The River's Badge

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sleepless






I'm a chronic non-sleeper.

When I was thirty, I had to work the day shift at the hospital on alternating weekends. My normal schedule was second shift, 3:30 p.m to 10:00 p.m. Invariably on Friday nights before that seven a.m. call, I remained excruciatingly conscious. I'm a guilt-ridden Catholic soul who has an aversion to calling in. However, for the majority of my first shift obligations, I staggered off the sofa sometime around four in the morning, dialed the automated mailbox number and declared that I was "sick". In retrospect, I could have sucked it up and just went to work (like I do now). At that time, though, I regarded sleeplessness as such a dire condition that at one point I actually considered killing myself.

I remember arising from my agonizing cocoon on the sofa, switching on the tiny kitchen nightlight and thumbing through the Yellow Pages to find the Suicide Hotline number. I was all ready to dial it, but then I imagined the conversation.

"Why do you want to kill yourself?"

"Well, I can't sleep."

Long pause.

"That's it?"

I didn't kill myself because I thought my reason wasn't good enough. That, plus I really had no means of accomplishing it. What was I going to use? Aspirin? How many tablets does one need to take to get the job done? There was no internet, so it would have been just a guess, and what if I guessed wrong?

Now here I am, thirty years later, and the scourge continues. The difference is, while it's still unbearable at three in the morning, I've accepted it as a fact of my life. And I buck up and plow through.

I used to think I was all alone, but I've since learned through offhand conversations that more people than not suffer right along with me. Selfishly, that makes me feel a little bit better. Nobody wants to feel alone.

I'll say right now that all the advice about how to sleep is utterly worthless. These "experts" a) never in their lives have had a sleeping problem; and b) are just spouting nonsense.

  • Don't consume caffeine after 12:00 noon.
         Okay.

  • Use your bedroom only for sleep.
          Fine.

  • Meditate or "journal" fifteen minutes prior to bedtime.
         I neither meditate nor jot thoughts down in a little notebook, and
         why would anyone do that? 

Here is the only advice that might work:  drugs. But good luck there. My doctor won't prescribe anything, such as Ambien, and I admit I'm not keen on that anyway. I don't want to find myself in the kitchen at 2:30 a.m., baking up a late-night entree of roasted boot. Or driving around aimlessly, firing up a cigarette and stubbing it out on my car's leather upholstery. Or even worse, posting nonsensical comments on social media, inadvertently starting a Twitter war over my professed hatred of Ariana Grande's shoes.

My doctor actually told me I'm going to bed too early. She said I should stay up until 11:30. I get up at 4:30 a.m. for work! Following her advice, assuming I fell asleep the minute my cranium alighted the pillow, I would get four complete hours of sleep.

The things I have tried:

Watching TV until my eyes flutter closed.
         
The way this works for me is, sure, I catch thirty seconds of snooze time; then a commercial jars me awake. I am then bleary-eyed for approximately three hours.

NOT watching TV. 
         
The whir of my bedroom fan, initially soothing, begins to grate on my nerves. The longer I lie awake, the more irritating it becomes. I get up and switch it off; but soon the room turns infuriatingly quiet.

Don ear plugs and a sleep mask.
        
Now I'm left alone with my thoughts. Plus my back hurts.  My mind WILL NOT SHUT OFF. I eventually begin to drift off, but the snort that wheezes through my nostrils jolts me awake and the cycle begins anew.

I only fall asleep after four or so hours once my body has acquiesced to utter exhaustion.

I believe I am genetically melatonin-deficient. And speaking of melatonin, ingest it at your peril. I tried it ONCE. I lay awake, bug-eyed, for an entire night.

My remedy is, there is no remedy.  Perhaps alcohol, but I can't function at my job while hungover. Thus, the real remedy is acceptance. Accept the things I cannot change.

I haven't tried these, and maybe they would work (but I doubt it):
















These songs make sleep seem so romantic, wistful, enveloping; don't they? I wouldn't know.

The truth of the matter is, like John Lennon, who, from his songs I suspect was an inveterate non-sleeper like me, this is what it's really like at 3:00 a.m.:


I've decided I'm going to call it a "personality quirk"; one that I can regale strangers with for hours. If someone at work greets me brightly in the morning, instead of replying offhandedly, I will say, "Well, you know I only got two hours of sleep last night." Then I will sigh dejectedly. Granted, people will search for an excuse to slink away, but hey, spread the pain, I say. If I have to hear tales of your 2006 Alaskan cruise every freakin' day and how you spied a seal reposing on an ice floe, well, it's time to share MY world. And by the way, can you sit at my bedside and repeat those stories again? 

That just might work.












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