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My restless relationship with sleep

Sometimes, I go two and three weeks without a decent night’s sleep. Some of it is due to the natural depressions I tend to have, particularly in the spring. But most of it is due to the fact that I can’t put myself to bed at a decent hour, or, at least, an hour decent for the amount of sleep I need.

But sleep for me is not all it seems. When I’m pooped, which is most of the time, sleep seems the balm for all my ills. But night, for some reason, is not for sleeping. I sleep poorly, lightly, and mostly restlessly. I dream vividly, and some dreams are quite beautiful, almost utopian. Others are as beautiful as they are terrifying. Regardless of their content and feel, however, dreams always wake me up.

It’s not just dreams. Slight sounds. My wife’s breathing. The dog getting on the bed. Having to pee. My mind takes any excuse to be awoken from the rest my body needs and wakes me.

Most frustrating are the times when I go to bed dog tired, looking forward to the release from weariness and care, and then lie wide awake. I meditate. I imagine machine gunning and detonating all my worries and the things I worry about.

In waking moments at bedtime, I have saved my neighborhood, my family, my students, and even all of humanity thousands and thousands of times. I have had all the standard superhero powers, and many that superheroes would never have–the ability, for instance, to make people hop for no reason at all.

In the darkness, I’ve solved environmental issues and end human trespass on land, water, air, and other species. The force of my will has evaporated, atomized, and aerosoled power plants, computer networks, and television stations. With mind alone, I’ve made dams fall, valleys flood, and fire burn. Salmon have started runs long forgotten in their species. The passenger pigeon flies in Midwestern skies. The elk, black bear, and grizzly again roam the Great Plains.

But in doing all this, I don’t threaten our species. Flood, weather, and landslide wash the earth clean. We start again in a post-industrial, post-information civilization that realizes the longevity of our species and the needs of it, the creative impulse of the human spirit, and the usefulness of labor.

And here’s the real sadness of my relationship with sleep. I get the best sleep of the day during the hour to hour and fifteen minutes I nap nearly every afternoon.

Ironically, I can nap just about anywhere. I’ve slept in train and bus stations, airports, in parks–even some of the world’s most renown: English Garden in Munich, Alt Reinickendorf in Berlin, and Central Park in New York; in the Berlin, Stuttgart, and Mannheim train terminals; and at the New York Port Authority.

I’ve also sacked out in the rain and in the sun. I’ve slept on concrete and on flour sacks. Under bridges, in the woods, on the beach, in the middle of the Arizona desert. Near mountaintops (U.S. and Germany), in alpine valleys, and once on the edge of the tenth floor of an unfinished building in San Francisco.

Jackhammers, jet planes, trains, and even roaring crowds do not interfere. I can sleep like the dead in the middle of the afternoon, regardless of the amount of light, whether it’s cold or sweltering, or even when someone is persistent about waking me up.

You might think that I’d be smart and quit taking naps. You’d sleep better at night, you might say to me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if I nap or not. I’ve gone long miserable months without naps with the intention of sleeping better at night. Nothing. No change. So, why not grab those few moments of deep, restful sleep when I can?

Sleep is a pretty ordinary thing for most people. For me, however, the rare night of restful sleep is both a balm and a curse. It leads me to believe I can sleep well at night. Maybe, I think, this is the start of something. Two nights in a row of good sleep is even rarer but it drives this feeling of change even more.

I’m doomed, I’m afraid, to fatigue the rest of my life.

But maybe not. Maybe soon, I’ll be able to sleep like I did when I was a child. If not, there’s always the grave.

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