I got rid of that bright red LED clock a few years ago. Those red lights burned my eyes out as I stared at them all night, and every time I flipped or flopped there was a temptation to see how many hours I had left in bed. That annoying clock has been replaced by the trusty bedside iPhone, but the basic issues are still the same.
I’m a light sleeper and a bit of an insomniac. It’s hard for me to get in bed before midnight and lots of nights I spend at least some amount of time trying not to think about “things,” however weighty or idiotic they may be. It’s hard not to think, though.
All of this is a familial issue. The people on my mother’s side of the family are practically vampires and rarely am I in bed before midnight. But when you’re aiming for six hours of sleep to begin with, waking up at 4 a.m. to stare at the ceiling means a grueling day of nodding off at the computer lies ahead.
The most common thing to kick off a bout of insomnia is participating in the urinary track meet sleep becomes for a man of my advanced age. There’s a careful balance between trying to stay half asleep enough to easily get back to cutting zzzs, and not being so asleep that you fall into the toilet or down a staircase. Wake up too much, though, and it starts — the mind wanders into unnecessary calisthenics like it didn’t get enough steps in to satisfy Fitbit the day before.
It was like that last night. I woke up at 4 with two-and-a-half hours of sleep left and just couldn’t get back in the zone. If I was more industrious I would have gotten up and written a column about something more important, such as arch support or the hidden qualities of fiber, but unfortunately for you, dear reader, all the AA batteries in my computer died just hours before and there was nary a one to be found.
The tried and true methods of flipping my pillow over to the cool side and changing the way I was facing had zero effect. In fact, facing to my right had the unintended effect of waking me up further as my sleeping companion was breathing right in my face. Georgia, my 5-year-old rat terrier/pitbull mix was snoring away with her head on the pillow. She seemed completely at ease and dead to the world, despite the fact a neighbor’s dog had begun barking and not stopped for 20 minutes.
Really? Who lets their dog out at 4 a.m. and lets it bark for 20 minutes? I always want an air horn at moments like that, but I’m sure such a thing would be counterproductive and might be mentioned at the next homeowners association meeting. At any rate, Georgia was undisturbed, thankfully, because I knew she had a hectic day ahead of barking at pedestrians and sleeping on the porch and needed to be sharp.
A few years ago I decided learning the names of all the U.S. presidents in order would be a fantastic way to bore myself to sleep in the middle of the night. And it worked for some time, until it got too easy. I used to conk out right around Honest Abe, or at the latest between Grover Cleveland’s two terms, but now once I’ve made it past Rutherford B. Hayes — who I remember by using the mnemonic device “Really Bad Hair — I’m off to the races and hit Trump way before I get drowsy. I guess I could memorize a list of vice presidents, but it just seems like something that might get you thrown out of a bar if you started demonstrating your knowledge.
The presidents were of no help last night. They just made me start thinking about politics, which made me start thinking about the Luv Guv and whether he’d be impeached soon or quit or pick up a new girlfriend, and if he’d love her as much as Rebekah.
Then for some reason I started thinking about how I could get from the balcony of one Gulf Shores high-rise condo to the unit below if a gang of gunmen showed up at the door. There was something about doubling some rather thin nylon rope I’d torn out of a few canvas rafts and tied together. (These gunmen were pretty slow to kick in the door.) I’d have to rely on that rope and my granny knot skills to allow me to lean out from my balcony and swing safely to the one below. I feel totally prepared now, even though in real life I’d probably rather get shot than try a stunt like that.
A couple of years ago I started listening to vibrations as a way of relaxing in such situations. Put on the headphones and a little 528 hz music/vibration and I’d be out. I also started kind of doing one of those “ohmmm, ohmmm” things yoga people do along with the vibrations. It worked for a while but then became old hat as well.
I didn’t have the vibrations or music handy last night, so I just tried the chanting part. THAT woke up Georgia and she raised her head slightly to look at me like I was an idiot. Then she was back asleep.
By that time the birds started in. Birds are fine when you sleep on the first floor. But when your bedroom is adjacent to a bunch of oak limbs, birds are horrible. I’d rather have a jet go by. Birds start and stop, start and stop and change tweets, and it’s all incredibly loud at 5:30 a.m. I did come up with some very nice sayings about the early bird and pellet guns, but I didn’t write them down.
Anyone who’s ever suffered through insomnia knows the rest of the story. At 5:30 a.m. there’s just one hour of sleep left. You pray to St. Sominex, patron saint of people who can’t sleep, to let you have just that one golden hour. Then you manage to kind of clear your mind and almost drift off. The bird chirps. Awake. It’s 6 a.m. You start to drift. The garbage truck shows up and power slams your can into the sidewalk. Awake.
Finally you fall into real sleep … and the alarm goes off.