To Sleep or Not to Sleep

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There are basically two kinds of people in the world – not pretty and ugly, not mean and kind, but those who can drop off to sleep at the touch of a pillow and those who crush their pillow with tossing and turning. I’m the latter.

As a kid, I remember the annoyance in my mother’s voice when I would march into her bedroom at some past-midnight hour announcing tearfully, “Mom, I can’t sleep.” At which point, she would wearily tell me to count sheep and not to think too much about sleeping. “If you think about sleeping you won’t fall asleep,” she reminded me.

Really now, how can you not think about sleeping when you’re trying to sleep? That’s like jumping into a running shower and not getting wet. And then I had an emotional problem with the alternative remedy of counting sheep. You see, somewhere around the 155th or 157th jumper this odd sheep would have an unfortunate and disabling incident. One of his legs would get tangled in the fence and he would “baah, baah” relentlessly as if in severe pain. This reoccurring try-to-sleep-nightmarish-turn-of-events would keep me up even longer as I tried to coax the lone sheep out of his agonizing entanglement. And it was all my fault. If I hadn’t counted him in – he’d probably have been fine.

I also didn’t like the word “fall” asleep. My mother tried to convince me that I would “fall” asleep naturally if I stopped trying so hard to “fall” asleep. But I didn’t want this fall – like falling down a well or falling into an abyss or falling and hurting myself. Nothing comforting there.

And then my Aunt Florence told me if I would just take deep breaths and relax, the Sandman would come and visit me. But how could I sleep with the thought of a strange man climbing up the stairs, crawling into my bedroom and putting sand in my eyes? Who was she kidding? Anyway, Mr. Sandman never came. Gratefully. I guess he couldn’t make it up the stairs. We lived in a five-story walk-up.

So from childhood to adulthood and further, I have had a sleep disorder. The world’s woes visit me at night and every racing heartbeat I count as my last. Lunesta, Ambien, Benadryl, Sonata, Melatonin, Dalmane – these have been my bedtime playmates to no avail. In order to make me drowsy, I have to swallow so many of these pills; I wake up slurring my words and forgetting which planet I have been temporarily assigned to.

And, then, to add to my angst, I read about the punishing-published facts about not getting enough sleep – you eat more if you don’t sleep, you shorten your life if you don’t sleep, you remember less if you don’t sleep, you enjoy sex less if you don’t sleep and you have more accidents with heavy machinery if you don’t sleep.

Well, frankly I don’t operate heavy machinery. And this sleepless soul is who I am. Seeking rem-edies, seeking sleep at any level, I have recently realized that I do some of my best thinking and feeling while tossing and turning. Ideas replace sleep and angst gives momentum to their realization. I can even write about not sleeping tonight because everyone in my house is sleeping and it’s my lone time. The dog is snoring, and I can commune with the stars, a pen and a pad. So goodnight, you sleepers. While you play with your unconscious, I’ll learn to run on empty while changing the color of my toenail polish from Blushing Red to Party Pink. And I can tell you without a doubt, the new polish will have plenty of night-time to dry.

2 comments so far.

  1. Dear Sheila,
    For someone who doesn’t get enough sleep, you are awfully funny and good natured. Plus you are an exceptional writer.

    So far, I have not resorted to counting sheep and I have to admit it never occurred to me that it could be so hazardous for the sheep!

    Thanks for this piece. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Susan Gabriel
    author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower
    (Kirkus Reviews: starred review and voted a Best Book of 2012)

  2. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Hi Shelia,

    You might want to try self-hypnosis. Look for someone certified with references you can check offering classes.