a friend in high school told me that if you go without sleep for a long time you can bring on hallucinations. We tried it once, but I fell asleep after about a day and a half of that thin, drawn-out feeling. My friend lasted two full days, and he started to see strange things: unreal moving shapes and noises becoming patterns in your head. A sentence condensed down to a single word that repeats over and over even after the sound has gone like a wave that keeps crashing.
That’s not what insomnia is. Some people believe they don’t sleep at all, but that’s not what it is either. You just never sleep enough. Your body runs you on the minimum amount of sleep required to keep you alive. Some nights there is no sleep. Other nights, you can grab maybe two, three hours. Mostly there are no dreams, so you think you haven’t slept. You roll over, and the clock is an hour closer to morning than it was before. The flicker of your eyes is slower for a moment, and that is the closest you get to real rest. Slowly the life drains out of you. The feeling of reality is gone, like you’re looking at everything through a sheet of clear perspex. Watching a movie that wraps all around you and will not let you go.
Sleep. deprivation. SD. Like Standard Deviation. The distance of data from the mean. The average person sleeps about 7 hours a night I think. We are definitely a deviation. The insomniacs. Some can’t sleep until the morning, some wake up too early. Some talk online in late night early morning hazes, wait through the sounds of waking that ripple across the country from East to West each day. I guess it’s a community, but one that none of us really want to be part of.
you can meet someone that way. There are ads on Craigslist: ‘can’t sleep – want some company’; ‘I can’t sleep. Anyone want to chat?’; ‘can’t sleep msn anyone? – w4mw – 19’. Insomniac sex is vague, impersonal, flat. That same feeling pervades all parts of the sleep-deprived life. we watch clocks. Tonight I climbed into bed at 11:17pm. It is now 1:31am. I have watched the digits flick their green bars into place so many times I have lost count, and my mind starts to wander. The green bars are imprinted on the inside of my closed eyes like a neon prison, blinking on and off but a little too fast for me to escape between the blinks. Eventually they slow to something like a heartbeat, but before I can relax too much I have a sudden panic. I sit up quickly in bed… I have left some food out on the kitchen counter. It’s been out there all day. An apple I took out of the fridge at 2am last night, but never ate. I can picture it growing wrinkled and old, attracting cockroaches and worms. Lie down. Now behind my eyes the green bars reform into a hexagonal green apple that starts to run out of the bottom of my view in a vile green mojito slush. After a few minutes of this I have to get up and find the apple. The attempt to sleep is reset as soon as I leave the bed.
there are lots of treatments. Melatonin kept me up even more, 5HTP did nothing, the list of sleeping pills is just another thing to cycle through my brain when I’m lying awake. Seroquel, temazepam, trazodone, zopiclone, remeron – put them in dosage order, alphabetical order, nausea strength order. I tried watching long slow movies like the Seventh Seal or Lawrence of Arabia; listening to slow, soothing music, wearing lavender eye masks. All just items in the cycling lists. Put them in order by director, by release date, by number of academy awards. My Doctor suggested finding the cause rather than treating the symptoms, but I think on some level I feel this torture is shaping me. I may even be encouraging it. The haggard face, the jitters, the unfocused way I watch the computer screen at work. I am letting them define me. I watch movies late at night, sleep with a clock in the room, bake cookies at 2am while listening to early Prodigy tracks. Maybe trying and failing is worse than not trying. Or maybe fixing this would leave me nothing else to blame.