Top News

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Insomnia

Russell Wangersky writes about how hard it is to stay asleep: "Your face hits the pillow, out you go, but two a.m. comes and your eyes snap open." —
Russell Wangersky writes about how hard it is to stay asleep: "Your face hits the pillow, out you go, but two a.m. comes and your eyes snap open." — 123RF Stock photo

You do things right, follow all the best advice.

Don’t eat after eight o’clock, no snacks, don’t gamble that a small scotch will help.

Get the good exercise during the day, you get your heart rate up but also enough good, steady walking to ensure you’re legitimately tired. (All the advice except the warm milk — not doing the warm milk, shuddering at the thought of the possibility of its later sour rise.)

No smartphone before bed, no last run through the inevitable emails and complaints. They say the strange blue light of phone screens disturbs sleep — they say that on the internet, where the information is obtained, sadly, by referring to that same strange blue light. Game, set, match.

You’ve never had trouble sleeping.

(No one told you it would be like this)

Night one, it’s no problem. An aberration. Your face hits the pillow, out you go, but two a.m. comes and your eyes snap open. A dream? A noise? The night-prowling cat toppling some houseplant?

You’re not awake enough to put order to what woke you. Roll to one side — not too much, no disturbance.

And the wave comes. Small at first: can’t forget about tomorrow’s evening conference call appointment, have to remember that you’ve promised to help with a home repair on the weekend. Waves beget waves. Soon, they’re huge, drawing back for incomprehensible years, making you pick and sample your way through decisions — made for the right reasons and undoable anyway — but why not chew through them like a dog on a gristle-bone anyway?

Soon things are racing in your head, and the light’s changing outside, gathering at the edges of the curtains. You ponder getting up an hour early, because that last hour’s not going to do much good, anyway. And then your thinking dissolves into that running disordered slideshow that’s three blocks short of sound sleep.

And the alarm wakes you mere moments later.

It’s amazing how quickly your spirit can be broken. How few days it takes before you’re resigned to the loss of sleep.

Night two? You’re apprehensive, and that does absolutely nothing to help. You’re armed and ready: chase the thoughts away. Night is for sleeping and you’ve never failed at that; you repeat it to yourself. I can do this.
Chase the thoughts away.

Move too much: the sheets coil at your calves like ropes. You’re too hot. Too cold. You try with every bit of strength not to move — stay in one place. Relax. Remember you’re warm and comfortable and, for the next few hours, there’s no place you have to be, and nothing you have to be doing. Don’t think about how much work there is tomorrow, don’t start making a list of the things that have to get done. Don’t think about how hard it will be to do everything if you’re also overtired. Don’t think, don’t think — and then, you are. The health problems of those near you. That unexplained ache of your own.

Wynken, Blynken and Nod may be near, but they’re laughing, and their nets are not full of dreams.

Wind outside and the house creaks, and no one told you it would be like this.

Day three, and you feel like your eyeballs are skittering around loose in their sockets all through the day. You’re strung tight like strings wound to an open G chord on a steel guitar. You’re irritated by cars, by light, by people in the office around you. Your thoughts move like mud, pushing slowly.

It’s amazing how quickly your spirit can be broken. How few days it takes before you’re resigned to the loss of sleep. How easily it could be used as a weapon of war.

Night comes again, and awake threatens.

You trust that it will stop. That it will stop sometime.

But that trust is the only thing you have.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


MORE FROM RUSSELL WANGERSKY

Recent Stories