Tuesday, May 14, 2013

And It's Late In the Evening

I don't want to brag or anything, but I have insomnia.

Of course, we all have insomnia. It's a world of wonder and a world of fear and stress and short-term job contracts and sexting and bee colony die-off. No right-thinking adult should shut their eyes somewhere around 11 and not open them again until eight or so hours later. So when I say I have insomnia, what I'm flaunting is the sheer cussedness of my insomnia. When Daughter was a baby, she ate at 3:30 a.m. We could do what we liked during the day, she was game and up for new experiences, each day was a special snowflake, but I knew one thing; at 3:30 in the morning, I'd find myself halfway down the hall, having sleptwalked towards the sound of low-blood sugar.

And then at her six-month checkup, the doctor asked after her sleep schedule. I mentioned our standing date. "She can sleep through the night," he said, wiggling her toes in an affectionate yet professional manner, "Now, it's just habit. Tonight, don't nurse her, just give her water. She'll sleep through the night in a week."

And so she did.

[Well, until she turned 11 months old and molars became The Boss of All of Us, but that's another story.]

Within two nights, she was asleep at 3:30. I, however, was not. As if one of the world's atomic clocks was installed in my head, at precisely 3:30 every morning my eyes would snap open and I would contemplate the relentless dark which is 3:30 in the morning. In that darkness, my brain would inform me of every single thing I had ever done wrong, every stupid thing I ever said, every baffling financial decision I made. Well, it wasn't always about me; sometimes I wept for the dolphins. For the first few weeks, I would attempt to go right back to sleep, because I was foolish and thought I had some say in what my body did. What my brain was going to do was stay up for about an hour, maybe ninety minutes, itemizing my failings and then allow me to fall asleep as the sky started to lighten. That Daughter was going to wake up an hour later was immaterial to my brain.We had a job to do, my brain and I, and my selfish desire for a REM cycle wasn't going to keep my brain from making sure I know it was very disappointed with me. Reading never worked, as there is no book which mutes internal decades-long lists of failings. Experimentation taught me to get up and watch sitcoms, as the rampant dolphin-concerns were muffled by Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia. I tried melatonin, camomile tea, even prescription medication before bed; they acted upon 3:30 in the morning as a mosquito acts upon a herd of wildebeest.

Flash forward a decade. 3:30 in the morning and I weren't always hanging out, but I was still seeing a great deal more of her than I liked. One extra cup of green tea? 3:30. Political unrest? 3:30. Holidays coming up? Hi, 3:30; let me at least get some wrapping paper and make use of this time. A doctor told me it has something to do with the adrenals; you know how you feel droopy right around 3:30 or 4:00, go looking for something carbish to keep you awake? That is this feeling's more tractable twin, because a carb will wake you long enough to hold you through the trough, but it you take something to sleep at 3:30 in the morning that means at 7 in the morning, it's going to be 2:00 in the morning in your head and you'll be basically a houseplant, only mean.

Thankfully, I worked from home, so at the very least I wasn't driving at 8 in the morning, which is why I am not dead. Also, we had Roku, which meant I could get caught up on sitcoms in the hour and a half I was up every night; if it's formulaic, twenty-two minutes long and has a laugh-track, I've probably seen it in the last two years. I periodically have to remind myself the people on "How I Met Your Mother" aren't my friends and don't need to be on the Christmas card list. I grew sort of maschochistically fond of 3:30 in the morning. It certainly isn't cute and there's some pretty damning evidence that entrenched insomnia will shorten your life, but I knew who I was; the one who was awake at 3:30 in the morning.

And then, four months ago, I slept through the night. First for one week, and then two, and then a month. Stressful things happened and my brain shouted at me a lot, but I saw nothing of 3:30 in the morning, or 3:40 in the morning, or the underappreciated 4:10 in the morning. I fear even mentioning it, but it appears we are done with 3:30 in the morning for the moment.

I am, however, getting up at 5:20 in the morning; 5:20 is the new 3:30. Sometimes I go back to sleep at 6:30, when my alarm clock goes off at 7:15, which seems a little sadistic on the part of my brain and it's still disrupted sleep, not-enough sleep. And yet, I'm positively giddy about this new development. Why? First, daylight. If it's almost light outside, it's not a night of sleep brutally rent; it's just Tuesday, earlier than usual.

Second, there's Steve and Edie. The rescue-group I work with has a pair of Jack Russell terriers who were found literally dashing across the freeway. Obviously, they are very lucky and they also happen to be very nice. What they are also is very Jack Russell terrier and that's more dog than any morning volunteer wants to encounter, let alone two jumping higher than your head when you're trying to spoon out breakfast for forty animals. A request went out; could someone walk them in the mornings so they would stop molesting the morning crew? I could do that. In fact, I could go and get them and take them for a long hike before the sun was fully in the sky. By the time I get them back, all three of us are sweaty and smell a little less than flowerlike, but we're happy. It's not dark outside, it's light. I can start my day. And when the voice in my head whispers meanly "You haven't done nearly enough," I can snap back "No, I haven't, but right now I'm walking two maniacs who are thrilled to know me and that's enough. So shove off."


Blogger Rebecca said...

I have been a night owl all of my life. On my first Christmas break in college, I let my natural body clock take over, and found myself leaving the house around dusk at 4:30 p.m. while falling asleep sometime around 4:30 in the morning. By the end of two weeks I was beginning to suffer mild depression. I'm sure the lack of daylight had something to do with that.

My mother was also a night owl, so I'm pretty sure I got it from her. The very important difference, though, is that she is also a very high energy person, who feels guilty if she actually sits down a minute to relax. She would even iron while watching TV.

I, on the other hand, am a bookworm with pretty low blood pressure. I could lay around forever with a book in my hand with no guilt whatsoever. Talk about feeling guilty for lack of accomplishments in life? I make a real effort not to dwell on the years I feel were wasted on books with practically no literary value whatsoever. No value of any kind, actually. But even I couldn't just lie there. Reading anything at all at least gave me a reason for lolling around nonstop.

I'm pretty sure that not getting enough sleep my whole life has at least something to do with my not having enough energy to do the things I'd really like to get done. Blood pressure in the very low end of normal range has something to do with it, too, I'm sure.

I take vitamins, I take supplements. I eat very well. And I manage to get done whatever absolutely needs to be done. My kids got to school on time.

But I was very fortunate that I didn't have to hold down a full time job while I was raising two children. It was difficult enough doing that after they were grown.

Currently, I fall asleep at all different times at night, and my body seems to think it only needs about 7 hours of sleep. But since I am still SO very tired when I wake, and manage to sleep at least another couple of hours just a short while later, I think my body's idea of enough is delusional.

I would just love to be able to find the secret key to my body chemistry that would allow me to wake well-rested and have a normal amount of energy to live a normal kind of life. In the meantime, I adjust. And compensate. What else are you gonna do?

In any case, as I'm sure you are aware, you are not alone in your sleep issues.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Katherine C. James said...

You are doing much more than enough, you are doing it well, and I adored this post. Adored.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Robin Raven said...

This is one of my fave ever entries, but it's also one of the saddest ones to me because I SO feel your pain. I am very sorry you also suffer from the evils of insomnia coupled with guilt. I try to explain this to people, and they fail to understand. For me, I can't fall asleep at all without music or television on to distract my head from informing me of anything I've ever done wrong.

(Perhaps a conscience that big is why we both went vegetarian early in life? haha)

I've found "Cheers" and "Who's The Boss?" to be especially comforting. Even if I know the episode by heart, it gives me a break. hah

I love your solution. Those dogs sound so sweet and precious, and you are making their lives so much brighter. I think that's a good enough reason in and of itself for your brain to let you sleep. :)

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Lehua said...

Please tell your brain: "Don't hate, congratulate!" I am inspired to speak Oaklandese. Hella awesome blog entry. Omfg...you rule, lady!

2:42 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Your pain = my pain.

I got so tired of waking up at 3 in the morning that I wrote a song. It was called "The Three-Ayem Blues" and it's due to be recorded when hell freezes over.

The bad part is that I HAVE to get up to go to work. On very bad horrible nasty sleepless nights I have actually called in sick for the next day.

IF I am coherent enough to do that.

If not, Hubster calls in for me.

Sometimes it sucks to be us.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

Yep. Me, too. Night Owl + full-time job + 1.5 hour commute = permanently tired me. Hello, 3:30, my old friend.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Megan Alton said...

I don't know if the time of day/night that you wrote this has anything to do with it, but this is one of the best posts I've read in a long time. I totally relate to the post baby wake up, even after the baby stops waking up. What a pain! How you find the energy to get up and walk up a hill with rambunctious dogs, however, I'll never understand.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

I also have random, persistent insomnia. One of the things I learned from Facebook is how very many of my friends have it, too. There are a lot of us staring into the dark and flipping the pillows over at 3:30.

For a long time I kept books of "Calvin and Hobbs" and "Foxtrot" cartoons by my bed. Set up, set up, punchline, repeat, repeat, repeat sometimes helped turn down my brain. Then my brain caught on that didn't work any more.

Luckily I do a lot of community theater. Now when I'm awake at 3:30, I just run my longer speeches in my head until my brain gets bored and lets me go back to sleep. The show I'm in now starts with a 632-word speech, which helps a lot.

11:14 AM  
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1:20 AM  
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