Illustration: John Ritter
When sleep won't come, the nights are lonely, long, and way too quiet. I have brewed my chamomile tea, taken my rightful place on the sofa (experts insist it's a bad idea to get into bed until you're really ready to doze off), and had three whispered phone chats with three fellow insomniacs. But Margaret's melatonin has finally kicked in, Michael must clean his entire apartment because his housekeeper is coming first thing in the morning to clean his entire apartment (been there), and Anna has to finish reading Jude the Obscure so she can begin writing her son's English report.… I love the woman, but she's a Dr. Phil column just waiting to happen, which means I am left to simmer away in my own particular bouillabaisse of angst.
So I watch Jon Stewart; I fidget and I fuss and I down a pint of blueberries. I stare at the clock and double check that the door is locked and tomorrow's clothes are good to go. I'm too tired for sex, too wired for rest, and too busy kicking myself for all those little things I did not manage to accomplish during the day, like mailing that thank-you note I wrote a week and a half ago, or buying Cascade, or giving birth to two more children and moving to the suburbs. I just can't seem to locate the switch that turns off my brain and closes my eyes.
I have tried blackout curtains and lavender sachets. I have forced myself to lie down at 10 o'clock sharp and rise at the crack of 6:45 for three straight weeks. I have invested in an orthopedically correct, hypoallergenic, dust-mite resistant, Siberian white goose down pillow, and Egyptian cotton sheets. I have subjected myself to a sleep study in which a bazillion tiny electrodes were pasted to my scalp, arms, legs, and face, as well as strapped across my chest and stomach, while a tiny camera recorded my every toss and turn and a not-so-tiny Russian woman monitored my every breath and eye movement. That evening taught me four things:
1. Claustrophobia and a head wrapped in wires do not mix.
2. It takes five shampoos to remove paste from one's scalp
3. I suffer from sleep apnea (the condition in which one can repeatedly stop breathing for a few seconds throughout the night).
4. Knowing that sleeping will cause me to cease breathing does not make the whole falling-asleep process any easier.
I have tried warm milk and cool jazz; I have tried kava kava, valerian, licorice root, and blackstrap molasses. I have restricted my caffeine intake and increased my yogurt consumption —it did wonders for my cousin's roommate. I have tried medication and meditation. The former worked like a charm —until my daughter was born and it occurred to me that with her father often on the other side of the world, it might be nice if I could be semi-coherent in case of fire. The latter made me more tense than ever (and that, my friend, is definitely saying something).
I tend to stress out. Not during the day, mind you. During the day I'm cucumber cool. The problems come when the sun goes down —and, apparently, I'm not alone (though at 3:09 in the morning, it sure feels that way). According to the National Sleep Foundation, 27 percent of us say our sleep was disturbed at least a few nights a week in the past month, due to money woes, the economy, the cost of healthcare, and job worries.
Here, in no particular order, is a partial list of what's keeping me wide awake:
We Hear You!