Monday, August 20, 2007

To Sleep Perchance to Dream

It’s bad enough I can’t get a good night’s sleep. Now my computer can’t, either. The first message I got from the Windows wizard this morning is that my laptop can’t access its sleep network. I suppose I’ve infected my electronic pal with my insomniac habits. I fear the machine will start dozing or locking me out while it takes a nap every time I try to get some work done, or, even worse, eat my address book in a binge of what sleep doctors call “sleep eating”.

I can only hope that my insomniac laptop will do with sleeplessness what I do, turn out a novel. If my computer wrote a novel in the middle of the night, perhaps I could analyze its subconscious and figure out how to put it to sleep.

My sleep habits have gotten so bad that when I woke up in the wee hours a couple of nights ago, I tried reading an article called The Secrets of Sleep in the hope of catching some zzzzz’s. It was the lead piece in a Discover Magazine devoted to various Medical Mysteries of the first (and worst) order.

Trouble was, an ominous green eye in a pallid face on the Discover’s cover was enough to keep an insomniac awake for the rest of his or her natural life. The green eye was positively reptilian, set in a sea of ghostly skin, lacking both brows and lashes. I’ve been told that my eyes have turned green already. What’s next? Will my lashes fall out and my brows disappear if I don’t get some sleep?

Frankly, the eye was so scary I’d never have bought the magazine; one of my sons brought it into the house. Unfortunately for my boys, their sleep patterns take after mine. It may be that we are the hyper types described in The Secrets of Sleep as genetically disposed to sleep problems; our only consolation is, other poor souls have it worse.

I read about a tormented woman who has tried everything: hypnosis, yoga, soothing tapes, pills. Now she has anxiety attacks because she cannot sleep. Even worse, there are people who sleep for eight hours in sleep labs and wake up to report they’ve never been asleep at all. Sad to say, I took heart from these sad stories. So what I can’t sleep? I’ve learned to cope. I’ve made insomnia work for me.

The more you obsess over a lack of sleep the less of it you’ll get. At least that’s what happens to me. So I cope by denial. I’ll go to bed early and sleep for four or five hours then be wide awake. If I’m lucky, one of my characters will be talking to me. There’s nothing like writing to tire out the brain. What I love best of all is a writing stint from two a.m. to six followed by a good solid nap from six to eight a.m.

If you can’t go for the full eight hours, then five or six hours and a nap after a burst of work is the next best thing—at least this works for me. One of the greatest geniuses of all time, the inventor Thomas Edison, was such a great nap taker that he kept a cot beside his desk in his lab. These days, or so I’ve heard, the sleep gurus are encouraging corporations to allow their employees to nap on the job.

The trouble is, my long-suffering husband hates my restlessness. He used to threaten to divorce me if I kept waking him up in the middle of the night but when he couldn’t shake me after thirty years he finally caved in and built me a writing studio two steps from my side of the bed.

Maybe he caved in because he has sleep problems of his own. I just identified him as “a sleep talker” in the Discover article. These sleepers natter on and on in their sleep and nary a word leads to a sensible conversation.

The other night I woke up to find one of my sons eating a Dagwood type meal in the middle of the night, a whopping sandwich chased by a couple of beers. He thought the booze might put him to sleep; it will, but not for long enough.

The best I could offer him was my latest method of bargaining for sleep. I don’t use the “s” word when I’m lying in bed trying to get some shuteye. I tell myself that what I’m really aiming for is an entertaining night of dreams, the kind I’ll remember in the morning.

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