Tag Archives: Insomnia

The positives of sleeplessness

I envy our dog many things but – first and foremost – is her ability to sleep. Hadley, a miniature dachshund, can pitch down just about anywhere and nod off, at any time. 

For me, it’s the exact opposite. For years I’ve dealt, to a greater or lesser, degree, with insomnia. It’s far from chronic (I average about 5.5 hours a night, I’ve established – those of us with sleeping problems often record such details obsessively), but it’s ever-present.

Workdays, weekends, vacations – the schedule rarely wavers. A good night is sleep by midnight or 1 a.m. and waking between 5 and 6 a.m. A bad night is a lot less.

After 15 or so years of this – I’ve no idea what triggered it, back in my mid- 20s – I’ve grown accustomed to a regular shell-like feeling when dawn comes around, and the dread of staring down the day ahead, knowing that I’ll feel jetlagged (in a transatlantic way) throughout.

I was therefore interested to read recently the opinion of the late fiction writer Brian Aldiss, who believed that spending hours of the night and early morning awake could loosen creative juices. While I’ve certainly spent the early hours writing or editing, I can’t say I felt any more inspired – more like grateful for not wasting time trashing futilely around the bed.

But Aldiss’ belief prompted me to think of the positives of fractured sleep, and I came up with this list (which I’m tempted to print and pin above my bedside locker):

  • Peace and quiet. Little is stirring at 5 a.m. The world is asleep. This stillness is best enjoyed standing on the back deck with very early cup of coffee.
  • More hours in the day. Gordon Gekko-like, I can therefore get more done (of course, this doesn’t always pan out – sometimes I spend too long on the back deck, for a start).
  • A feeling of solidarity with my heroes. William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, Franz Kafka, Philip Larkin, and others were all 4 a.m. floor pacers. Alas my scribbling is not quite at the same level. One can dream (if one could sleep.)
  • Imperviousness to jetlag. I’d like to say this is true all the time but alas it’s not. However, if schedules align, poor sleep in Oregon can dovetail to a perfect waking hour when we visit Ireland.
  • Cuddle time with a half-awake dog. If I’m awake, Hadley is often half-awake, and she’s usually in the mood for a snuggle at any hour. (Yes, she sleeps in our bed.) To be honest, this is insomnia’s true silver lining.

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A good night’s sleep? Only in my dreams

I’M not the world’s biggest Beatles’ fan. In fact I’m usually not even the room’s biggest Beatles’ fan. But, 50 years after they erupted onto the 20th Century, they’ve have burrowed deep into parts of my unconsciousness.

Just how deep only emerges at certain half-moments. I’m in the midst of doing something and suddenly, like a catchy genie, Paul McCartney steps into my head and launches, unannounced, into Blackbird.

Of late such cameos have been occurring between 3 and 5am. And the voice has been John Lennon’s, singing a song he wrote while sleepless at an Indian ashram in 1968.

I’ve read that I’m So Tired is either Lennon’s agonised cri die coeur for Yoko Ono, a song which exemplifies his Goons-style humour, or a tortured plea as he battled boredom without booze, drugs or cigarettes.

But to me it’s the simple, desperate appeal of a man who, despite fame, wealth and spiritual enlightenment, just can’t get to sleep.

Lennon’s reasons might be a little different to my own but his ‘I’d give you anything I got for a little piece of mind’ has occurred to me more than once as I’ve engaged in another night of ceiling watching.

Insomnia’s a senseless condition. My day job, working out and just being around in general usually see me exhausted by 10pm. And yet.

Until recently I’ve attributed this sleeplessness to my work. For the past number of years my job has entailed early starts, usually involving a 5am wake-up call, five days a week. I figured this kicked my circadian rhythm out – particularly as it put me in a different timezone to family and friends.

As time passed I’ve found other likely causes. I’ve blamed Dublin’s low-light winter murk for disrupting my sleep-wake rhythms. Alcohol, caffeine, late night food, use of electronic devices, loud noises, bad jokes – all these and more have been possible culprits at stages.

But the truth is I have no idea why I find myself grappling with insomnia. Not wanting to take sleeping meds every night I now resign myself to hoping that one evening it will simply stop.

A night's sleep? In my dreams.

To tweet, perhaps to dream.

There is a silver lining. I’ve watched any number of documentaries and movies that, if I had a regular sleep schedule, I never would have. The same applies to reading books. And I’m able to time my morning runs so I can watch the day break (if I can see the horizon through the rain).

I’d rather have Lennon’s “little peace of mind” though, in reality and not echoing around my head as I tinker with the dishwasher at 4am.

This week I’ve started new, later, working hours. Perhaps this will have an effect. Here’s hoping.

I’m So Tired. Good song but I never want to hear it again, ever.

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