Sleeping has always been my strong suit. I may have long failed at math and technology, never finished a full marathon, and accumulated an impressive pile of rejection letters; but I have forever taken great pride in my ability to fall asleep. Anywhere, anytime. Occasionally at inappropriate times. And once asleep, the ability to stay asleep has been one of my outstanding skills.
So where did this insomnia come from? Geezerhood? Global angst? Oneness with humanity – since so much of humanity seems afflicted with insomnia? Beginning a year or so ago I have turned into an early-morning insomniac.
Worse (or maybe better, in some complex, comforting sense) it seems to be a universal condition. This theory was reinforced by New Yorker writer Patricia Marx recently in one of her classic explorations of a topic and its related market. “In Search of Forty Winks” (The New Yorker, February 8 & 15) takes readers on a wide awake laughing tour of the gadgets, contraptions, medications, programs and assorted products currently being employed by the thirty+ percent of us regularly struggling to catch a little shut-eye.
It does not help to know you’re not alone.
It does help, a tiny bit, to know you’re not spending the hundreds, often thousands of dollars your fellow insomniacs are spending on headgear, eyewear, electronic gadgetry and bedding while trudging along their sleep-deprived paths through life. But maybe they know something I don’t know.
Me? Telling myself stories has always worked as a way to put myself to sleep. (Which may say something about my short stories, but we will not go there now.) I have a few stock stories that end with achieving some great literary goal, or involve wandering off into the sunset on a romantic beach, or, well, whatever. Sketching them out in my head always puts me to sleep midway through. They are not working.
Instead, my brain – that same organ often prone to fuzzing over at random, inconvenient moments – kicks in at 3, 4 or 5 AM. It says things like What are you going to do when your husband’s neuropathy worsens? Does that kid/grandkid/distressed friend need help? When are you going to finish that (fill in the blank)?
The first two by themselves are good for at least an hour, since they are open-ended to the point of the ridiculous. But the third is the killer. It evolves into an argument with myself about whether to go ahead, get up and make some actual progress on the unfinished whatever, or whether that will just make things worse because I still won’t finish it; either way, the rest of the night’s sleep is shot.
There are, of course, answers out there. There is a National Sleep Foundation website with rolling banners and tabs about common causes, diagnoses, symptoms and treatment. There are WebMD’s helpful “natural sleep solutions” (lavender oil baths, half a banana with peanut butter 30 minutes before bedtime) and Prevention’s “simple steps (yeah, right) to a better night’s sleep” – all sprinkled with useful data about how sleep loss leads to high blood pressure, weight gain and potentially fatal accidents. Data that’s already keeping you up nights.
Maybe we could worry about it all in the morning? After 7:30 please?