I am awake. It is late. Or should I say early? My computer screen tells me it’s 1:16 a.m. I went to bed tonight with a pounding headache that made it impossible to get completely comfortable. Combine that with snoring so loud and intense that it rattles your bones and sleep quickly becomes impossible. Plus, we have some questionable neighbors who like to squeal their tires as they peal out in the parking lot at all hours of the night. It is loud and obnoxious and makes me tense up, like a deer who has heard a snapping twig on a very quiet morning, in anticipation of the ensuing crash of car on car action outside as I have no doubt one of these times they will, purposefully, mangle my car with their immature behavior…hoodlums! God, there is a level on which I am just simply not “young” anymore.
This last statement will no doubt be emphasized when the morning arrives. I used to be able to not only function, but thrive on only three maybe four hours of sleep a night. And that was if there was heavy drinking or illicit recreations going on. If I was just up studying for class, then I could even go several days with only two hours of sleep before I really felt it. Now, anything less than a full nine hours is just ludicrous and there is no guarantee that I will be able to fully function on any level. I do well just to remember my name and address should something go terribly wrong.
Normally, a night of elusive sleep would find me lying in bed wondering how long I have been lying there and playing that little game we all play when we can’t sleep and must get up early. If I fall asleep right now I can still get 6 hours. Okay, if I fall asleep now, I can get five hours. Four hours. Fall asleep! Fall asleep! Okay, if I fall asleep now, when the alarm goes off I’ll have just enough time for one 30 minute snooze and get 3 good hours of sleep, if I know what I’m going to wear. I then spend the next two hours mentally trying on everything I own. Aside from losing sleep, the trouble with this is the next morning when I put on the outfit I chose in my head trying to get to sleep. Once I put it on I realize that in my sleep-deprived state I was much more optimistic about my weight loss. None of it fits right. I spend what precious little time I have picking out a new outfit. I am, after all of that, late.
It is hard when you can’t sleep. So many people I know suffer from, to some extent, various bouts of insomnia here and there. Once you have hit day four or five though, you begin to lose your mind. I know I am not the mental athlete I was before all of the pregnancy and birth hormones, but this gets compounded when I go through a period of insomnia. I tend to lose days here and there. This is fine when I’m wandering around thinking gosh I can’t believe it’s just now Wednesday only to find out that it’s actually Thursday…tomorrow is Friday. That’s a good forgetting. But when I am so psyched for the weekend and someone reveals to me that it is actually not Thursday but Monday; well, that instantly sucks all of the wind right out of my sails. Time loss is something I deal with on a rather constant basis. I have learned to simply go with the flow, whatever the day.
One summer recently, however, I had about one month of precious little sleep. My birthday was coming up, and my mom, as a little pre-birthday fun, had taken me and three of her friends (Sandy Leigh, Cynthia and June) shopping and to lunch at a quaint Italian bistro. When my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday, it prompted all of the ladies to begin asking me how old I was going to be. Always a little shy about telling my age (I am usually the youngest by several years and I get much teasing for this), I softly muttered that I would be 31. 30 had been an incredibly good year and I was authentically looking forward to year 31. June then asked me what year I was born. Could she not do the math herself? 1976 I answered. Well, this math she could do and said to me, so sweetly and gently- as if telling me that our elderly family dog Buttons had gone to live on a farm where he could run and play without any pain- in fact, I was about to be celebrating my 32nd birthday. I had lost an ENTIRE YEAR! I like to comfort myself by pretending I had, at some point, successfully time traveled. I must have fallen into some wormhole or invisible portal in the frozen food section at the grocery store or maybe at Target. Shopping is like time travel these days. They run stores like casinos: no visible windows from the shopping areas and no clocks. Before you know it, you’ve spent three hours and $400 on things that aren’t on your list. You awaken from a fluorescent light induced coma at the checkout line surprised at what you have chosen to place in your cart. Church potluck sized jar of pickles, that’s an odd choice. A trial tube of toothpaste, but I never travel. Orthopedic socks for improved leg circulation; oh god, I have begun the tailspin into “old.” A power drill…you’d think I would remember that.
Sleep deprivation also causes you to be awkward in social settings. You can go without sleep one night and still manage an intelligent, albeit slower, conversation with pretty much anyone you might encounter. After several days of no sleep you become this lunatic who has trouble with the internal filter that keeps you from saying stupid things and, quite frankly, you rarely have any idea what anyone is talking about anyway. This will be the time, of course, when everyone under the sun urgently needs to talk to you, get your advice, or inform you of something so incredibly important that you should write it down (but the exhausted monkeys in your head will trick you into thinking you’ll remember whatever it is…you won’t). Going about your day you will indeed confuse everyone by injecting your delayed response from one conversation into a completely different conversation later that day. You will also randomly blurt out questions that you meant to ask so-and-so earlier like you have conversationally confused Tourette’s. This is what I do. I struggle with staying focused during conversations even when fully rested. Deny me my rightful nine hours and I simply cannot be expected to hold any kind of conversation; even the simplest exchange such as “How are you?” heaps excessive pressure on me mostly because I don’t know how I am. If I answer “tired,” people always want a follow-up explanation. I don’t have energy for that. I don’t even have the energy for asking how they are after I relate my answer to their question in the first place.
All of the stuff you read by “experts” says that if you lie in bed for 30 minutes without drifting to sleep, you should get up for 30 minutes to an hour. During this time you should read or engage in an activity that will make you feel tired. It is hard, so hard, to get out of bed when you are so tired. All you want to do is fall asleep. Surely getting out of bed is counter-intuitive. I rarely follow this advice, thus the ongoing mental exercise of “if I fall asleep right now…” So, tonight when I realized that I had been lying in bed for hours tossing and turning and flipping and flopping, I decided I might as well get up. Besides, my head, feeling like it was splitting open and dumping what little brain power I have left for the oncoming day onto my sad and uncomfortable pillow, may need a little more Excedrin.
I also have a partner who, when hitting the wall of tiredness (he began dozing off at 6), snores so loudly that I cannot believe he isn’t in pain. Anyone who has ever slept with a snorer knows that every breath is excruciating to listen to, and it is practically impossible to fall asleep after a snorer. The only way to get some sleep with one is to fall asleep fast and first. Snorers also tend to be ridiculously heavy sleepers. David is. I spent a good hour tonight practically beating the poor man to death trying to wake him up just enough that I could get him to change positions. This rarely works. I always end up having to man handle him and roll him over myself, being careful not to fling him wildly onto the floor. It is like sleeping with a toddler: they get all settled in the middle of the bed, turn perpendicular to you, shove their tiny little feet under your face and pass out stone-cold. The crux here is that no matter how many times you move that three year old sack of potatoes, he will inevitably return, almost instantly, to that perpendicular position. A snorer is the same way. The only sure fire thing I have found that works is to not trim my toenails. This makes for a swift end to the snoring. A quick, violent jab to the shins and the snorer will definitely wake up enough for you to maneuver them into a non-snoring position. The snoring, however, will always recommence. And I have found that I always just end up stabbing myself with my own long toenails. Then, I am lying in the dark, still awake, David is still rattling the windows and now I am bleeding. This will change the shoes I have picked out for my outfit tomorrow. And if you change the shoes, you will most likely have to change the whole damn outfit.
It is very quiet here tonight though. The only sounds are the occasional car revving its engine at the nearest stop light and the asthmatic hum of the refrigerator. I look out my window at all of the darkened windows of our neighbors. They are all sleeping. Bastards! The security lights outside the apartment buildings are orange. The whole night looks like an Oompa Loompa explosion. Being awake alone at night makes me crave ice cream. Generally, this is no problem as we rarely have ice cream in the house. But tonight we have a half gallon of Rocky Road sitting quietly, patiently in the freezer. In my sleepless state, I slowly grow paranoid that the refrigerator is humming me into hypnosis. If I awake in the morning flanked by an empty ice cream carton and its licked-clean lid, I know nothing about it and it was most likely a set up.
Before I met David, I was never a midnight snacker. My parents had put the fear of god in me as a child that midnight munching was the quickest way to get fat. I wasn’t obese, but I was most certainly never going to be what the world would define as thin so I vehemently stuck to this childhood truth. Besides, I had already brushed my teeth. David is a big late-night snack kind of guy. Here I must insert the tiniest complaint that he has a much higher metabolism than I do so late night snacks tend to rarely show up on the scale for him. For me, you will most likely need to send the scale in for weight-related repairs. I will never forget the first time I actually allowed myself to indulge in a late-night snack. I had Honey Nut Cheerios. They were awesome. I felt like I was breaking some ominous rule that I had been told all my life would utterly destroy me and instantly render me non-human. Freedom is being able to enjoy. Just enjoy. They were the best Cheerios I ever had (that is, until they came out with chocolate Cheerios). Since that cereal almost eight years ago, I have enjoyed many late night snacks. My favorite is cold pizza. This one is fun because you get to be all venerable earlier in the evening, “Oh, no. One piece was more than enough, especially with that salad.” You have now wowed your friends and partner with ultimate self-control. And let’s face it, you feel better knowing that they did not have the self control you had as they scarffed down their four slices. After midnight, it is technically a new day and so you can, without guilt, have the three pieces you so desperately wanted earlier. But the previous admiration and praise from your friends was so worth the wait.
And this is how your brain, well, mine at least, works without much sleep. I am all sounds and food. It’s quiet and I’m hungry. I am thinking that now I need to be heading back to bed. But that is not a fun idea since, when you struggle so much with falling asleep, you will most likely lie down and stare into the darkness wishing to either fall asleep promptly or for morning to come so you won’t be so damned bored. There are things to do, a routine to follow in the morning. At night you are left to your own devices. Often I think I ought to play a video game, take advantage of the time and opportunity. A sleepless night does give me the rare chance to be “alone” at home. But video games are incredibly difficult to play quietly. If I do decide to play a video game, or even after all of this writing on the computer, I know that once I get to a place where I could easily fall asleep I will have to power everything down and turn it off. This event followed by the physical act of walking into the bedroom is usually enough to wake me up all over again so that by the time I get hunkered down and comfortable, I am staring off into the inky-darkness wondering what outfit I should wear tomorrow.
If I fall asleep right now I can still get 2 hours of sleep…