Now finishing up Week 3 of insomnia…

I am now finishing up Week 3 of insomnia.  I am sleeping some, but not reliably or well. This has the net effect of turning me into a zombie during the days. I am good for maybe watching Dr. Phil or reading Us Magazine, but not for any heavy lifting. Hence, no writing. No real thinking, either, that might lead to writing.

My mother called me this morning with the reassuring (quote-unquote) news that insomnia has become something of an epidemic. At least, that’s what she saw reported on The Today Show or Good Morning America (even as a sleep-deprived zombie, I can’t watch that dreck). This does not make me feel better. I read Sleepless. I know these are just the first signs of the apocalypse. Fortunately, I’ll likely be in the first wave and won’t have to deal with the carnage and chaos that comes afterward. Good luck with that, honey.

To sleep, perchance through the night…

Many nights I wake up around 3 a.m. Then I lie awake for an hour or three, while random thoughts flit and bump around my brain like moths. I think about blog posts to write, recipes to try, my to-do list, ideas for that novel that I keep telling myself I might one day tackle. Usually, I do get back to sleep, but the broken nights are becoming very frustrating.

A while ago, I learned about “segmented sleep.” I’ve written about this before, but this seemed like a good time to revisit the concept. Before there was artificial lighting, apparently, it was normal for the night’s sleep to be broken into two periods: “first sleep” and “second sleep.” According to this editorial by A. Roger Ekirch, people actually made use of this midnight wakefulness:

Others remained in bed to pray or make love. This time after the first sleep was praised as uniquely suited for sexual intimacy; rested couples have “more enjoyment” and “do it better,” as one 16th-century French doctor wrote. Often, people might simply have lain in bed ruminating on the meaning of a fresh dream, thereby permitting the conscious mind a window onto the human psyche that remains shuttered for those in the modern day too quick to awake and arise.

I like to think of this time as a dim period of half-consciousness, when the subconscious can percolate ideas. That sounds nicer than insomnia. I should try not to get upset or frustrated by my insomnia — or my segmented sleep, as I should call it — but rather look upon it as a chance for some meditative time, when I can just be rather than doing.

I only wish I could get up and do some quiet yoga or write in my journal during that time, but I don’t want to disturb my husband. He gets distressed enough by my lack of sleep anyway. Still, just lying there in bed can be so boring.

I have heard people say that they would do away with sleep if they could, that it’s a waste of a good 8 hours every day. But even if we did come up with a pill or technology that enabled us to forgo sleep, I don’t think I would do it. I love sleep, whether I get a lot or a little. I relish that descent into oblivion every night, when my brain is forced to take a time-out and make up dreams for me, rather than buzzing on about what I have or have not done

Sleep, beautiful sleep: Thoughts on insomnia and related things

The Nightmare

Image via Wikipedia

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

–Macbeth, William Shakespeare

When something is a precious commodity, necessary but sometimes hard to come by, you tend to become obsessed with that thing. For me, that thing is sleep.

I have been plagued by insomnia, off and on, for pretty much all of my adult life. In most cases, it takes the form of nocturnal awakenings: waking in the middle of the night and then having trouble falling back to sleep. More rarely, it presents itself as onset insomnia, difficulty falling asleep. In either case, I usually tell myself stories to try to trick myself into falling asleep. Usually, I end up obsessing over things not done or still to do.

I never take the commonly given advice to get up and do something when I have insomnia, unless I am very wide awake and my brain won’t stop racing until I do something to quiet it. I think that advice is dangerous. For one thing I believe we doze more than we think we do, and some sleep is better than none. I’m also worried I’ll miss that magic window when I drift back into real sleep if I am not lying down in the dark.

Once I saw a fim about a DJ who made himself stay awake for 8 days and nights. I will never forget his face. He turned into a pyschopath before my eyes. At the end, he was sleeping sitting up with his eyes open. No wonder sleep deprivation is a form of torture. We need our sleep.

Even worse are periods of sleep paralysis, which may be caused by sleep deprivation, among ohter causes. I have these occasionally. Usually, I believe that I am lying in my bed and someone enters the room to attack me. I cannot scream or move — I am paralyzed. This phenomenon is actually quite common. It occurs when the mind wakes from REM sleep but the normal body paralysis persists, so you are consicous but unable to move. People used to think that demons were sitting on their chests stealing their souls, and that’s why they could not move.

I have recently learned about segmented sleep. Before there was electricity, people often went to bed at dark and stayed there until dawn. In the winter, this could mean spending 12 hours of the day in bed. After a period of deep sleep, they often awoke a few hours before falling back asleep again. This period might be like a meditative period, relaxing and pleasant. It was even a time for reflection, prayer, talking, visiting and making love. I like the idea of a middle-of-the-night quiet period. Unfortunately, I don’t get several more hours to sleep after a period of insomnia, as I have things to do in the mornings.

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