Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Insomnia: Some Tips

If you, dear reader, like me, suffer from insomnia you will well understand the despair one faces at about three o'clock in the morning, when there is no moon, and the faint whir of the VCR can be heard over the deep breathing of two dogs and one human man. It is a fantastically depressing sound, the electronic hum of an outmoded machine. I mistakenly sleep with my laptop propped up beside my nightstand and at the smallest rumble, I wake and sleepily pull it on top of me, opening it up with the hope of good news -- an email from a long lost friend, for example, or something lovely on the 24 hour news cycle (this is a myth: news has a hardly any time to cycle). But when the news isn't good and the coyotes start their hullabaloo in the canyon, one sinks further and further into an otherworldly melancholy, interjected with bolts of technological electricity, creating a thoroughly unnatural state. My instinct at these moments is to take up my duvet and my pillow and to wander outside with the hope of falling asleep under the trees, waking up to a pink and blue morning sky flecked with high clouds.

Instead I start to read statistics about insomnia. And boy, those are bleak.

And then suddenly, somehow, in the darkness, I fall asleep and dream I'm in England and it's blue but raining, the sky that excellent shade of violet. Violet skies in England, the rain, the way the grass smells just before it rains, dogs from past and present and future, altogether, roly-polying down the gentle hills on the lawn in the house my father used to live in.

I was woken up with the Maharishi's arms around me. "Good morning, beautiful," he said. (I am objectively un-beautiful at 6 in the morning after three hours of sleep. This is is not false modesty. I am hideous. I have crusty-puffy eyes, un-brushed teeth, and my hair which desperately needs some color is pulled back into a severe bun at the back of my head while frizzy short bits free themselves at the front. I am grumpy and miserable.) "I am grumpy and miserable," I say. "I brought you some tea," he says, stroking my hair and smiling at me. "I didn't sleep" I say. "I know," he says. And then he just holds me like this while I wake up, opening one eye and then the other. And do you know that the bad mood evaporated as if Elizabeth Montgomery had wiggled her nose? And all the anxiety and the steroid-hangover and the dark thoughts of our marriage being rocky after the last hebdomadis horribilis -- gone.

This is a very long-winded way of saying something pretty trite -- and I believe several learned scientific trials have also proved this -- that being held and hugged is a basic human need than can clear up all manner of ailments.

This is not to say, however, that I have lived in America too long. I would shrink back in horror if someone I didn't know very well tried to bloody well hug me. Can't think of anything worse. Although, it might be preferable to its sister action, the shoulder lean, the most namby-pamby way of greeting someone I've ever encountered.

My sister told me on the phone yesterday that she was very irritated by a friend who, when she calls, proceeds to complain about how tired she is. It's not very English, is it, to go into details of one's ailments, and actually, incredibly dull for the person who is kind enough to listen. Jonathan Karp, the editor/publisher of Ted Kennedy's new book "True Compass" (hear the Fresh Air interview here) told Terry Gross of his amazement at Kennedy's resilience and unwillingness to talk about his cancer. He seem very suprised by it. "The Kennedys were brought up not to cry and not to complain" he said. And so, it seems, are the English.

And yet, I've managed to whine about my blasted bronchitis & its gloomy repercussions for almost a whole fortnight on this blog. Thank you, dear reader, for your empathy and kindness and I promise, cross my heart, not to burden you with it again. It is dull, indeed.

Miss W's Practical Guide to Insomnia

  1. Alcohol is worse for sleeping than caffeine. Avoid it if at all possible. If you must drink a glass of wine, do so with food.
  2. Drink a glass of water and a cup of fennel tea before you go to bed.
  3. Remove all electronic gadgets from your room. They are distracting and they are not good for the soul. Laugh if you like, but they're not.
  4. If it helps, use earplugs (like the nice yellow ones they give you on Virgin) and an eye-mask to filter out superficial noise and light.
  5. Take the television out of your room (we have one; I'm still battling)
  6. If all else fails, try sleeping on your own. A snoring husband or dog does not help one's delicate struggle with slumber.
  7. I like to take my dogs for an easy amble down the road before bed. They like it and it clears my head. Plus, even in Los Angeles, city of Light pollution, the stars are rather beautiful.
  8. Make sure to hug everyone you love before you go to bed. And make sure they hug you back. (Dogs are particularly good at this).
  9. If you wake up, try to resist the urge to jump on the laptop (if it's in the other room, this will be more difficult). Try to lay still, close your eyes and think of happy things.
  10. Nothing is ever as bad in the warm light of day as it is at three a.m. It's important to remember this.


So Lovely said...

Oh you sweet thing. I truly believe you must rid your bedroom of your laptop and the VCR (is that in your bedroom). Also "supposedly" mirrors are not good. As you know I have been a sufferer of the wee hours in the last few months which is very unusual for me as have never had a problem sleeping before now. 2 - 4am is not the best time - I have the gloomiest and saddest thoughts then and as much as I tell myself all will be well in the bright light of day - I can't convince myself. (it always is). xx

CampusLady said...

What a wonderful post, Miss W. I misted up, truly. That England dream of yours was a visceral experience to read about, and poignant that you wake from that to find your loving husband's arms around you. This has made my morning, thank you.