Permission to Rest

Permission to Rest

I don’t sleep well. But it’s not an acute case of insomnia. My sleeplessness comes and goes. I don’t tell my therapist, or my mom, or my friend about it when they ask how I’m doing. My sleeplessness is not bothersome; or at least that’s what I tell myself.

You see, I rationalize this fleeting-sleep problem. I intellectualize it. My 23andMe profile reports that my Northern European genetic makeup predisposes me to light sleeping. I’ve lived a lifetime in regions that don’t afford me any natural vitamin D for months at a time. I’m sensitive to even the smallest drip of caffeine. I get terribly hot in bed most nights. Insomnia is my normal, and for months or even years at a time I’ve become friends with it.

But as of late, my sleep has degraded more than normal, along with my motivation. I desperately want to return to the flow state that comes with creating, as much as I want to return to a restful nights’ sleep. I miss sewing, I do. But I’ve been stuck in that odd limbo of not feeling like doing the thing that I know will make me come alive again, that will fill my days with challenge and an engaged brain. I don’t want to do the thing that will help me sleep.

One morning, after a particularly fitful night of sleep, I trudged down to my sewing studio and gazed at my fabric stash that sat lonely, untouched for months. In it, a plaid Mammoth flannel fabric caught my eye. I have reached for this fabric often: it’s thick and soft and the cornflower blue color does something for me. It’s been pulled out with plans for a button-up shirt no less than three times. Always, it gets shoved back on the shelf with the other rejected fabrics. But this day, I yanked it from the stack and held the fabric to my face while I pondered whether I could muster any motivation to start a sewing project.

I’m a firm believer that what you wear matters. Your clothing forms your emotions which form your thoughts which form you. Color, fit, and silhouette all add up to how you’re going to feel that day. Wearing black makes me feel sad. Skinny jeans make me feel like an imposter. Turtlenecks make me feel trapped, the opposite of free. Texture, the feeling of the fabric on my skin, is the biggest predictor of whether I’ll feel happy, sad, frustrated, angsty, or peaceful that day. Lately, I only want to wear soft.

But I don’t usually carry this ethos to my sleepwear. At night, I put on worn-out grey polyester t-shirts with baggy-butt black sweatpants. I have never (as an adult) sewn myself a pair of pajama pants. Or any sleepwear for that matter. 

With flannel fabric to my face, I decided it was time. Feelings started to arise, just from the feeling of the fabric on my skin. Release, comfort, safety. All of a sudden it became clear this blue plaid flannel needed to become pajama pants. Now. No indecision, no hesitation.

All the other projects on my sewing table (prototypes of my next hopeful pattern, sweaters to be mended, underwear kits with fancy elastics) were shoved aside. I grabbed my Carolyn Pajamas paper sewing pattern and I got to work. I worked quickly, but with a measured intention that I hadn’t felt for months. I painstakingly stripe-matched the big blue squares. I deepened the hems, so that the pant legs would hang with some weight. I sewed a twill tape loop into the back waistband so I would avoid the frustration of deciphering front from back. I noticed that in these small details I was taking care of myself and the fabric was taking care of me.

Handmade Pajama Pants by Allie Olson

Within an hour and a half I had a new pair of pajama pants. I tried them on. They felt warm and fuzzy and inviting of deep, deep rest. “I’ll just wear these until my afternoon run,” I thought. I clicked off my sewing machine, serger, and iron and headed back upstairs. I was pleased with myself. A hint of motivation had returned and it felt good.

In the kitchen, I glanced at the clock and mentally tallied how many hours were left until I could go to bed. This is a familiar mental routine for me, but this time the counting of hours was driven by the comfort wrapped around my legs and not by exhaustion; a desire driven to by anticipation and not by resignation. The comfort of my new pants was urging me towards my bedroom. All I could think about was laying down underneath the sheets.

I started to rearrange my day’s agenda in my head. “Maybe I’ll squeeze in a kick nap,” I thought as my legs carried me down the hallway to my bedroom, as my arms closed the curtains and turned down the thermostat, and my body crawled under the down comforter.

What ensued in these pajama pants was the most restful two hours of sleep I have experienced in years. Dreamless, I slipped into a respite that I did not know was possible - not in the middle of the day, not after a hard day of skiing, not after a 24 hour flight…not ever. This nap was more restorative than any eight to ten hour slumber that I can recall. I woke with a peaceful heart. I rose from bed and slipped on my running clothes, excited to head out for a jog. I felt optimistic, an emotion that felt foreign, forgotten. “I needed this. This rest, these pants,” I thought and felt a moment of confused gratitude for what a pair of handmade flannel pajama pants just afforded me. 

As I ran that afternoon, I pondered what had happened. My improved sleep didn’t have anything to do with the actual fabric or thread or that twill tape loop. Yes, the pants fit well and the flannel is gloriously soft and the color reminds me of a mountain lake. But those aren’t the reasons I was able to let go, to finally sleep.

Rest came, I realized, because I had finally met my own need with compassion, without judgement. I acknowledged what I was yearning for and lovingly created it - myself. For months I craved sleep on a level that had nothing to do with day-to-day weariness. It wasn’t the annoying mid-afternoon sleepies that drove me to make these pajama pants.

No, it was the near constant clenching in my throat and the buzzing thoughts in my head. The rest I was craving was the ability to fully let go, to release the ever-present tension, to feel safe enough to doze into unconsciousness. My sleeplessness had been sitting on a foundation of self-judgement. I was caught in a circular pattern of critical thoughts about my lack of motivation that kept me from the rest I so badly craved, a cycle that I couldn’t escape. I didn’t realize that rest would come when I gave myself permission to get comfortable.

I slept well that afternoon and again that night. I continue to sleep well, my legs wrapped in these cozy pants. I still feel intense gratitude for them, for my loving creation. I know they’re just a pair of pajamas, but to me they’re a symbol of the self-compassion that I needed to finally, truly get some sleep.

Flannel Carolyn Pajama Pants handmade pajama pants

Mammoth Flannel Carolyn Pajama Pants