630: Don’t Think
630: Don’t Think
I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
I am, for the most part, a good sleeper. It takes me a little while to fall asleep but then, generally, I sleep through the night. But something no one tells you about aging is that pretty much after 40, most of your friends and family members will start talking to you about sleep. Everyone will talk about how they need more sleep, or how sleep has been interrupted by children, or how now they have to stop eating after 8pm to make sure they can sleep. Sleep becomes everything.
When I was in my twenties, I never thought about sleep. It was just something I did. I crawled into bed and it happened. I could drink and eat and stay out late, or stay in and go to bed early, and sleep would come. But now, I make sure the room temperature is right (cold, cold, cold), the bed is firm, there’s not a sliver of light assaulting my eyes. I sleep well, yes, but I work at it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control,* 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. And if my friends' anecdotes and agonies are any fair sampling, then this is true. And yet, we need it. We’re told we need more of it to be healthy, to lower our blood pressure, to improve our mental and physical well-being. But you know what’s never helped me to sleep? Thinking too much about sleep. If I start to worry about it, then it’s all over. I could be up for hours watching the ceiling fan spin thinking about every single thing I’ve done wrong in my life…including not sleeping at this very moment.
Maybe, you’re tired right now as you’re listening to this. Maybe you’re using this episode to put you to sleep? Either way, I hope sleep will come to you.
Today’s exploratory poem offers us a meditation on how the too-awake mind follows thoughts relentlessly whether we like it or not.
by Elisa Gabbert
One way to fall asleep is paradoxical intention: trying not to fall asleep. So the thinking goes, this reduces your performance anxiety. The question is, who are you fooling, if you really want to fall asleep? As if sleep were a performance for God. The instructions on a sleep mask say, you still need to close your eyes. I wish the pink light of sunrise lasted longer, the warm pink of in-between. One way to fall asleep is to say Don’t think over and over to yourself. The instructions say, try to practice it mindlessly. In sleep, sleep becomes an everlasting interlude, an eternal in-between. I read that staring into space “can help”—but can’t remember what it helps with, thinking or not thinking. Not thinking is the closest we can get to stopping time. All I know of time is in my mind; my mind is all I know. Only fifteen minutes ago, I had no idea it was going to snow. And yesterday, and yesterday, what did we believe? It’s so easy to forget, as if it were a dream. The future wasn’t obvious. And the old snow on the mountains that never would melt—it didn’t look real.
"Don't Think" by Elisa Gabbert. Used by permission of the poet.