The Queen tests her royal legitimacy by placing a pea under 40 mattresses for the girl to sleep on. The girl woke in pain and bruises after a terrible night’s rest. And that’s when the Queen knew she was of royal blood, because “nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that”.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, roughly 30% of the general population report having a disruptive sleep disorder, with approximately 10% being insomnia.
I’ve struggled with sleep for as long as I can remember. The night and I have had a contentious relationship in the past.
I’m a night owl by nature.
Since I was young I would get a sudden burst of energy around 11 PM. My parents would often times hear me rearranging my bedroom in the middle of the night. And once I did get to sleep it was coin toss if I was going to sleepwalk that night, have a nightmare or sleep paralysis; the least of my psychological genetic worries.
Getting up early for school was cruel and unusual punishment as a kid. Once the raspberries on my tummy stopped working to wake me up, my mother resorted to pouring water on me. You can imagine my glorious mood for the rest of the day.
The night is quiet; my preferred state of affairs. Yet, it is far from silent. The quiet lends itself to articulate other sounds; crickets chirping, owls hooting, howling wind, opossums rummaging.
To drown out the creaks and the spooks at night, my family uses fans as white noise. So, I grew up with 3 fans on every night. Now I only have to use two. Progress.
My knees get hot so I sleep with a pillow in between them. Flat sheets make me feel tangled and constricted, so a comforter it is. I sleep on my side in a pseudo-fetal position being swaddled by pillows lining my back and stomach. It makes me feel “safe.”
Now that everything is perfect and I’m all tucked in, it’s time to go to sl—Ah, yes; my husband’s snoring. After 15 years together I still have yet to master sleeping with a snorer. A snore which has resulted in many a threat of divorce. And now that I’m an adult I understand why some long-standing loving marriages have separate bedrooms.
When we first started dating we were on opposite schedules. He was up at 4 AM for work, as I was just going to bed. As I changed jobs and adjusted my sleep accordingly, our schedules were more aligned.
Now, I had to sleep when he sleeps. Which proved to be nearly impossible. I started using a name brand allergy medication to aid in my drowsiness. And after 10 years of use my body developed a high tolerance, thus losing its purpose for me.
That’s when I was introduced to prescription benzodiazepines. Xanax is the fastest acting “benzo,” as they’re called. The rapidness of which I fell a slumber was addicting. And addicted I got.
After developing a chemical dependency and high tolerance, they only lasted about four hours so when I’d awake in the middle of the night I would have to take another one. I learned to stagger each dose about an hour apart and I was then able to sleep through a solid night.
This didn’t seem natural to me. I was desperate to restore any sort of circadian rhythm I had left so I voluntarily opted to go through a benzo detox with professional help. While excruciatingly painful at best, I’m very happy that I followed through with it.
I preferred more natural methods of attaining sleep with melatonin and chamomile tea. But I still was not achieving that deep REM sleep which my body needed.
I decided to experiment by going off any and all sleep aids. As it turns out, my natural state of sleepiness is still 4 AM. Go figure. When my husband goes to work I sleep like a baby till around 11 AM. So I may not suffer from insomnia so much as I’m just naturally nocturnal.
However, society is not set up for nocturnal people. For centuries, farmers rise with the birds at sunrise. They tend their farms in daylight and barter at markets during the illuminated hours. That’s just how it is and has always been. So while the world will never adjust for someone like me, I must then adjust myself unnaturally.
As much as we’d like to think our eyes and ears are meant to rest at night, they are actually considerably heightened. Our eyes adjust when its dark, allowing us to see the slightest movements. When it’s quiet, our ears pick up the clearest subtleties that we’d otherwise miss during the daytime’s commotion.
With my senses and my energy at their peak in the night, I find myself the clearest headed and invigorated during these hours. It’s like I get to borrow the world to myself for just a little while before I give it back at sunrise. These hours make best for writing poetry and transcendental pondering.
For now, I rely on my beloved blackout eye mask, headband-earphones, and several noise machine apps on my phone to get me through most nights. Along with the melatonin of course.
Still to this day if I do not get a full and complete night’s rest, I am a wicked zombie trash monster the next morning. If my senses don’t get the rest they need, I will assuredly go out of my way to make everyone else’s day as miserable as possible. Tired me is real petty.
Our senses need respite as much as our minds, whether in daytime or nighttime. As HSPs they guide us through our daily lives. We should tend to them as intricately as we do our farms.
Fertilize your senses and they’ll return fruit tenfold in the form of sharp alertness and soothing ecstasy.
So maybe the prince went on to marry the princess and they moved into a sustainable, off the grid tiny castle on a pea farm. The prince would arise with dawn light and tend to the pea farming business, while the princess retires to her bed chamber with blackout drapes, the sound of distant rolling thunder, a weighted blanket and she slept happily ever after.
Do you struggle with sleep? Are you a day lark or a night owl? As an HSP what tips do you have for better sleep?