Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow (MNA March 07)

“If a man had as many ideas during the day as he does when he has insomnia, he'd make a fortune.”
- Griff Niblack

Associate Editor

It is a curse I have lived with for 20 years or so.
Since my teens, I’ve been an acute insomnia sufferer. For long stretches, days, weeks, a month — I go to sleep, fall right asleep, and sleep through the night.
But every so often — I just lay there — in the darkness; wide awake, with no hope of the sand man arriving any time soon.
Sometimes I can’t sleep because my mind will spin endlessly about the events of the day, some little act in the great film that is my life which I wish I could do over, fix, or re-shoot. Or I’ll obsess about the future, the kids, the threat of global thermonuclear war, the price of gas, whether the Tigers will ever win another world series. Other times, a song will get stuck in my head, and replay over, and over...and over.
I’ve come to grips with the fact that my body may be weary, but my mind is still working overtime. “There’s so much to do,” my brain shouts, “you can’t go to sleep now!”
It used to really bother me, not sleeping. I’d get all wound up because I couldn’t sleep, and it would aggravate my condition even further. I’d roll over again and again, and each time another hour would fly by on those little red numbers on my clock. I’d look at it, groan, and think: “if i can just fall to sleep now, I’ll get 6 hours of rest,” then, later, “if I fall asleep now I’ll get five good hours in,” and “If I just got to sleep now, I can get two good hours in,” and so on, until it eventually was six in the morning and I’d just give up.
The day after one of these episodes, I’ll walk the halls at work like a zombie, sucking up as much liquid cafeine, canned energy drinks, and pre-processed sugary snacks as I can, in order to get myself into a state where I can function at a bare minimum of efficiency. At some point, around two o’clock in the afternoon, the inevitable crash comes, and I have to fight to keep awake.
Later that night, despite the tiredness, when it comes time to go to bed, I will STILL have trouble falling asleep. Usually, after a week or so of this night-time torture, my body finally gives out and I go into a coma and sleep okay for another month or so.
The problem hasn’t gotten better in recent years. It’s gotten worse.
I only used to have insomnia about every six months. As I aged, it would happen more often; every three months, then two, then every month would inevitably bring a period of time where the blissful state of sleep just eludes me.
I used to stress out about the loss of sleep, so I made every attempt to rectify the problem. I tried exercising more, exercising less before bed, not eating after 6 p.m., eating after 6 p.m., cutting out caffeine, drinking less alcohol, drinking MORE alcohol, overdosing on Ny-Quil, herbal remedies...but nothing worked. I even got some of those pills from the doctor to get me back onto a regular sleeping schedule, which worked for a month or so. Then it was back to the same old routine.
I was faced with only one alternative.
I embraced the insomnia. I made it my friend.
Now, if I can’t fall asleep, I simply get up and do something. I watch TV, read a book, surf the Internet; anything to occupy my time until I can fall asleep naturally. And I changed my thinking about insomnia. Instead of feeling cursed, as I mentioned earlier, I try now to think of not being able to sleep as my own special super-power. Like the guys on the television show “Heroes.”
My new philosophy is not that I CAN’T sleep — it’s that I don’t NEED to sleep.
Yeah, that’s the ticket...
Since I incorporated this change in attitude, my mental state has improved. I snooze only when I’m tired.
When those no-sleep gremlins bite, I get up and use my newly found free time to do something I enjoy. I relax, unwind, or do whatever makes me happy. As the time ticks by on yet another restless evening, I no longer care. When 4 a.m. comes around, and I haven’t slept yet, I just think of all the free time I now have because of my special powers.
I am a brand new breed of super-hero. I am “no-sleep man.” While others must rest, I am tiling the floor in the basement. I am doing dishes. I am cleaning my workshop. I am writing a column. I am playing Xbox.
Sleep? What a waste! I laugh at slumber! Sleep is for mere mortals!
So, if you drive by my house at 3 a.m. and the lights are still on, you’ll know why.
And if you call me at 10:30 a.m. the next day, and I’m sleeping, don’t judge me. I’m not lazy.
No-sleep man was just on duty last night, that’s all.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at

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