Sleep is not my friend. It never has been, and I doubt it will be any time soon. Even as a young child, I never went to bed before midnight. I remember stuffing a towel in the crack under my door after my bedtime so I could read until I fell asleep. It’s partly a circadian thing, but it’s also that I know bad things happen in the darkness of the night, and I’d rather be awake when they happen so I can be prepared for them. Because of the trauma of my childhood and because of my thyroid issues, I never slept much or well. Back in college, I would go to bed around three in the morning and get up at six-thirty. Then, when I went home for vacations, I’d sleep for fifteen hours the first night I was back. I’d also inevitably get sick, which is a fun way to spend a vacation. I went through much of my college years addicted to Diet Pepsi and deprived of sleep, which isn’t that uncommon, I guess. That’s what college is for, right? To see how long you can go without sleep.
After college, it was even worse. I was sort of doing it to myself in college, but because of a traumatic event in my senior year, my sleep deteriorated even further. I was lucky if I got four hours at a time, and my sleep was always fraught with nightmares. I’ve had a recurring dream since I was a child (though I haven’t had it in several years) that I’m at a mall on the escalator going up. There are three life-sized kachina dolls at the bottom of the escalator, and they are looking for me because they want to kill me. I had it regularly for many years, and it made me shiver every time I had it. I also had a dream once in which I actually died. There was a dinosaur-like monster and it choked the life out of me . I also had a nightmare in which my alarm clock was throbbing, and I was freaking out (in the dream). I know it doesn’t sound very terrifying, but it was at the time. The worst part is that I woke up from that dream and felt a huge sense of relief, only to realize that I was in another dream. The same dream, actually, with the dread jacked up.
There was a period in my late twenties in which all I dreamed about were my friends dying. These were realistic dreams, which wasn’t pleasant at all. They became so frequent, my friends would joke that if you hadn’t died in one of my dreams, you weren’t a real friend of mine. My brother died in one of my dreams, along with his pickup truck being destroyed. In the dream, I’m trying to find his church. An elderly black gentleman points me in the right direction, and when I get there, his pickup truck is in a coffin and being mourned. I told my brother about the dream. Several years later, he called me, his voice shaky. “You were right,” he said. Right about what? “I got in a car accident. My truck is totaled.” That wasn’t exactly my dream, but it was enough to rattle him. The worst, though, was when I dreamed that I stumbled across my BFF’s husband’s body, outlined in chalk. He’d been murdered, and the murderer was after me. S/he chased me down many pathways, and I thought I was going to be a goner. The whole time I’m running, I’m freaking out about finding my BFF’s hubby’s body. How am I going to tell her that her husband’s dead, and what’s worse, murdered? When I woke up, I was upset because it felt like a precognition dream, and I was afraid it would come true. I didn’t tell my BFF about it until many, many years later when I presumed the statute of limitations had passed.
I’ve always been envious of people who have a warm relationship with sleep. I have friends who love it, waxing rhapsodic about how lovely it is to snuggle under the covers and drift off to sleep. The warm embrace of Morpheus, whom I think is a fucking dick. I’ve written a whole novel about me confronting him, but I wouldn’t be able to get it published because it’s based on the characters of Neil Gaiman’s seminal work, The Sandman. One friend complained to me that her dreams were boring, like her just reading a book. I retorted that I would trade my dreams with her any day. I’ve had to kill my mother who was dressed as a ninja in a dream. This same friend was humping a tree in another of my dreams, and she was huge. It was disturbing to watch. I’ve tried sleeping pills, warm baths, lavender, chamomile tea, Valerian root, melatonin, and a million other of the commonly suggested tricks to a good night’s sleep. Sleeping pills make it so I can’t wake up, even if I cut them in half. Asian people need a smaller dose of medication, which I didn’t know at the time. Valerian root slows down my brain to the point where I want to slit my wrists. I’m allergic to lavender, and the rest didn’t help at all.
I can be bone-tired when I lie down to sleep, but the minute my head hits the pillow, I’m wide awake. My brain is churning at a million miles a minute, and all the worries of the day flood my nervous system. It’s the worst. Being exhausted, but not being able to sleep. Then, once I’m asleep, it’s nightmares for days. At least, it used to be. I had up to four a night almost every night of the week. Then, several years ago, I started having more anxiety dreams than nightmares. Forgetting what I need to know before a big test. Trying to fly and not being able to do it properly. Forgetting the words to Mama, I’m Coming Home by Ozzy Osbourne when I’m supposed to perform it on stage. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was much better than the nightmares, I’ll grant you that. Now, I rarely dream at all. When I do, they’re still anxiety dreams, but I’ll take it. I used to yearn to not dream, so it’s somewhat disconcerting now that it’s mostly true.
I used to sleep for roughly four hours at a time, waking with a jolt. I don’t do the whole drift into consciousness thing because my PTSD won’t allow for that. I don’t hit snooze, and once I’m up, I’m up. I was exhausted all the time, and I really don’t know how I survived with the continual sleep deprivation that I experienced. I had a hard time not drifting off to sleep at odd hours. I also recently read that sleeping for eight hours at a time is a fairly recent thing and not an ideal way to do it. It’s better to sleep in smaller chunks of time, spread throughout the day, much like eating meals. Which, by the way, is also something we could do in a a more optimal way. Instead of eating three largish meals a day, we should be eating six smaller meals throughout the day. I tend to eat more that way myself as I don’t like eating a ton of food at one time. My family is big into buffets because, ASIAN, but that’s neither here nor there. Concerning sleep, it really is best to get an hour every four hours or so, but that’s not realistic in our society, nor is it something that really appeals to me.
I would do away with sleep if I could. I don’t take any pleasure in it, even though I know it’s necessary. Sometimes, I fight off the need to sleep just because it’s so problematic for me. I put on a YouTube playthrough video, set my laptop on the coffee table, and struggle to keep my eyes awake. I drift off, only to be startled awake by the next video. I can repeat this several times in a row before reluctantly deciding to call it a night. Oh, by the way, when I said I put my laptop on the coffee table, it’s because I sleep on the couch. I have a really hard time sleeping in a bed for several reasons. I recently bought a new couch I call Chuck because its official name is the Barkley (you feel me, NBA fans?), and it’s where I sleep. It’s pretty comfy, although it’s a tad soft. I’m a bit sore when I get up in the morning*, but I can deal with it. I sleep with an eye mask and ear plugs in, plus a white noise machine if I have to sleep in a bedroom. My cats like to sleep on me as I sleep, and one of them who shall not be named has a new habit of nipping me when he thinks it’s time for me to get up and feed him and is brother. I put them on a diet, and they’re not happy about it. Bitey McBiteFace is very food driven, and he seems to think it’s his duty to make sure I get up and feed them breakfast. Mind you, I free-feed them dry food, so it’s not as if they’re starving. But, they know they’re going to get the wet stuff when I get up, so that’s their life goals every morning/afternoon. I sleep with a pillow over my head, but not much clothing or blankets most of the time. It’s not the most pleasant feeling when I’m sleeping and suddenly, there’s a cold, wet nose on my cheek. Followed by a firm nip. Then another. If I pull the blanket over my face, then it’s my legs or shoulder or whatever isn’t covered. He does it in part because he knows eventually, I’ll get up. I usually do, which only reinforces his bad habits.
I’ve been getting more sleep lately, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because living on four hours of sleep a night was deleterious to my health. It’s a bad thing because sleeping too much leaves me feeling groggy and grumpy when I awake. It’s as if my body is realizing how much I’ve shorted it of sleep, and it isn’t happy with me. No matter how much I get, it isn’t enough. I’ve realized that six hours is the sweet spot, but my body demands more. If I don’t set the alarm, I will sleep anywhere from six and a half hours to seven and a half hours. I’ll wake up one or two times, but that’s par the course for me. Even when I slept four hours a night, I’d wake up at least one time. It’s hard to remember how awful my sleep was because the change away from it has been so gradual. It’s not as if I went from four hours of nightmare-filled sleep to seven hours of dreamless sleep in one night. It’s been over the past eight or nine years, and it’s not as if my sleep now is stellar, anyway. It’s legions better than what it was before, but it’s still not truly restful. Just once, I would like to be able to wake up fully refreshed, filled with vim and vigor. Just once, I would like to be able to be filled with the delicious of well-being upon opening my eyes in the afternoon. I don’t hold out much hope, but the fact that I have any at all is a testament to how far I’ve come.
*Afternoon, but it’s morning to me.