Have you ever seen the movie “Insomnia” with Robin Williams and Al Pacino? It details a homicide detective hunting a serial killer obsessively, leading to a lack of sleep that in turn causes the detective to lose it and wonder if he himself is the killer. This plot accurately describes my love affair with sleep.
In 2009, I was promoted to morning anchor. I was elated until I realized that meant I needed to be at work by 4 a.m. Have you ever tried to go to bed at 6 p.m. if you weren’t sick or drunk? It’s a no go, entirely. This is when I think everything took a turn for the worst in the sleep department. Upsetting your circadian rhythm is no joke and has a lasting effect. Whether it was that scientific or simply that I realized I hated anchoring and had no plan for real life, I’ll never know. The important thing is: before then I slept like a log well into mid-afternoon, often receiving the morning critique from my mom, “You’re such a snake,” because it was incredibly difficult to get me out of bed (especially for Sunday morning church sessions). I was really good at sleeping and now I’m abysmal.
It’s not that I can’t fall asleep, it’s that once I’m asleep I wake up way too many times. I’m either hot, cold, have to pee, can’t get comfortable, it’s too loud, it’s too quiet, I’m in an unfamiliar place, I had a bad dream, Junebug is on my head, Ray is laying entirely too close to me or some combination of the above. Most of the time I lay awake counting how many hours of sleep I’d get if I just fell asleep right then. Sometimes I attempt to wake Ray up to get him to talk to me or hold me until I fall back asleep. Other times I wake up convinced that a dream I had was real and that Ray either tried to kill me or is dating a colleague and I tried to kill them both. He likes to remind me I can’t be mad at him for things he did in my dreams. I like to remind him that I absolutely can and will be.
When I detailed these sleep issues to my primary care doctor, she suggested I had mental illness and offered me a prescription for xanax. I politely declined. Next on the pill popper’s suggestion list was ambien. I’m not ashamed to admit I have taken tylonol pm, benedryl, melatonin and even ambien. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve sometimes taken a combo of the above with a bottle of wine on top. I’ve slept with headphones, ear plugs, fans, sound machines, oil diffusers and humidifiers. I’ve tried reading, yoga, journaling, baths, meditation and deep breathing. You name it, I’ve tried it. When I tried ambien though, I thought I was actually going to die. I was so scared after hearing all the horror stories about sleepwalking and stabbing someone that I was sure it wouldn’t end well. I laid in bed with my heart-racing, making deals with God that if I woke up in the morning I’d never take another ambien. For a few weeks I did though. I’m pretty sure He forgives me.
Eventually I went to a sleep specialist who clinically diagnosed me with insomnia. She said she wished I had come to her sooner instead of taking the ambien. She told me I was actually going to bed too early and that the recommended eight hours of sleep was unrealistic for someone like me. I was trying so hard to get eight hours that I’d go to bed at 9pm and toss and turn because I’d been in the bed for too long. She suggested instead that I go to bed around midnight and get up at 7 every single day, no matter what. Nothing delights me more than sleeping in, but she was telling me that unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life Al Pacino’s body double, that was just not possible. I followed her rules to the T for about six months. It really, really worked. I got good sleep. I didn’t murder anyone, except maybe in my dreams.
Now, about a year after seeing Dr. ZZZs, I got to bed between 10 and 11, clad in ear plugs, with a delightful essential oil mixture in the diffuser and tucked comfortably into our king size bed.
*Pause to recognize my darling husband who tucks me into bed every night. Yes, I’m serious.*
I wake up usually once a night and sleep until 8:15 a.m. every day. I still typically only get seven hours of sleep and I’m okay with it.
It’s worth mentioning that Ray can literally sleep anywhere, anytime. I’ve discovered him asleep sitting up, standing, on the floor, in a chair, while I’m talking, with the tv on full blast and lights blazing. He has slept through fire alarms, phone calls, me banging on a locked door to try to get back into our hotel room cause I forgot my key and through several nights of me coughing up my lungs with bronchitis. I am always in bed before him. He loves to stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. and come to bed like a charging herd of buffalo. He swears he’s trying to be quiet, but as I previously mentioned, things have to be the perfect mix of not too loud and not too quiet to prevent rousing me from my slumber. He also always gets up before me. I have no idea how someone can be so loud simply putting on a pair of socks. It makes no sense at all.
After I’ve woken up I like to ask Ray what I was doing when he came to bed or why he was so loud in the morning when he could tell I was finally actually sleeping. He protests that if he doesn’t give me a kiss goodbye before work I immediately text him, “Are you serious? You just left without saying goodbye.” And, if he does kiss my goodbye I groan loudly and thrash around like I’m dying. In response to what I was doing, he usually replies that I look like a wide-mouth guppy, drooling. I’ll let you be the judge.