Chasing Sleep


It is 4 a.m., and, once again, I cannot sleep. Once again, after turning out the lights with some feeling of dread (I really am not very fond of nighttime any more), I fell asleep easily and even stayed asleep until my normal time of around 3:30 a.m. (sometimes it’s 3:15, sometimes 4:00), at which time I came wide awake, with my brain and heart racing. Part of my problem is that I have sleep apnea, but I’ve done everything I could about that: I’ve lost weight; I hook myself up to a CPAP machine every night; I go see my sleep doctor once a year. Another part of my problem is that I have an excess of energy. I think if I had come along a little later in the scheme of things, I probably would have been diagnosed as ADHD. But the main problem, I think, is that I have somehow become, over time, a human robot that can go for long periods without sleep.


I’ve tried lots of different sleep medications, all of which have helped for a time. But the problem persists. And so I have actually surrendered and stopped taking medication. I’ve found that I can function better the next day if I have not taken anything. It turns out I do better at work on the mornings that I have decided to just get out of bed and stay awake until the rest of the house wakes up, than on the mornings where I’ve taken something to lure me into groggy sleep.

One trick: I try not to think about the fact that I haven’t had much sleep. But I can’t help but wonder sometimes if, one of these days, I’m just going to drop dead from the cumulative effect. Can you tell I’m writing this at 4 a.m.?

In the middle of the night, when everyone else in my house is asleep—and there are no people walking by outside, and even our dogs are sound asleep in the kitchen—I have several options for entertainment: 1) watching reruns on television of “I Love Lucy” (skipping over all the other wonderful choices, such as sex advice shows and endless infomercials) 2) working through a puzzle book from cover to cover 3) washing and folding clothes 4) getting caught up on FaceBook.  I have tried nobler pursuits, such as reading, but here’s the real surprise: my brain is not fully functional at 4 a.m.! It’s functional enough to work a Word Search, maybe, but it’s not up to a Sudoku—and definitely not up to reading anything that requires thinking. It does have a special talent for repeating sections of songs in my head—never the whole thing, just sections—in an endless loop. Tonight, it’s “This is gonna be a good life; this could really be a good life; this has gotta be a good life…a good, good life.” To think that I used to like that song!

It’s also functional enough to review all the things I forgot to take care of during the day—such as taking something to the dry cleaner or mailing an important form to someone somewhere—those things I can’t do a damn thing about in the middle of the night. It’s even functional enough—on good nights—to repeat relevant lines of poetry, such as “I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain and back in rain. I have outwalked the farthest city lights…”. Or “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow…I move by going where I have to go.” Keep in mind that my brain is not always accurate to the letter!


I blame my present condition of sleeplessness on my children, of course: too many nights of getting up to nurse or help a child through a nightmare or—later on—to wait for a new driver to arrive safely home. I just figure that when you have 4 children, and your body gets jolted out of sleep one too many times, it gets permanently stuck in awake mode. Seems reasonable to me—especially at 4 a.m.

When I used to be awake with one baby or another, I would imagine an invention that I would introduce to the market: a phone where you could somehow tell that your friend, also the mother of a baby, was awake and walking the floor at the exact time as you—so you could push a green button on your phone and she would see it and pick up the phone—without any noise—and you could at least talk to each other and help each other through the long night. Turns out I didn’t need to invent it, since FaceBook works that way. I wonder if young mothers use it for that purpose!

I’ll end by saying this: if you are someone who can sleep peacefully and soundly through the night, every night, do me a favor and count your blessings. I would, as my mother used to say, “give a pretty penny” to be in your shoes.

In the meantime, I hope there are others like me out there, waking their dogs by deciding to clean the kitchen at 4:30 a.m.! I do remember there was a lot of talk about sleeplessness a few years back—but not so much any more. I guess I would like to know if I am not the only one who went through menopause and ended up a sleepless automaton on the other side.


3 thoughts on “Chasing Sleep

  1. Entire time I was reading this, I was thinking Jane and I must come up with a system to figure out if the other is wide awake at 3:20am so we can just chat then!

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