What do Jon Stewart, kava kava, and Siberian goose down have in common? None of them cure a bad case of insomnia. Our sleepless columnist takes a hard look at what's keeping her up at night.
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.
I worry that I will contract the Ebola virus. I have raised this concern at my annual checkup every year since
hit the movie theaters in 1995. The conversation is always the same: "Let me ask you this, Miss Kogan; is your apartment brimming with disease-riddled monkeys?" I think for a moment. "No, no, it is not," I answer proudly. "Okay," my doctor asks, making a small note in my file, "did somebody rent
I worry that I have lost my God-given right to go a full month without hearing about
Jon and Kate Gosselin. I worry that I'm running out of space in my brain and soon this
stuff will start crowding out everything I ever learned about Hamlet. "To be or…"
You see? I can only remember the cast of
Dancing with the Stars.
Having been raised in Detroit, I worry that I will lose my job. I also worry that I will lose
my health insurance, my TV remote, my teeth, my parents, my home, and my mind. I worry
that the only thing I can do is pray my mind goes first so I don't notice that I'm a homeless,
unemployed orphan with no ability to pay for prescription drugs, change channels, or chew.
I worry that acid-washed jeans are making a comeback. And far be it from me to dispense fashion
advice, but here's a mantra worth committing to memory: Bon Jovi has moved on, and I can, too.
I worry that last fall, 30 members of the United States Senate voted no to a measure that would
prevent our government from funding military contractors (think Halliburton) who prohibit rape
victims from seeking justice against the coworkers who attack them. I literally lie awake at night
trying to understand how the people who are supposed to protect us can justify voting no on
something so clearly nonnegotiable. And I worry that those guys are sleeping just fine.
I worry that my boyfriend and I are growing a bit too comfortable with each other. We used to eat dinner by candlelight. He'd read Rilke for me and I'd draw a bath for him. But 16 years is a lot of togetherness. The other night I didn't think twice about asking if he could see Audrey from where he was standing. Warning: If you are faint of heart or weak of stomach, or anyone I've ever dated, read no further because…Audrey is the name I've given my lone, black chin hair —that's right, I've named my chin hair —and, believe me, I'm plenty worried about that, too.
I worry about every single aspect of my child's life, including but not limited to everything from whether she's getting enough sleep, milk, and attention to whether she's getting too much TV, juice, and pollution. I worry that she will get the H1N1 flu. I worry that all her friends will get it and she'll feel left out. I worry my boyfriend will die before me and I will have to rely on our sleepy, milk-deprived daughter to pluck little Audrey.
I worry that according to a piece in the October 2008 issue of this magazine, worrying about not getting enough sleep is actually keeping me from getting enough sleep. And I guess, more than anything, I worry that I'll never figure out what it takes to finally get some rest.
But who knows? I keep hoping that not really having the answer to that question is somehow making me and my sleepless friends into better people, forcing us to reach out for a touch of warmth in the existential darkness, and in so doing, drawing all of us closer together. Maybe not. Still, that's the idea I plan to cling to, as soon as I check the lock one last time and decide to call it a night.