It’s 2:37 a.m., and while the rest of my family sleeps soundly, I am agonizingly, tediously awake. This is not a novel predicament. It has been going on so long that nowadays, I want a good night’s sleep more than I want almost anything in the world. I want it more than I want my kids to stop using “like” every third word. I want it more than I want to write a bestselling book that will put me in the highest tax bracket imaginable. I want it almost as much as I want peace in the Middle East.
I want a good night’s sleep more than I want almost anything in the world.
To combat my restive condition, I work hard at relaxing, an oxymoronic condition if there ever was one. I am grateful for the occasional charmed evening when I can lay my kepele down on my orthopedically correct pillow and fall into wondrous slumber for seven or eight hours. When I do, I wake in a near religious fervor of gratitude. Most nights, though, I lay awake through the dark hours, employing various tactics to seduce those precious, elusive Zzzzz’s: Take me, I’m yours!
I have lots of company in my snooze-challenged state. Experts estimate that tens of millions, gosh, maybe billions of people on the planet are also counting sheep and getting into the thousands before they finally get some decent REMs. I wonder: Did Moses and King David, both of them shepherds, also count sheep to help them fall asleep? Nah. Too risky—if they started counting and realized Gertrude was missing, they’d be too aggravated to sleep. But I digress, probably because in my sleep-deprived state, it’s too difficult to keep my train of thought on a single track.
If you share my insomnia, I can tell you emphatically what not to do. First, don’t be a moron like me and log onto your computer in the middle of the night Googling the word “insomnia.” If you do, you may land on some professional-looking health web site that advises you to never look at computer screens at night because those lights are very disruptive to normal sleep. It will explain how people with “sleep insufficiency” are at greater risk of getting into car accidents, developing hypertension, cancer and other diseases, memory problems and memory problems. (See what I mean?)
Some nights, my only consolation for insomnia is counting the calories I must be burning through fruitless tossing and turning. So far, I’ve counted 75 calories over the past six months, about a half of a decent-sized cookie. Talk about cold comfort.
After thousands of studies, researchers have reached the staggering conclusion that it’s important to go to bed as relaxed as possible. Being Jewish, though, I’m sure there are at least 212 things I am worrying about subconsciously, including who my unmarried children will marry, what my next column should be about, and what I should serve next Rosh HaShana.
I’ve tried most of the “tricks” experts advise to help beat the insomnia rap. I’ve dimmed the lights in my house early in the evening to fool my body into thinking it’s nighty-night time. But turning down the house lights at 7:30 p.m. didn’t go over well with my husband and kids, who claimed they could not clean the kitchen after dinner in the dark. Haven’t these people heard of flash lights?
I’ve avoided working out in the evenings, because the last thing I need is a bunch of endorphins careening around in my bloodstream, making me feel all energetic. I am now avoiding exercise in the daytime, too, just to be safe. I avoid any excitement after 8 p.m., such as playing Scrabble or reading the biography of David Dalquist, inventor of the Bundt pan.
Unfortunately, the only sure-fire methods of inducing sleep are either fattening or dangerous. A late night cookie with warm milk transports me to dreamland, but I don’t particularly want to outgrow my wardrobe. A glass of wine also works, and is less fattening than my milk-and-cookie gambit, but I think I’d rather be an insomniac than a shicker.
Thank God, my husband sleeps well most nights. This is a blessing since he is the main breadwinner in this joint and needs to be alert while running a real live business. In contrast, I have the luxury of staggering out of bed at 10 a.m. if need be, downing a few schooner-sized cups of Extreme Jumpy Java, and starting work at 11, with no real damage done to the Gruen income stream.
Well, lookie-here. Now it’s 3:11 a.m. and I’m still fidgeting like a fiend. Serves me right for peeking at my iPhone, a cardinal sin for the eternally, infernally wakeful.
As long as I’m still awake, I may as well get back to work relaxing. I’ll start by isolating every part of my body and letting it go slack. I release my jaw from its locked, upright position and move on to my eyes and mouth. Those are easy, but how do I relax my nose? Do I pet my nostrils? I fight the tendency to worry that I am missing an essential part of my full-body release.
In the midst of this exercise, however, I do not force my breathing, because experts say breathing is a natural phenomenon and I should trust that my body will breathe for me. But isn’t sleeping also a natural phenomenon? How can I trust my body to keep breathing when it can’t manage to fall asleep?
While I’m unwinding and not “trying” to breathe, I promise to stop kvetching to other people about my no-doze woes. Gabbing about the problem reinforces insomnia and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I hate it when things that are so logical also take away my fun.
Starting tomorrow – I mean, today, since it’s now 3:41 a.m.—I will no longer crab to people about my slumber failures. Instead, I will boldly lie and tell everyone that I feel great and am sleeping well. Oh, those bags under my eyes? Why that’s just, um, a problem I inherited from my Great Uncle Harry, and as soon as I can afford it, I’ll have myself a little eyelid surgery.
Everyone knows there are no atheists in foxholes. And there are no atheists when sleep is as elusive as an honest politician. So starting today, I’ll also pray a lot harder when I say the bedtime Shema, especially that part where we ask God to “cast the bonds of sleep upon my eyes and slumber upon my eyelids.” Yes, God, please, please bring on those bonds of sleep! I’ll be so much more coherent the next morning when I say “Modeh Ani” and thank You for ensuring I wake up (however groggily) with the gift of a new day.
I feel my hands starting to relax. . . and my arms. . . and my toes. . . finally. As Shakespeare once said, “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub.” G’night. . .