Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made of This

          I don’t ever remember being a sound sleeper, the kind who falls asleep (funny expression, falling asleep; It sounds sort of dangerous) and then wakes up eight hours later refreshed. Instead, from childhood to today, I wake up multiple times during the night with the hope each time that I will quickly return to slumberland, a wish that is not always fulfilled.

          I have read that in times past cultures had what was called a first and second sleep. After waking up after several hours sleep, a person would get up and do some non-strenuous activity—read, catch up on correspondence, knit a shawl, sharpen quills—and then go back to bed. This sounds appealing, and I have told myself many times I should try that, but I never have. I did not have projects to occupy me for an hour or so before the second sleep. I would probably have found it hard to resist going to an electronic device, and I have read many times that one should not do that before going to bed. (Although I have seen that admonition, I have never seen the data on it. Do the studies exist?) Instead, when I wake up that first time or any other time, I go to the bathroom, get back under the covers, and, on a good night, fall back to sleep quickly.

          Sometimes, however, sleep does not come easily again. Then my mind seems to go into overdrive, and that has been occasionally useful. Let’s say that I had been working on some mental activity–trying to write an article for the blog, for example– but had reached an impasse. As I lie sleepless in bed, a thought might pop up that breaks the logjam. Sleeplessness well spent, it then turns out.

          However, it is more often the case that I cannot fall asleep easily again because my mind seems caught in an endless loop about something I can do nothing about that has pissed me off. And because my mind won’t let go of the slight or absurdity, I then get angry at myself for allowing myself to work myself into such a state. And when the same thing merry-go-rounds in the middle of the night several times in the same week, I really get upset with myself and that makes it even harder to sleep. I would love suggestions on how to stop this behavior. “Just get over it,” doesn’t seem to do the trick.

          Sometimes I senselessly stay awake not from a past event but a future one over which I have little to no control. This has been the situation over the past fortnight. During a sleepless night, I often try to fall asleep again by listening to the radio set on a timer to a news station. But almost all the news recently was about the upcoming election and just the briefest mention of the midterms would set my mind racing with my concerns about the country’s future. And even if I did not listen to public radio programs as I tried to end the day, news that I had consumed earlier in the day would pop into my consciousness and set my mind racing. Even though I have been a news junkie for as long as I can remember, for the past few weeks I have tried to avoid the news, and that did help my sleep. On the other hand, I wondered how bizarre I had become. How many other people lie awake at 3 am tossing and turning and thinking about midterms when their only influence over them is their one vote?

          However, sometimes my mind races at night about a future event, and I am sure that others face the same problem in similar situations. I have had about two dozen medical “procedures” and even more tests leading up to them, and often my nervousness concerning the next day, keep me awake. For example, I needed a new heart valve, and I was part of a clinical trial, which meant that I had to undergo more than a few examinations and tests before the “procedure.” I wanted it over with, and I did not sleep well on the night before my last test. I had discomfort in my lower abdomen with an occasional sharp pain. As I lay–awake–in bed, I convinced myself that I had a kidney stone. My mind raced. I didn’t need to go to the emergency room, did I? Maybe the stone would pass naturally with a modicum of pain and blood. Did I know of a doctor to go to? Did the spouse? Could I postpone my stress test? Would this postpone my valve replacement? Surely, I had to deal with the kidney stone first. Finally, I fell asleep but fifty minutes later I was awake again with a racing mind. What should I do about the kidney stone? How do I cancel my heart appointment? Finally, back to sleep again but awake an hour later. So it went all night long until I finally got up to go to the hospital for the test, and the worries about the kidney stone dissipated. I came to the convincing, and loud, conclusion that it was only gas.