Sleepless in Saratoga

Ok, this is nuts. It’s been going on for a couple of years now, and I’ve had it.

I live a full and busy life. For the most part I’m pretty happy, daily I’m grateful, and never am I idle. My chores start before sunrise and end late at night. I cook two mealtimes a day plus make my child’s lunch. I work a few hours, I practice an hour, I do laundry and dishes daily and keep up on correspondence. I prepare for students, I teach students. I have a great relationship with my son, I love my home, my family is all alive and well… I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol and the coffee I drink is decaffeinated. All in all I’m healthy, and things are goin pretty well. So why in hell can’t I sleep? Oh I can get to sleep initially – but if I get up at night to pee – it’s all over. Likely I’ll be up for the duration, catching half hour naps here and there on a good night. Some nights I just wake up for no good reason at all. Either way, there I am again, watching that stupid clock. I’ll turn the clock to face the other way, but that won’t help. And yes, I know the other tricks – get all your wandering and pressing thoughts down on paper. Concentrate on your breath. Don’t drink lots of fluids close to bedtime… check, check and check. 

I can’t be the only one! I see the commercials for sleep medications – that lovely, luminescent butterfly gliding in and out of suburban bedroom windows, gently coaxing pretty women to sleep… And I myself have taken such medication. Many times over the last five years I’ve depended on em for a true night’s sleep. But I’d very much like to sleep on my own now, only it just aint workin. It’s driving me nuts. Ok, there are two things I know I haven’t tried – exercise and yoga. Those two disciplines, worked routinely into my life might tip the scales. They might be just what I need to find sleep a naturally occurring phenomenon again. Ok. On the list…

Oh, yeah, and speaking of lists, there’s that ‘other’ list too. The ‘low-grade worry’ list that continues, like a ticker at the bottom of your screen on the nightly news…. not enough money so the electric might shut off soon, not enough money but the fuel oil’s nearly out, not enough money so now the phone’s been cutoff, not enough money but sure hope the the kid’s violin rental won’t be cancelled , not enough money, hope the car insurance won’t lapse….did the bank charge me two or thee overdrafts? How much was that total?  I need more students, I need more egg customers… where will I find them? Even then, will it be enough? This is all old news by now, but it’s there, nonetheless, and perhaps it contributes to the problem. Shouldn’t think so, but then again…

My mother insists that this is simply what happens to all women in or nearing menopause. Many other women say that’s baloney. Who’s right? What’s the cause? What the hell is going on here and why can’t I sleep???

Years ago – as in maybe more than 20 – I was an extra in a Sandra Bullock movie, shot in Chicago. Folks were all abuzz in the costume room, but all I was was tired. My husband had long told me I was making too big a deal over sleep. We humans didn’t need much, he would say confidently, we could function on so much less than we got every night. Alright, so I decided to live ‘like him’ for 24 hours to see how true this was. We had a gig the night before, stayed way up, retired way late. Drove him the O’Hare for his next gig somewhere, then I went back downtown to the set. I was shown the cloakroom, told the extras were already on the street but I had a good twenty minutes yet to find a coat and get down to the set (we were given coats to wear, not much different from our own). There was a pile of coats on the floor left by the extras – and it looked so inviting. Maybe, just for a couple minutes. A power nap. Yeah, that’s just what I need. And there’s no one here – I’m all by myself. Perfect. I laid down and slept. When I awoke, it seemed to be lunchtime. I’d missed the morning’s scene, but I’d at least make the afternoon scene. Got in line and put some very good looking food on my plate. I was just about to taste the tip of a perfectly prepared asparagus spear when a very stern woman came up and informed me that this was dinner for the crew, and that the extras were outside, on set. ?? It took me a minute to realize what had happened. I’d been deeply asleep for at least eight hours – through the commotion of lunch break too – and it had only felt like fifteen minutes! Woah. Very Rip Van Winklesque. Kinda disorienting. The woman made me dump my plate into the garbage and leave the building. Ok. I’m going. I wasn’t bummed about not being in the movie, but I was instead feeling quite smug inside. Turns out this girl does need her sleep. Body don’t lie.  

And the name of that movie? “While You Were Sleeping”. Ha! I certainly know that I need my sleep – more to the point I want my sleep – but these days the challenge is actually getting it. Here I go, back to the task at hand… rested or not, see you in the morning.

3 thoughts on “Sleepless in Saratoga

  1. Hopefully, you will get more sleep soon. If I make this comment boring enough, maybe you will catch up on your sleep even sooner than you expected! Actually, I was thinking of starting this with a smart-aleck remark, like “Sorry, I dozed off while reading your latest enty!” But seriously, what you’ve got isn’t all that rare. It’s just no fun when it happens. I guess that the mind is a complex thing which can go into high gear when we just want to downshift and only think of things that we’re not worried about. That has happened to both my wife and to me from time to time, and that’s a real drag when you know you have to get up early in the morning.

    Back in 1934, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote an essay, called “Waking and Sleeping” (or was it “Sleeping and Waking”?), about that very thing, of falling asleep for an hour or two, then waking up and not being able to get back to sleep. The essay tells of how it started with the sound of a mosquito that he just couldn’t catch, and so each time that he turned the lights off, he would hear that thing flying around the room, never far away. He wrote of being awake at 4 am, thinking about his every regret, lost opportunity, and every bill which was due. He said something like, “In the dark night of the soul, it is always four o’clock in the morning.” Cheerful thought, isn’t it?

    Anyway, what I like to do is a sort of pro-active form of meditation, where I explore a certain thought, memory, or idea- something that isn’t at stressful or prone to bring about worry- and I follow that idea through, to actively direct my mind in something which is just complicated enough to keep my thoughts engaged and busy enough so that I don’t think about things which could cause worry. I’ll think about something which isn’t quite so compelling that I can’t simply drop it as I feel sleep coming on. Just enough to guide the thinking process through still waters of peace and calm. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll take an antihistimine and sit up and read until my eyes get droopy. Of course, it’s best if one can get to sleep without any medication, because that’s an artificial thing. It’s best to simply keep the mind occupied with the most non-aggravating things possible, and enjoy the quietness of night. I hope that you get the sleep you need. Best wishes for refreshing slumber.

  2. Some people need more sleep than others. It’s one of the joys of retirement that I can finally (mostly) get enough. I’m fortunate that I wake up a lot, but can just go back to sleep. My sister had the wake up and can’t go back to sleep problem. She worked with her doctor and with some medication nudged her body into a different pattern. Still not perfect for her, but better.

  3. Sorry to hear about your sleep difficulties. I know a lot of people who are in a similar boat. I’ve never had any trouble falling asleep. It usually takes a minute or two and I’m out until I wake up. My problem is that my natural rhythm is to go to bed at around 4 or 5am and then wake up around Noon. This has only been possible a few times in my life…like Summer vacation when I was a kid and a few times when I had breaks from having to make a living. At times I’ve forced myself to be a sort of “morning person”…At times I’ve just been tired and wired on caffeine all the time. Since l got back into making music in 2005 or so, it’s gotten more intense, which my creative life pushing me into the early morning hours and my T’ai-Chi teaching life starting in the mornings. My latest and best compromise is, with minor variations, sleeping in two roughly 4 hours chunks of time, between 5-9am and again between 2-7pm. I have one cup of black tea after my afternoon sleep and that’s it. It’s not ideal but it’s the best one I’ve come up with yet. I’m always at least a little bit tired so falling asleep is never a problem.

    I do recommend exercise and particularly what I’d call awareness-based exercise, as opposed to mindless, read a book while you’re on a treadmill type exercise. Exercise that focuses on bringing your awareness into your body and refining it’s movements. Yoga, T’ai-Chi, partner dancing, martial arts, mindful walking…anything where you’re learning to feel into your body, it’s various parts and degrees of tension. I think self-inquiry, particularly as it applies to emotions can be really helpful too. Unfelt feelings become muscle tension and can feed mental hyperactivity.

    You might try not even drinking decaffeinated coffee for a couple of weeks, or looking at when and how much sugar you eat. I know people who are very sensitive to sugar when it comes to winding down and/or sleeping.

    Best of luck with this. GB

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