I Can’t Sleep

Living with insomnia. I can't sleep. Figure on dirt road deep in the star lit night, looking at the moon and stars.

I’m 61 years old and I can’t sleep. Things are going well for me in life, I’m relaxed, fulfilled. However, I can’t sleep. Perhaps I’m a little anxious about next week’s meetings. I’m not conscious that I am. I don’t think it’s that; I just don’t sleep well. It’s 3:16 am and I’m awake. And that’s a time I wake up at a lot – somewhere between 3:10 am and 3:25 am; even on different time zones. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Out in the city, I hear a siren. The sound makes me feel not alone. It makes me wonder what’s happening out there. Is anyone else awake?  – I’m sure they are. Would I like any of these people? Perhaps they would they understand why I can’t sleep? Orange tinted light seeps through a small gap in the curtains. That’s comforting. I used to live in the countryside and there was no light. For some reason, I think of a tomb when there is no light.

I can read any newspaper these days and get advice on how to sleep better. Of course, there’s an app on my phone that tells me how much I sleep. This morning the expert in the newspaper tells me that sleep trackers are inaccurate. I know this. Mine tells me I slept well. Yet, I’m dog tired. And wired.

The advice is to have blackout curtains. That doesn’t work for me, it disturbs me, it makes me wake up disoriented if I stay in a hotel and the curtains block the light. And when I travel to other countries, I quite often leave the curtains wide open.

The app can tell me that I’ve slept through the night. But I know I ghosted through the hallway to the bathroom at 3:15 am. 

The advice is not to have digital devices in the bedroom. I tried this. No difference. I turned off the digital display on my bedside radio. This stops me seeing 1 am, 2 am, 3:16 am. Then I drift back to the norm after a few nights.

At 3:16 am I wonder what my life is about. Am I a good person? Am I a failure? What’s still to come? What will I feel when my last days approach; fearful? Will anyone attend my funeral? Will anyone remember me?

I stopped drinking alcohol some time ago. It disturbs sleep. My ineffective sleep monitor confirmed this. When I woke in the middle of the night, my gloom was deeper. My negative thoughts about myself more intense. Does not drinking help me to sleep better? It helps me to be a better insomniac, at the very least. It’s a good move to stop. These days, I can rationally argue with myself that life is better than my nocturnal mental fog allows.

I read The Times today and an article “Nightmares, neuroscience and the secrets of sleep” showed me that my situation is benign. Compared to some others.

I’m 9 years old and I can’t sleep. It’s the middle of the night and the village I live in is quiet. The house is quiet. My parents are asleep and my brothers are asleep. The light in the hallway burns bright. I hear a noise outside and it scares me. I try to sleep with my head under a pillow. Yet I’m awake. And time moves so slowly.

By 5 am I’m awake. I’m excited or sometimes anxious or often curious about what the coming day will bring for me. Of course, I want the rest of the world to be awake, so we can all get on with the day. My mind starts to make plans. I rehearse a presentation to someone. I add numbers up in my mind. A hit-list of actions forms in my head. I think about getting up and riding my bike. Wonder what will be in the morning newspaper. Are we in Europe, not in Europe, what humiliation have politicians put themselves and us through?

We live opposite a church, grey stone and a tall spire. Of course, when you’re 9 years old a church can be scary, it has something to do with death. I know that inside the church there are vast dark spaces and high ceilings, a huge dark cavern. I know I shouldn’t be scared, but I am. Because if I go to sleep I will have those dreams again. I’m scared to be awake, scared to go to sleep. It’s a long night. While I’m not consciously tired during the day, I must be. I’m quiet at this age in any case, so no-one notices.

My parents get irritated that I can’t sleep. Sometimes, I lay awake wondering why they are irritated. I need an extensive menu of things to consider, it’s a long night. If I go to sleep will they like me more? I’m not sure if they love me, that’s not a word that’s ever used in my family. Perhaps they might like me more.

One day, my mother takes me to the doctor. He gives me some tablets. And he says “take half of one”. He tells me that if I take more than one, I might go to sleep forever. I wonder about that. Later, the chemist hands over the tube with the tablets in; orange plastic with a white cap. The label says barbituates. I think ‘does this make me special?’ Part of me thinks this is an adventure. Of course, they don’t work that well. There’s a little improvement after a while.

I’m awake for so long that I get bored. I’m not allowed to make any sound. Because the night is so long, I start to make plans for the coming day. Wild inventions course through my head. Bored, tired, active, creative; and all at once. What am I anxious about? Why am I agitated. It’s not clear to me. But I do know that the restless, active, creative force has stayed with me all my life.

I can’t sleep.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.