Tuesday, March 9th, 2004 • No Comments on Sleepless in Virginia (And I Don’t Mind)
I was at the bookstore tonight to work, get coffee and socialize (not necessarily in that order, though I did get a fair amount of work done) and I found this neat little book called The Insomniac’s Handbook: A Companion for the Nocturnally Challenged, which of course had my picture on the cover. Okay, it didn’t, but it should have.
I have been an insomniac for as long as I can remember. Even when I was a little kid, I had trouble falling asleep. I clearly recall being awake (or faking being asleep) through many, many naps when I was four or five years old. I just couldn’t sleep. In fact, I discovered Santa Claus in my living room at three in the morning when I was five years old. Imagine his surprise.
I didn’t really know I was abnormal until some point in middle school when I caught part of a science show about sleep on PBS. They said it takes the average person five to seven minutes to fall asleep at night. Five to seven minutes?? I was shocked. I regularly take an hour—and often longer—to fall asleep. Not only that, I wake up on average two to three times a night, though once every few weeks I’ll have a night where I wake up nearly every hour.
After spending my entire life being awake when the rest of the world is asleep, I’m kind of used to it. I suppose if I had a more traditional work schedule, it might be a bigger issue. Though in the past, even when I’ve had 9 to 5 jobs (or 7 to 3 jobs, in a couple of cases), it took me forever to fall sleep and I still woke up during the night. I just compensated for it by going to bed earlier. No big deal.
Insomnia is such a part of who I am that on the rare occasion when I sleep for five or six hours straight, I’m out of sorts when I wake up. I feel disappointed, like I missed out on something. My record for number of hours of uninterrupted sleep is probably around seven, and that only happens when I’m either medicated because I’m sick or have run myself down over a period of time. As for falling asleep, there are probably a few days a month when I’m asleep in under half an hour. That’s not so bad, I guess, but I do some of my best thinking when I’m trying to fall asleep. I can’t have too many nights of falling asleep quickly, or I’d never get all my thinking done!
Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason I became a writer is because I had a chance to develop my imagination when I was kid. I would spin endless stories in my head while waiting for sleep to come. Often, I’d pick up a story from where I’d left off the night before, developing intricate plot lines with dozens of complicated characters. Of course, maybe the reason I’m an insomniac in the first place is because my imagination won’t let me sleep. Now, in addition to making up stories (many of which get fleshed out during daytime hours and go on to publication), I also work out my issues while waiting for sleep. I have mental conversations (and arguments) with people and solve all the problems of the world as the clock ticks toward the middle of the night.
Don’t get me wrong—I love sleep as much as the next person. I love afternoon naps with the sun streaming in the windows and I love snuggling into warm flannel sheets in the winter (or crisp, cool cotton sheets in the summer) and drifting off to sleep. I just prefer the drift part to take a little while and I don’t mind waking up a couple times at night. It’s kind of nice to wake up when it’s dark, look at the clock and know I still have a few hours before I have to get up.
Granted, there are nights when I need to sleep because I have to get up early the next morning. Invariably, those are the nights I take forever to fall asleep and wake up several times throughout the night, unable to fall back to sleep once I wake up. It sucks, but it doesn’t happen all that often. Not enough to make me wish I wasn’t an insomniac, anyway.
When I found
The Insomniac’s Handbook
tonight, I was excited because I thought I’d discovered a book that was supportive of the insomniac’s experience. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I discovered it was mostly a how-to book for falling asleep. It had remedies and relaxation techniques and even lullabies to help ease the reader into sleep. Which, I suppose, some insomniacs might want. But not me. I was looking for creative ways to spend those sleepless hours, recipes for quick middle-of-the-night snacks, entertaining and quiet games to play while the rest of the house is asleep.
I want a book that embraces and accepts my insomnia the way I do! Insomnia isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different and a little challenging. Hmmm… maybe I should write that book myself. Who better to discuss the values of sleeplessness than an insomniac? I can see it now:
The Insomniac’s Guide to Life: How to Have Fun and Entertain Yourself While Normal People Sleep
. Of course, there will have to be a disclaimer about waking others who might not appreciate your late night musings. Not that I’d know anything about that, of course.