November 3, 2008
Sleep is good for you, America. I don’t know where we seem to have gotten the idea that it was a sign of weakness.
Over the years I've gone from being the sleepiest child in the neighborhood (the lady next door once found me asleep under a bed in her house in the middle of the day) to having occasional bouts with insomnia, to a regular pattern of waking up at about 3 A.M. and not being able to fall asleep again. Probably the pattern was made worse by having a remote control in my bed and via television enjoying the switchable presence of Jay Leno, ABC World News Now, the choice of a couple of movies all the time, and cooking and decoration shows at all hours.
That all changed when I moved to Hoboken. I only bought one tv. I was removed from the residue of problems of my own and my friends and relatives. I began sleeping heavier and longer than I had in years. I don’t know how to account for it, but from the first it felt good to get all this sleep. I’m beginning to wonder if narcolepsy is a sign of aging. Maybe it’s because I’m still kind of on vacation from my life. Until the move I was fraught with responsibilities and a certain amount of low-grade, under-the-radar stress all day, and at night I had that tv in the bedroom. Almost as soon as I moved here last December, I found myself sleeping through the night again, experiencing heavy dreams, and waking up refreshed.
I’m sure being removed from my daily stress did it, but I have new stuff: I totally fired my old life, live alone in a strange city, have the daily job of learning the ropes and coping with all the new situations of a total upheaval. That’s not stress?
Apparently not so much. I’ve reverted to my old childhood sleep patterns, and occasionally even grab an hour’s nap during the day. I haven’t been found dozing under the neighbors’ furniture yet, but I’m getting a lot of sleep. On the other hand, sometimes I wake up abnormally early, say 4 A.M., but if that happens I make myself comfortable—go to the bathroom, eat a little yogurt, curl up under a cozy throw in the living room and watch a little neutral tv (NO politics!), and when I start to yawn—it might be as long as two hours—I go back to bed. Then I can sleep another couple of hours.
Here’s the thing of it: Nobody thinks they can do that. “When I’m up, I’m up!” they say, and they make it true by leaping out of bed at the first glimmer of consciousness, turning on all the lights, making coffee, shoving papers around and generally acting as if the day had started. This is followed by a day of feeling sleep deprived and cross. Now, I know it's going to be difficult to do this if you're reading this at your desk just before a big meeting, but it will be worth it tomorrow if you start this sleeping-more project tonight.
Falling asleep seems to be a major accomplishment. We get performance anxiety about being able to do it.
My technique on my early-morning wakeup is to give myself the gift of going back to bed happily. Look, it’s still early, still dark, that bed has all those soft covers, and I’ve got a few more hours before the rest of the world wakes up. I’ll just lie down here and close my eyes—and not open them for two hours no matter what. Maybe I won’t sleep, but I’ll take deep breaths, think how lucky I am, and rest my eyes.
It almost always works. Even helps with the Daylight Saving Time nonsense somebody imposed at the wrong time of year (Why make the days shorter in the winter when they are naturally shorter?).
And when it doesn't work--on those nights when it feels as if I'm not going to fall asleep at all, one Benadryl will do the trick. I have a rule not to take more than one a week, and I seldom resort to that. I also remember that in my case it will take almost an hour to kick in so I don't let performance anxiety get in the way. Alternatively, if I detect a few unidentified aches and pains, I allow myself one or two ibuprophen tablets or an aspirin. But mostly I just lie down, review the good stuff of the day and ignore the bad, take deep breaths for five minutes, all the while thinking about how lucky I am to be alive and ordering a good dream by imagining something pleasant like a field of daisies or the breeze on my skin as waves lap on the beach.
Getting more sleep would be better for everybody. Put it on your list of New Year's Resolutions. In fact, it should be on the national agenda. I hope that early in his administration, the next President makes a beautiful speech about its importance. It would put me right to sleep.