Friday, September 3, 2010

Sleeping Well Is the Best Revenge

I love to sleep. Here's a post I wrote originally in November of 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 ibuprofen 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.


hoboken kid said...

Good subject .....we spend almost half our lives sleeping…that’s not fair. Life is short enough, why waste most of it sleeping? When I was younger I could sleep all the time…wasting my life away. In the army i would sleep on the hood of my jeep, for days sometimes...awaiting orders to move out. In Hoboken as a kid we slept on the fire escape on hot summer nights. Yes, the good old days of the 50’s in Hoboken. Sleeping sometimes can be fun if you dream of something that you wish could happen. A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM: As a child i had some scary ones, remembering going to the Fabian and seeing a Frankenstein movie…I dreamed of that for days. I am ## now and trying to stay awake. Can’t do it, I gotta have my nap, I wonder sometimes why people spend a ton of money decorating their bedrooms when most of the time when you’re in it you turn out the lights and have your eyes closed. (Alice Kramden of the Honeymooners once said why they never showed their bedroom— nothing to see and nothing ever happens in there.) But sleep we must…reading some history…before electric lights in the old days most people never slept at night...animals or robbers to worry about (sleep well don't let the bed bugs bite) Glad we don't have to sleep on the feathered beds any more. If people only knew what they were sleeping on.

Anonymous said...

I am glad sleep is on ML agenda.
But, more than normal sleep for what is normal for an individual is indicative of other issues as serious as stress. Some folks generate their own stress just by being alive. I do that with no real
reason except that I never get anything done nor do I care if anything gets done without a dab of stress.
Some things associated with too much sleeping are addictions of one sort or other, depression, weird blood sugar, alzheimer's,
odd body chemistry, bad air in sleeping place and so on.
ML has had a very definite change
going back to the entry about
matinee memberships or before.
Patch cat sleeps about 22 of 24 hours, so I guess another cause might be contractining felinity.?

Nan said...

I loved this! I am a big fan of sleep. 9-10 hours suits me best. I am finally at a stage of life where I don't have to get up at any special time and I love it. The feng shui folks talk about having a calm bedroom - no tvs, not even any books. Mine is about as empty as can be. One cedar chest in addition to the bed. An oriental rug to do yoga on in the mornings. That's it. If I wake up during the night and start thinking too much, I pick up my new friend, the Kindle, and begin reading. Before long I'm asleep again. I think your new life is full of the 'good' stress, if stress is even the right word. Emotional stuff takes it out of all of us. You are so living the right life for you, Mary Lois.

Rupert Schmitt writers blog said...

I would not know what was happening to me if I slept the night through. i get up every two hours or more. Yet I don't take pills. Sometimes I say a mantra. I have no working TV in my apartment. And speaking of naps. I nap in the morning. i nap in the afternoon. Perhaps i will sprout long whiskers and start meowing. Come to think of it i do pause in the cat food section of the grocery. check out my new web page. I need pay pal advice.
I often notice Hoboken in he news. All it took was for Mary Lois to move there and now I notice new stuff.

Alison said...

Try Googling "second sleep" or "segmented sleep." Turns out that period of quiet wakefulness between first and second sleep of the night has been well documented by researchers in psychology and history. Turns out that sleeping a solid 7 or 8 hours at a stretch is a post-industrial phenomenon, and likely not anyone's natural sleep pattern. I think that's interesting and reassuring (I used to worry about my 3 a.m. wakefulness).

Mary Lois said...

Okay,I read this one on segmented sleep, which makes me want to crawl into bed and have two sleeps. I do enjoy that interval between sleeps as it gives me a chance to watch something soothing or mildly interesting on one of the three PBS channels here. I learned all about Lafayette last night. I liked the part where his wife was so thrilled to see him when he returned from helping us win the Revolution that she fainted on the spot and he carried her up the stairs. Seems he didn't do so well in the French Revolution, however.