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Learning to sleep

I have an unlikely new project: learning to sleep.

Back in the far-distant past, the days of hula hoops and woody wagons, it never crossed my mind that such a thing would have to be learned, like state capitals or long division. I curled up and was gone until my father started snapping the blinds at 7 a.m. In his view it was a moral failing to loll about past 7 a.m. Not that I wanted to hang around sleeping. Bedtime, to me, was a tiresome so-called necessity that adults foisted on kids, along with broccoli and booster shots.

Back then “insomnia” was a word on a spelling-bee list, an old folks’ complaint. Now it’s my scourge and my shame. Last winter, when I crossed the boundary of desperation between one or two rough nights a week and no good nights, ever, I broke down and did something completely out of character. I begged my doctor for some chemical mercy. After ascertaining that I wasn’t depressed, just overwhelmed by the most maddening and complicated move of my life, he gave me a prescription for little white pills, which gave way to humungous blue pills around the time my best friend died.

It’s been—horrors!—about six months since the pills became my nightly companions, and I’m as ready to quit as I can hope to be. But let’s face it: I’m now chemically dependent. So I’m seeing a sleep psychiatrist who has just laid down the stringent rules of the behaviour therapy program that will teach me how to make it through the night while I gradually cut out the pills.

The regime sounds counterintuitive, as Dr. Sleep freely admits. It also sounds a tad unnerving. I’m told I will likely hit a bad patch before I get comfortable with chemical-free sleep. I’m beginning to understand how smokers must feel as they contemplate their last cigarette (I used to be so sanctimonious about the trials of butting out, but sleep behaviour therapy has humbled me). Anyway, here are the rules I’ve been following since last Wednesday:

* Always go to bed at exactly the same time, 11:30, and set the alarm for 7 hours later. But I can barely stay awake past 10! And besides, isn’t 8 hours the magic number? Not according to Dr. Sleep, who says I’ll become a more efficient sleeper by compressing my elusive snooze time. If I wake in the night, as I’m certain to do, that’s my tough luck. No extra hour to make up for tossing and turning.

* Never look at the clock during the night. Okay,I get this part; all of us insomniacs are driven frantic by knowing how long we’ve been awake as the night slips away.

* Never spend more than 20-25 minutes lying in bed trying to sleep. Since I can’t watch the clock, I have to guess when I’ve hit the 25-minute wall. Next step: get up and read (no page-turners allowed).

* Only one cup of coffee and one glass of wine allowed daily. Yikes! The second glass of wine is one thing. But the third morning cup of coffee? Brutal.

I haven’t even started cutting back on the meds yet; I’m still struggling with the 7-hour schedule and the stingy coffee ration. In the middle of the night, I stumble through a few more pages of Wild Mary, Patrick Marnham’s zestful biography of the late-blooming British novelist Mary Wesley, who became a literary celebrity at age 70 after a lifetime of rebellion and sacrifice. It ought to be the perfect inspirational read for a woman approaching 60, but under these conditions I can barely follow the thread. Maybe I should reach for something simple and lulling. Something like…I’ve got it! Goodnight Moon.

Click here and here to read my previous posts about insomnia. To read a tribute to my friend, whom I miss every day, click here.


Posted by Rona

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