Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Murther of Sleep

Amber Wilson--"Sleep" (mp3)

Me thought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth doth Murder sleep”—the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,(50)
Chief nourisher in life's feast—

*I have a friend who can't sleep because of money.
*I have a friend who can't sleep because he's dissatisfied with where his life is heading.
*I have a friend who, like me, may potentially sleep in more than one location in a given night.
*I have a friend who leaves his house every morning by 5:30AM.
*I have a friend who responds to emails or Words With Friends in the middle of the night.
*I have a friend who takes a pill, or part of a pill, to help him sleep.

Talk to anyone over 35 or so, and they will tell you that their sleeping patterns have changed either drastically or gradually since the years that he or she used to go to bed, fall asleep, and remain in one of the various levels of sleep until it was time to get up.

I can't tell you when I last slept through the night.

That sounds like something that someone would say about a baby. "We can't wait until he starts sleeping through the night." Well, keep waiting, baby, 'cause it ain't happening anytime soon.

Last night, through no fault of her own (okay, well...some fault, from my perspective), my wife kept me pretty much awake from 1AM or so until it was time to get up. Actually earlier. I don't sleep until my alarm goes off; I wake up anywhere from an hour before to a few minutes before.

My wife is a cell phone junkie. If The New York Times sends her an update in the middle of the night, she'll pick up the phone and read the story. She thinks I can't tell. Like a child with a comic book and a flashlight, she thinks the lighted tent next to me can't be seen from the outside. But it can. But it usually doesn't keep me awake.

She's also an attorney, and attorneys seem doomed to abnormal sleep--the dark hours are the time to untangle arguments and to plan strategies and work out logic. So, she may well sigh or groan in her sleep, may even talk to herself (though more likely in the shower).

But that isn't really the problem. Just because something wakes you up doesn't mean, necessarily, that you can blame the rest of sleepless night on it. What I've figured out is that I have a limited number of "wake-ups" to use during a given night before I'm pretty certain I'm never going back to a satisfactory sleep. I can't tell you. I just get the feeling in my half-awake brain, like a kind of anxiety, when I've been awakened too many times and I know I'm done.

On a good night, I will wake up a number of times, maybe even check the clock and fall back asleep with the knowledge that I have several hours before I have to get up. I don't come fully awake; I just kind of readjust.

If it is not a good night, as in I have what feels like a big obligation or hurdle that I need to get past the next day, then I will go to bed a bit earlier, sleep soundly until some time in the middle of the night, and then, when I wake up, I know that I am up. At that point, my mind will focus on the task ahead and I know that I am not going back to sleep. But I do not get up. I will lie there and rest as best I can.

I have read somewhere that the best approach to sleeplessness is the counter-intuitive idea that I should try to stay awake and that this will make me fall asleep. That might well work, but I am afraid to try it, afraid that whatever activity I might engage in during this effort--reading, television, a game on my phone--will overstimulate my brain and doom me yet again.

It is ironic, I suppose, that as we get older and more tired, sleep flees from us more easily. But isn't that because our minds are clinging to consciousness more desperately? Or is it because our bodies just don't settle as easily, don't remain comfortable in the same position for as long? Is it because, as my friends and I like to joke, we've got "sin in our lives," a long-ago condemnation issued toward one of our ranks? I suppose it doesn't matter. Like an old, lonely person who suddenly finds a lover, we are simply grateful for sleep when it does come. Nor do we condemn it much when it takes its seductions elsewhere. What other choice do we have?

1 comment:

Billy said...

In my teens and 20s, I lost sleep because I was "occasionally" sloppydrunk, and drunk sleep is restless and miserable.

In my late 20s and 30s, I lost sleep because of screaming babies.

In my mid- and late-30s, I lost sleep because I got such an adrenaline rush from playing online poker that I couldn't calm down enough to rest.

Now, my sleep is 6hrs/night by choice, but it seems everyone I know in my age group or above is struggling with this, so it's like I'm Neo on the subway tracks, and it's only a matter of time before that sucker runs over me.

But enough about me. Great post, is my point.