When I was a child, my love of bedtime was so great that it has now become the stuff of family legend. My mother still tells the story about a family birthday party being held in my honor when I was turning 5. The party was in the evening since my father and grandfather worked. After time passed, my mother noticed that I wasn’t in the room any longer. She did a quick check of the house only to find the birthday girl lying in bed, pajamas on, already tucked under the covers.
“Why are you in bed?” she asked stunned.
“It is 9 o’clock.” I said dryly. “9 o’clock is my bedtime.”
“But it’s your birthday!” she said. “You can stay up past your bedtime on your birthday.”
“I go to bed at 9 o’clock,” I said. That was it. At the age of 5, I already declared last call for the birthday cake and shut that party down. The year was 1978. My relationship with sleep has been downhill since then.
In my elementary years, my sleep was always interrupted by nightmares. Usually, the nightmares came from something I watched on television. I remember that the Sleestaks from the TV show “Land of the Lost” and the fembots from the “Bionic Woman” caused repeated nightmares. Mom limited my TV viewing after she grew weary of me waking up and screaming in the night. “You can’t handle it,” she said. I also had nightmares from watching kid shows when I felt characters were treated unfairly. I still am traumatized from the movie Dumbo. I cried all night after I watched that movie. They took Dumbo away from his mother! Who writes that into a children’s movie? Thanks for nothing, Walt Disney. The other traumatizing show that stands out was an ill-fated Claymation Christmas special called “Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.” Who makes a Christmas special for little kids where the mother donkey gets whipped? The year that special came out was not a Merry Christmas in our house because I wasn’t sleeping. I was up all-night crying for Nestor and his mother. I was going through an old family photo album recently. My mother looked so tired in one of those old pictures, and it’s no wonder. She had a child who rarely slept.
In college, I was still plagued by nightmares. Most of those nightmares were about people chasing me, and I am going to attribute that to all the campus safety rules that were drilled into the minds of young females. We were basically told that if we ever ventured out of our dorms by ourselves past sundown that we would be attacked and never found again. I get the need to be vigilant, but perhaps I internalized the message too strongly.
When I was working in the corporate world, it was easy to understand why I didn’t sleep. I was under enormous stress. I routinely traveled internationally and was jet-lagged. I worked with clients all over the globe, and emails came in 24 hours a day. When I couldn’t sleep, I would just roll over and read my emails on my phone. Occasionally colleagues would ask, “Don’t you ever sleep?” I wanted to shout back, “No, I haven’t slept through the night since 1978!”
I no longer work in the corporate world. I have a very low stress level. The most disturbing thing I watch on television is the “Great British Baking Show.” I have never had nightmares about scones or opera cakes. Yet, I still can’t sleep, and it is annoying. What’s even more annoying is that my husband and my two dogs seem to have no problem sleeping. I can hear them all snoring while I am wide awake. Sometimes I scroll through social media just to have something to do. I’m careful not to leave a comment on someone’s post, because I don’t want them to see the time stamp and know that I was reading Facebook at 2 am. What if they judge me? Then again, they made their post at 1 am, so who is judging who here?
I keep reading about how important sleep is for your cognitive function and overall health. People can die from sleep deprivation. You want to know what keeps a person with insomnia up even more at night? It’s thinking about how their insomnia is leading to their cognitive decline and premature death.
The new thing I am trying is a sleep meditation podcast. It’s too soon to tell if that is going work long term. What I would really enjoy is someone to talk to at 2 am. Maybe someone who would say, “It’s ok, Kathy. You’re going to fall back to sleep,” and then start reading me a Nancy Drew story like my mom used to do. Maybe I could put an advertisement on Craig’s List for someone who would do that for me. What could possibly go wrong with that idea?
I recently wrote a blog post entitled 10 Things to Do Before You Turn 50. I want to update that list to 11 things. What I really want to do is learn how to sleep through the night. If you have any ideas, send them to me any time of the day or the night. Just don’t judge me if I respond at 2 am.
I will talk to you about some of the things I do to get back to sleep. Too long to list! Have you talked to Doug about melatonin?