Wednesday, March 24, 2010

White Night

Another bout of insomnia. It is 6:30am and I have been lying awake since three watching the light coming through the curtains change from vague streetlight yellow to early morning grey. The wind has picked up with the coming dawn, and my cat has finally settled down from his nocturnal prowling. Now comes the big decision, should I try again to get to sleep or just throw in the towel and start the day prematurely? I guess I’ll see if writing this calms me down or riles me up. I’m guessing it will be the latter.

When I was in high school I often had sleepless nights and became quite practiced at coping with the resulting next day bleariness. I even came up with some odd methods of dealing with the issue. I learned that sometimes just changing my location would help, as my body seemed to associate being in bed with wakefulness. So when I couldn’t sleep I would move to the guest bed, the couch, the big overstuffed chair in the living room, or even the floor. Waking up in a different place than I went to bed in, and having to take a few minutes to figure out where I was, became par the course. Luckily my problems tapered off and all but ceased by the time I was through college so I chalked it all off to rampant hormones and growth spurts.

My stepfather wasn’t so lucky. He was (and likely still is) a chronic insomniac. I remember him telling me once that he hadn’t slept a full night through since young adulthood. For him, nighttime was a battlefield and sleep was his wily adversary, always just a step ahead, always eluding him. Now I’m starting to understand what he went through. Ever since Jeff and I finally set a date for our move to Seattle (which we have been planning off and on for several years), I have found myself once again plagued with sleeplessness. Sometimes I’m lucky and can get right to sleep once I’ve moved to the bed in the study, but other times I spend the majority of the night staring into the darkness. If things are really bad, one night of insomnia will set off a chain effect and I will have difficulty sleeping for the next couple nights. I think this is due to the fact that once I’ve lost one night, I’m so terrified of losing another that I over think sleep and thus start a vicious cycle. Its strange isn’t it, how the more you think about sleeping, and the harder you try, the more elusive it becomes. Its almost as if you can start to feel that fine line between consciousness and unconsciousness and are painfully aware of the moment when you step over (or fail to do so). Simply being passive and letting it come for you is the best method, but its not always so easy when you know you have a big day ahead of you.

Lately my problem seems to be caused by an inability to shut my brain down. No matter how relaxed my body feels, my mind keeps chattering away, worrying , solving problems, replaying moments from the day. I want to reach right through my skull, grab that fleshy grey blob and yell “Shut the hell up why don’t you! Some people are trying to sleep!” I try not to drink any caffeine after 9pm and I avoid any movies or books that might get my mind going too much. So a sitcom is acceptable, but the Omnivore’s Dilemma is a recipe for disaster. Still, despite my best efforts, good old Hypnos manages to slip his collar and outrace me.
But its not so bad really, insomnia reveals a great deal to its sufferers. We start to see the vagaries of time…how without multiple hours of unconsciousness to break it up, the day seems to stretch on into infinity. What happened today and what occurred the day before become almost seamlessly melded. We get to witness the town around us wake up; the sound of traffic changing from an occasional rush to a steady hum, the first birds beginning their song…it all seems to happen apart from us, as if by missing the sleep that almost every living creature around us takes part in, we skip out of the natural order of things. Our exhausted neurons give the waking world the hallucinatory quality of a dream-everything seems overly bright, almost hyper real, and yet vague and detached at the same time. The French call these sleepless nights nuit blanche, white nights, which is aptly also the term used for the summer solstice in polar latitudes when the midnight sun is visible. White night…sounds just about right, those times when the light in your head just cant be turned off and the healing darkness seems so far away….

Anyway, I think its time to stop writing. I finally found sleep, he was behind the laptop the whole time.
Goodnight….or good morning as the case may be.

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