Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I have had insomnia off-and-on since I was nineteen or so, and it's been in mostly-on mode for the past few years. When it occurs to friends of mine that I send lots of correspondences at around 3:30 in the morning and that the status updates on Facebook at 5:43 a.m. are not from someone who just woke but from someone who had been awake for the better part of the night, they are justifably concerned. When one imagines an insomniac, I think the picture that emerges is one of a neurotic, jangly-nerved basket case. My friends - I have wonderfully caring, nurturing friends - look into my eyes sympathetically and ask if I need to talk about anything. They tell me that they are here for me. They offer ideas - yoga, chamomile tea, meditation - that are lovely, nourishing and enriching but always remain simply nice things I can do for myself prior to spending another night awake. They advise me not to drink caffeine (as if!) and to not eat late at night (I don't). I joke that I am transitioning, on my way to becoming a vegan vampire, though my adoration of garlic is still intact and my commitment to nonviolence remains unchanged. They want to help me but my internal clock is frustratingly, unintentionally defiant. It wants to rouse me in the middle of the night.

Nothing seems to help for more than a day or two or at a time. Over the years, I have tried black cohash and every other herbal remedy, homeopathics, Sleepytime Tea, acupuncture, going without sugar, cutting out spicy foods, blocking out the sun with black cardboard on my bedroom windows (again, training to become a bloodless vampire), not drinking for three hours before bedtime, not turning on any lights when I do get up in the night, counting backwards from one hundred, and counting blasted sheep jumping backwards from one hundred. I get plenty of exercise and not too late in the day. To my knowledge, I am not engaging in any habit or product that facilitates sleeplessness. Oh, except for my inability to turn my brain off.

When people ask why I have insomnia, my immediate thought is, Why don't you? The fact that anyone can sleep for more than four or five hours in a row is pretty shocking to me sometimes. There is a theater playing newsreels, distant memories, revisited conversations, to do lists, nagging worries, funny thoughts, weird ideas (and I can tell you firsthand that the ideas that seem brilliant at three in the morning don't usually have much going for them in the unforgiving light of day) and on and on in this overactive mind of mine. I remember when I was little - in the time of my life I was a blissfully unknowing pre-insomniac - I had this fantasy that I could program my brain shortly before I went to sleep to screen episodes of The Monkees and The Banana Splits as dreams. Sort of an early, biological Tivo. It never quite worked like that, but this sort of thinking, that I must be productive with everything, even when I have clocked out, that I must not waste my time on something as patently inefficient as sleep. I know the flaws of this thinking (sleep is healthy! sleep is necessary!) and yet I still can't stop seeing it as a big ol' waste of time. Please don't send me messages about how healthy sleep is, how necessary it is for our functionality. One part of my brain fully agrees and recognizes this: it's the other part of my brain that causes such a ruckus.

I thought I'd list here some of the random things that one can get done during three or four hours while the rest of the world is supine. Sure, insomnia has its drawbacks, like, for example, stinging eyes for the first hour or so of the next day and being ready for lunch at around 9:30, but being awake in the middle of the night also has its pluses. For example I could:

Check my Facebook. I can look up ex-boyfriends and examine the tiny square photograph for signs of aging. Things that feel like self-indulgent time-wasters during the daytime are excused when the sun don't shine.

Mentally set the next day's goals, even though they may be totally thrown off by these hours spent planning them.

Wonder what my son's teacher really meant when she said that he was having trouble concentrating. Did she mean to intimate that he has ADD? Oh, God, does he have ADD? Look up symptoms of ADD. Decide that my son may not have it, but I definitely do. Adult-onset ADD perhaps? Ponder suing Facebook.

Try to figure out how on earth I could coax more clothes storage space out of my 1920s-era home. Go through each room in my mind and come up pretty much without solutions. Except! Hangers on ceilings.

Wonder if there is lead in the flaking-off paint of the sunroom where I spend most of the day in front of the computer. Does lead poisoning cause insomnia? Or maybe I'm getting radiation poisoning from the computer? Look up radiation screens online. Also, write a note reminding me to get a blood test for lead poisoning.

Decide on a lark to bake mini-loaves of banana bread because my son is not getting cute enough snacks at school and I am losing my opportunity to properly promote veganism to his first grade peers.

Plunder the depths of Wikipedia.

Plan this year's bulb plantings and next year's garden. In the process, discover last year's lost garden plan for this year. Become chagrined.


Skim through the magazines that have been occupying space in the second bedroom for the purpose of being read late at night. Ponder a Venus Zine for old ladies like myself without tattoos and who never go out but still love Cat Power.

Read some David Foster Wallace. Get really, really sad about his suicide. Look up interviews online.

Come across a picture of Sissy Spacek as Carrie. That picture of Carrie with her eyes wide, fingers all splayed out, and blood pouring down her must surely rank as one of the scariest images in the history of cinema. Shit. Now I'm scared. Decide that Carrie must be reviewed again by me for a feminist analysis. Try to get the image out of my head. Think about that girl in seventh grade who everyone said looked like Carrie. Wonder what she is doing now. Try to her up on Facebook but there are 318 others with the same name.

Write a meal plan. Write a grocery list. Sort through cookbooks. Make up recipes. Throw out old spices.

Contemplate Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, other hideous men. They're probably sleeping like babies. "Yeah, they're probably soiling themselves," you think and laugh out loud. Status update?

Hormone imbalance? Search symptoms.

Pick up the craft project I abandoned six months ago. Now what was it I was trying to do here?

Jot down ideas for new articles to shop around, then decide that they are all idiotic and this has been a totally unproductive time and now I'm sleep-deprived, most likely rendering my day less than

Is that the sun coming up? Damn...[Did you know that there's a sound just before sunrise? I swear that there is. It's a sound sort of like the sky opening up, if you can imagine that. It always makes me feel a little sick to my stomach because it means that I've likely missed my window for falling back asleep.]

So this is a lens into the nightlife of an insomniac, not all insomniacs, but this one. A thrill a minute as you can see.

(Sorry for the lame post, honeys, but I'm tired...)


  1. Oh my god, Marla. Could I possibly love you more? You just described how I spend most of my days (never mind my nights).


  2. I love you, too, Chandelle. We are soul sisters!

  3. I've been reading all the backlog of your blog and this post stands out because it's so relatable for me. It may just be a teen thing that I'll outgrow, but my nights are idea infested. Yesterday I woke up in the middle of the night to expand on my dream to turn it into an outline for a the time I actually imagined myself writing that horrific idea.


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