It is 3 a.m.
As I lay in my bed, I turn one way and then another. I don’t do it because of any specific discomfort or pain, just general uneasiness. Even at the advanced hour, my mind continues to race. It focuses momentarily on subject after subject like a radio constantly scanning the airwaves—except I never seem to find the perfect station.
A tingling sensation encompasses my head. It feels similar to drinking three or four beers too quickly, except with all the drawbacks and none of the advantages. My eyes are heavy and burn with fatigue, yet they will not stay shut.
At 4 a.m., I find some modicum of sleep.
I wake up at 7 a.m. not feeling refreshed but exasperated that once again I’ve been robbed of something that should come naturally. I resign myself to a day of quiet misery, and I continue the rest of my day like the walking dead, feeling lightheaded and disconnected mentally and physically.
This is insomnia. This is what I deal with on a regular basis—not every night or even every week but several times a month.
I’ve had trouble sleeping for as long as I can remember. Apparently, it runs in the family as my dad and brother report the same troubles. However, when I was younger, it was less bothersome.
In middle school and high school I routinely hit the sack early—about 9:30 or 10. Even then, my hyper-vigilant mind and inner-monologue continued to run like an idling car, which is to say my thoughts never really went anywhere or accomplished anything, when I closed my eyes. But going to bed that early, I was still able to get a decent night’s sleep. I also created some semblance of a circadian rhythm. Of course, I’m sure three-hour football practices after school helped.
When my schedule became less fixed, I realized what was very apparent during weekends and summers in high school: I am undoubtedly a night owl. I feel more alive (read: awake) when the sun goes down. Not only that, I also feel more creative. This is why I prefer to write at night.
I am quite aware that I’m only worsening my problem by staying up late, but I can’t bring myself to retire for the day at 10 p.m. I have the irrational feeling that I’m missing something or wasting my most valuable hours. On top of that perception, I feel the insatiable need to consume various media at all hours of the day. With a plethora of TV shows, movies, music and articles available thanks to the Internet and technology, I feel compelled to consume as much of it as possible each day.
Beyond my new media addiction, I would be lying if I said I didn’t hold a romantic view of the solitary writer sitting in the shadows banging away at the keys in the early hours of the morning. I’m not sure that I aspire to mirror that tableau as much as use it to rationalize or excuse my nocturnal habits.
However, one would think that by the time midnight or 1 a.m. roll around, a healthy, well-adjusted person could fall asleep. There are nights when I have no such luck, though, and the day after a fitful night of sleep offers no relief either.
In actuality, it starts a cycle that perpetuates my insomnia.
I have the luxury of having a job that allows me to set my own schedule most days. Several days a week I work nights and also work overtime some days; this allows me to leave work early other days. However, if I leave early and sleep in the afternoon, I often wake up around 8 p.m., which means I’m not tired when I should be hitting the hay.
That cycle will repeat itself for several days until my body and mind wear down. Eventually, I will not so much fall asleep but breakdown one day at about 8 or 9 p.m. and sleep straight through to the next morning. Then, momentarily, I will be fine.
Friends have offered advice, suggesting I try sleep timing or sleep aids. But I’m not one for having a set-in-stone schedule anytime of the day, and I would rather not become dependent on a sleep aid. Others have suggested a natural alternative such as melatonin, but I’m always wary of natural methods because usually they don’t work.
But I know my own personal night-time purgatory will most certainly return so as Edward R. Murrow put it, “Good night and good luck.”