All my life, I have put myself to sleep with a novel—eyelids pulling down, dreams wending vine-like into whatever story I am reading. Sometimes I startle awake and, when I attempt to start reading again, I find that the words on the page don’t match the version of the plot my dreams invented. Proust writes about this in one of his interminable Remembrances novels, this being the only thing I remember about them. I’m sure I fell asleep to him as well. Presumably he would be forgiving.
More recently, I’ve switched to getting in bed with my laptop. I watch the red Netflix page download and, soon enough, delight to the introduction: Previously on Damages. No matter how cold-bloodedly conniving Ms. Close is, I can fall asleep to her too.
But then, at some wildly inconvenient hour — 2:53, 3:21 or 4:02 — I am wide-awake. Not the dozy, semi-wakefulness I recall from the time my kids were babies and wanted to climb into my bed, having peed in their own. No, I am hyper alert, my mind jumping from one concern to the next, each one taking up the same size and shape, no matter their real-life significance. For instance, “Did I ever use up that arugula or is it rotting in the fridge” is a smallish matter, representing an investment of not more than four dollars. Action required: throwing it away; resolvable in a matter of seconds. But it looms as large as “Branded content — is that what I should be doing with my career?” Likewise “Did I leave clothes in the dryer, now settling into unsmoothable creases?” has the same heft as “Those two new moles on my face: Are they cancerous? Do they make me look like Morgan Freeman?”“Did I leave clothes in the dryer, now settling into unsmoothable creases?” has the same heft as “Those two new moles on my face: Are they cancerous? Do they make me look like Morgan Freeman?”
The contents of your brain (and fridge) might be different. I do hope so, for your sake. But does this pattern sound familiar? First comes fatigue, which leads to a few hours of sleep, which leads to a few hours of wakefulness, which leads to fitful dozing just before dawn, after which the alarm bleeps and you wake up fatigued. Repeat.
Because this is no way to live, I have tried medications to remedy my “poor sleep quality,” as my doctor put it. My first few months on Ambien were miraculous: One pill infused me with the deliciously druggy heaviness of a cup of Theraflu, my prior sleep aid of choice. Better still, Ambien kept me under until my husband stirred in the bed next to me at dawn. A revelation! A night passed without effort on my part!
But Ambien’s effects faded after a few months, just as my doctor said they would. So it was on to the next, an older — this adjective was from him and it struck me as odd — antidepressant that works less well on moods but better as a sedative, knocking me out cold and leaving my mind pleasantly blank…at least at first. It was June, as I recall, and day after day the weather was pleasantly mild and the sky was a pleasant, untroubled blue and my mind felt pleasantly empty, morning, noon and night. The kind of mind that wouldn’t fuss over spoiled arugula or even cancerous moles meth addicts, for that matter. The downside: I felt flat and uninspired, I stopped writing entirely and, at work, I came up with ideas too dull for even branded content.
My doctor merely shrugged through my recitation of the drug’s side effects, suggesting that I reconsider the “lifestyle factors” he already suggested (and I ignored), such as consuming too much coffee and red wine. He was right, and the combination of teetotalling my way through most weeknights and cutting out coffee after 12 noon mostly did the trick. But on those nights when wakefulness happens anyway, I give into it, getting out of bed to tick off easy items on my list until I start to feel sleepy again. Which is why, at 4:30 this morning, I wrote this post (non-branded content, please note). While enjoying a lovely arugula breakfast salad.