Meet me in Dreamland
Occasionally I get a good night’s sleep – sometimes as often as two or three nights a month.
My typical hopeful night means crawling into the feathers between 11:00 and midnight, and reading for 20 minutes or so before the eyelids slowly grow heavy. Most nights I turn the lamp off just before my personal lights go out. The next challenge is staying asleep.
But last night, and the night before, the formula didn’t work at all. Again.
After a kiss for Dear Richard at midnight, I was into the sack and well into my book in five minutes. Richard was fast asleep before I got to the bottom of the first page. More than an hour later I finished yet another chapter and switched to a book of cryptograms – word puzzles. It’s almost 1:30 and I’m wide awake.
At 2:01, five puzzles are done and my eyes are still wide open. More scrambled word quotes and another hour creeps by. But now the arthritic joints are complaining, “We’ve been in this one position for three hours.” Moving reduces visibility so it’s time for lights out to concentrate 100% on getting to sleep. It’s 3:03AM.
I roll over, snuggling into the comfiest position possible . . . and wait. Nothin’.
OK then. Let’s try one of my old stalwarts, a form of self-hypnosis. It’s a lengthy process but I’m lying here with nothing but time. If it works, I’m golden – and I might actually be able to function tomorrow.
I begin at the toes, telling them how relaxed they are, how heavy, heavy, h-e-a-v-y. Then I slowly convince the feet. The ankles. The legs. By the time I deaden the knees, I’m praying I don’t need to go to the bathroom. Everything below my thighs is semi-comatose but I am w-i-i-i-de awake. I continue mentally climbing up my torso then realize that my thoughts have drifted off to appointments and plans in the next week. My concentration is shot.
Maybe I’ll try the breathing exercise my friend, Maria, recommended. “Take forty really deep breaths – and let them out slowly. I’m usually asleep by the time I get to twenty,” she said. I begin, learning that it takes about 15 seconds for each. Ten minutes later I finish. Nothin’.
It’s almost 3:30. I roll over again telling myself, “No, you’re not crazy, just exhausted.” And frustrated. I flop around for a while hoping that there might still be another method.
I’m a counter. I count theater-goers, parishioners and diners in restaurants. Eyes closed, I decided to count the people who were at a couple of recent Christmas parties. OK that was fun. Next I counted the number of cars I’ve owned in 60 years. Then I counted my mother’s cars. Little side thoughts crept in as I pictured things – ice cream outings, packing the car for the beach, or off to college.
I spent a long time counting the weddings I’ve been to beginning with the first one I was old enough to be invited to when I was fourteen. I had counted more than eighty when I decided to check the clock. 4:38AM. This isn’t working any better than sheep.
A quick trip to the bathroom, into the den and brace myself as I turn on the lights. The morning paper has arrived.
I read the entire paper, did my Celebrity Cipher word game, the Jumble, Hocus Focus, the quickie crossword, studied the bridge column and finished the Sudoku. And like most mornings, when I’ve exercised my brain that much, I was wide awake. My usual purpose for doing those daily games is to charge my grey cells for the day ahead. I don’t know why I thought they’d help me sleep except that I was so desperate, I’d read anything. At 5:55 I turned on my laptop.
I Googled “successful non-medical sleep aids.” When you’re at the end of your wits even old wives’ tales sound plausible. All I found was clinical hints for a good night’s sleep:
Stick to a regular sleep schedule (same bedtime and wake-up time), seven days a week.
Exercise at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week.
Get plenty of natural light exposure during the day.
Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine.
Take a warm bath or shower before bed.
I laughed out loud. Sounds sorta like a nursing home schedule. If I could do all that I’d never have trouble sleeping. Oh – and the bath part? I would KILL to take a warm bath. But once you replace as many body parts as I have, the divine luxury of a tub is ancient history.
A few of the other hints were just as ridiculous: Turn off all screens at least an hour before bed. Hey genius – it’s those blue screens that usually make me tired enough to sleep. No naps. O sure – I’m not sleeping at night so I’m not allowed to nod off? And lastly, the Sleep Gods decided, No stimulation of any kind in the hour before bedtime. That last suggestion specified no family political arguments but also sounded like a moratorium on evening romance. The Sleep Gods are killjoys.
Continued reading led me to the foods and additives likely to produce natural sleep. The suggestion of no caffeine after noontime made sense to me and I suppose I could at least try a few cups of chamomile tea. I didn’t mind the suggestions of yogurt, cherries and almonds, but kale as a sleep inducement? Off the table.
I’m thinking tonight to try semi-natural and see if I can get to Dreamland before 1:00 with sleep-aid Melatonin washed down with chamomile tea. And absolutely no disturbing thoughts of impeachment hearings. Nighty-night here I come.
Don’t even THINK of calling me Saturday morning.
Marcy O’Brien is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She can be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org.