The summer after third grade, I didn’t sleep. While I’m sure that’s an exaggeration to some extent, our minds remember what they will, and I remember it thus: laying in bed night after night, staring at the ceiling, listening to the radio playing quietly in the background. This one new song was getting so much airplay, and I latched onto it, hard. That’s me in the corner / That’s me in the spotlight… By the first few nights, I’d memorized the words, and sang along silently in my head. Night after night.*
This is one of my first memories I have about sleeping (or the lack thereof, I guess). And since then (maybe before? Again, the timeline is fuzzy), I’ve had a love-hate relationship with sleep.
Mostly, I love it. When I am tired, my will to fall asleep surpasses any primal instinct felt by man or beast. I have, in my lifetime, fallen asleep, face-first into a bowl of cereal, twice. I’ve fallen asleep, sitting up, while ostensibly participating in a group conversation countless times. I’ve fallen asleep, laying down, while having intimate conversations with one other person…continuing to speak – mostly nonsense – until the other person realized I was no longer aware of what I was doing. Once, after what I assume my partner thought was a long, comfortable pause, I broke the silence by blurting out “I don’t mind that you brought croutons.”
Hearing my own voice woke me up that time, but not before I rolled over and kissed a pillow, thinking I was kissing him.
I also love naps, but more specifically, that I am good at them. I have few measurable skills, and this is one. If I find myself fading in the middle of the day, if I can lay down for 12 to 18 minutes, I’ll be recharged enough to make it through until bedtime. This is, for once, not an exaggeration. I can set my alarm by it. Actually, I don’t need to. I can lay down for a nap at 2:30, knowing that I will be awake in time to leave for work at 3:00. If it sounds like I’m bragging, it’s because I am.
Most nights, I have no trouble falling asleep. My head hits the pillow and minutes later I’m out.
…until I’m not.
If ever I fall asleep at night, and wake in the morning, having not woken up once in the middle of the night, something is wrong. It’s how I know that I am sick, either naturally or by my own doing (see: whiskey) (see also: alprazolam, as described below). I do not know if sleeping for several hours straight, without waking, is what is supposed to happen. All I know is that it doesn’t happen for me.
On a good night, one where I awake feeling rested and okay, I’ll wake up probably three or four times, look at the clock (this is something I remember doing as a kid, too – always needing to know what time it was for some reason), roll back over, and fall asleep. Thanks to my compulsive clock-checking, I know that it probably only takes ten minutes max until I’m out again. That’s my normal. Again, maybe that’s everyone’s normal. I don’t know.
Sometimes, though, I get on a bad streak. I’m able to fall asleep just fine. But I’m up about every 45 minutes to an hour, looking at the clock, cussing softly to myself, and trying to go back to sleep. Only instead of the 10 minutes max, I roll over to see that 15, 20, 30 minutes has passed and still: nothin’. I know that they say you’re supposed to physically get UP when this happens, to do something instead of just lay there, to make yourself more tired. And I do, sometimes. Sometimes I’ll even try to go sleep somewhere else: the couch, a chair, even the floor from time-to-time (that’s real smart, Julie. You can’t fall asleep in your nice comfy bed so let’s go lay on the fucking ground. Nice.). But the cycle persists. Sleep for 45. Awake for 30. Repeat until I give up.
Unfortunately, I’m currently powering through one of these bad turns. I know that one night, my circadian rhythm will finally un-fuck-itself-up and I’ll be sleeping for a few hours at a time again, but it hasn’t happened yet. And yes, I know they make things to help you sleep like a normal person, but I am hesitant.
I’m not adverse to taking an Advil PM from time-to-time. But if I take more than one, I wake up feeling terrible. Also, the few times I
was offered a Xanax legally obtained a medication prescribed for me, I also felt shitty upon waking.
Odd sleep-rhythms aside, there’s also times I don’t wake up at all.
Has that ever happened to you? Something in your brain has stirred, and you are sure that you’re awake. You are sure that you are no longer sleeping, but you are still laying in your bed, flat on your back. Wait, are you asleep? You will your eyes to open. You cannot make your eyes open. You cannot make your body move. You know you are asleep. You know you are asleep. Why can’t you move? WHY CAN’T YOU FUCKING MOVE? OH MY GOD YOU CANNOT FUCKING MOVE. You can’t open your eyes, because it feels like they have rolled back into your head. You can’t move, like you are covered in a 500-pound lead x-ray apron.
Then you see what has stirred your brain.
There is a man standing over your bed. He is standing right there. You cannot see his face. And you cannot move. And he is RIGHT THERE IN YOUR FUCKING BEDROOM. And you try to scream, but of course you can’t. And you try to jump up and run and hide, but of course you can’t. Maybe he won’t see you, seeing as you can’t fucking move and all, and maybe he will go away. And maybe you hear your name, CLEAR AS FUCKING DAY. It is whispered into your ear. You KNOW someone is whispering your name in your ear. But you can’t respond. You cannot move.
That’s why I also hate sleeping.
This all sounds much more fucked up in print than it feels in my head. Forgive me. I’m mostly just really tired.
* “Losing my Religion” was released in February 1991, which puts it a bit before summer. While I’m sure it was still getting a lot of play by May/June, maybe the insomnia started earlier? For some reason “summer” sticks with me.