Sleep eluded me for over thirty years. A good night’s rest was a memorable experience and one to be celebrated. It happened only about once every two or three weeks. Most of the time, I would fall asleep right away but then awakened two or so hours later to toss and turn, stare at the ceiling, and try to sleep.
Trying to sleep keeps me awake. Then I start dreading the next day, when I know I will walk around with a dull head. That, then, keeps me awake. My mind races, thoughts coming at rapid pace until I just had to get out of bed. I eat. I watch television. I read. But nothing induces that somnambulance I so ache to experience.
For years in my 20s, I drank myself to sleep. I was a drunk and I dreaded a sleepless night. I drank until I passed out every night for ten years. The problem, of course, is that drinking like I did made me tired, even if I succeeded in drugging myself to sleep for most of the night. In the morning, I would never be able to sleep in. The alcohol had worn off. My whole body buzzed. I’d turn over and punch the pillow, shove my head into it again and again. It never worked.
Then, at the age of 27, I stopped drinking. Without the benefit of a good drunk, I rarely got in a full night. The pattern hardly changed. I’d sleep for a few hours, wake for a few hours, and then get to sleep just in time to wake up for work or school.
I walked around in my 30s and 40s bone tired. I once walked to Montana and only got about five nights of restful sleep. I canoed back to Kansas City from Montana and did a slight bit better but didn’t get a good night for the majority of the time. I napped every day. It was the best sleep I got.
I’ve been treated for depression for quite a few years now. The doctors prescribed serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, which solve the problem in most people. But the drugs only had mild effect on my depression and never did anything for mania. When I approached my doctor about insomnia, he prescribed Ambien, which didn’t work to put me to sleep but did a hell of a job recreating symptoms and feelings of being drunk. When I did sleep, it wasn’t restful. I was as tired as ever.
And Ambien, which is a blunt instrument, did peculiar things to me. Every night I took it, I sat in front of the television and drifted into a half sleep. I ate like a pig. I did things I couldn’t remember. I’d come to in the middle of a double-decked cheese and lettuce sandwich, my hand slathered in mayo. One night, I even walked out of the house and doddered around the parkway. I awakened halfway down the street. Home looked so far away. I thought I’d never make it.
A couple of years ago, I went to the mental hospital as result of untreated bipolar disorder. The doctors there figured out a drug regimen that dealt with rapid cycles of Superman to worst human in the world to Superman and back. I’d suffered from depression and mania my whole life. Probably the drinking helped to even out some of the highs and lows. But without the benefit of heavy doses of alcohol, I was up and down, sometimes several times in a day. Sometimes I’d go weeks at high speed only to crash miserably into suicidal depths that lasted just as long as the highs.
Insomnia didn’t help the craziness. When I was down, a sleepless night created morose thinking. The world would never smile on me, I thought. Anxiety, which always accompanied my condition, made me think the world was going to end. Anxiety kept me awake, and then insomnia exacerbated the anxiety. I believed I was always going to live a miserable existence. In the peak of mania, sleeplessness produced a kind of drunkenness that produce expansive feelings of grandeur. Nothing, I thought was going to stop me. I ran on adrenalin well into the night, sleeping only when exhaustion or a crash into depression stopped me.
When the doctors figured out a drug regimen that seemed to solve the mania, depression, and anxiety, they also magically treated the insomnia. One of the drugs I began to take on a daily basis had the side effect of sedation. I don’t mind sedation. In fact, it was one of the reasons I drank. The only drugs I ever did were downers. I never understood why anyone would want to do speeders or cocaine. I wanted to turn off not heighten any senses. I didn’t want to experience the world, I wanted to flee it.
This wonder drug put me to sleep at night. The anti-anxiety medication let me sleep all night. I’d get ten hours a night, and then have a nap during the day. (Once inured to the miracle of an afternoon nap, it’s a habit difficult to give up. I still nap every day.) I found myself refreshed most of the time. I hardly yawned during daylight. I knew what it meant when other people said they had a good, restful sleep.
After decades of insomnia, I wasn’t going to complain about losing part of every day to sleep. I delved into sleep. I let it run all over me. I reveled in it. I woke up in the morning and looked forward to going to bed at night. Uninterrupted sleep was a present whose novelty hasn’t, in four and a half years, worn off.
I worry sometimes that I’m sleeping my life away. But then I remember that after so many years of sleeplessness, to complain would be unseemly.
My drug regimen has changed a little. I no longer take the sedating drug I did for about three years after my trip the mental hospital. Instead, I ingest a cocktail of a couple of drugs that make me sleep as good as I ever have. In fact, it’s a rare night that I get less than ten hours of rest. Many times, I get upwards of twelve, along with a nap. Lately, I’ve been spending a majority of 24 hours asleep.
I sleep too much now, I think. I have so much to do. A book awaits rewriting. I have class to teach and essays to write. I have to figure out how to cut down on the amount of sleep I get. But then, at the end of the day, I descend into blissful oblivion and I think, well, I’ll worry about it tomorrow.