Simon and Garfunkel sang about the inability of people to communicate, but this post is about the inability to sleep. Insomnia runs deep in my family, and “Hello, darkness, my old frenemy” would be a more appropriate line.
I inherited it from my father, who got it from his father. Both my children got it from me. And now that she’s older, Mother, who used to have the gift of sleep, has joined our ranks.
When I was young, up until my later 40s, a good four hours a night would get me by. Not an optimal condition, of course, but I was perfectly functional. The older I get, the less true that is. Foggyheadedness is pretty much guaranteed after too little sleep, although, on the upside, in an emergency or on an overnight flight I can miss a night and still function.
I’ve always been a night owl – I read under the covers with a flashlight as a child and fell asleep with my transistor radio on under my pillow. But sleep was always elusive; once as a teen I threw a clock that ticked too loudly across the room and broke it. The damned thing kept me awake, even though I stashed it in the nightstand drawer.
To this day, if I get a second wind before I wind down – which often happens – sleep is just a pipe dream. It won’t happen, at least not without heavy drugs.
But even those have stopped working again the past week. I think this is the beginning of week two, never a good thing.
I’m not talking 100 percent sleepless, of course. But it’s been rough. Real rough. And confusing. Lying in bed wondering (dreaming??), “Am I asleep? Am I awake?” Tossing. Turning. Reading way too late to get sleepy without getting sleepy and giving up and turning the light out anyway.
Two times in my life I’ve literally gone two weeks without sleeping and I remember them well. The first time was in the 11th grade. We lived on Blackhawk, and by Week Two, Mother was consoling me at bedtime, telling me to relax and to try not to worry because that would make it worse.
By late in Week Two, my theme song was “As Tears Go By.” Approaching darkness brought a sense of dread. Then, one night, I slept. And the spell was broken for a while.
The second time, 10 years later, was a more deliberate thing. After watching my father die, I was afraid I’d see it again and again if I dared to close my eyes. Finally sheer exhaustion took over and I crashed into slumberland.
I had a couple of pretty good decades after that. Insomnia was usually with cause – something on my mind, staying up too late and getting that second wind. As a working mom, tiredness usually won out, though the least thing woke me up, and the least light coming in from anywhere kept me awake. Still does.
But as I’ve aged, it’s worsened considerably. Hamlet’s “… to sleep, perchance to dream …” comes to my cloudy mind as a blissful thing.
And now that I think about it, the inability of people to communicate is on my “Grandmother’s List of Things That Keep Me Awake at Night.” (Politicians, world leaders, I’m talking to you.) So “Sounds of Silence” is the perfect title for this blog.