The world’s population can be divided into two groups, the problem sleepers and the probably asleep. As a charter member of the former, I have always envied the latter group.
Part of my problem is conditioning from childhood and part, I suspect, is that I am an owl. People have trouble falling asleep for a variety of reasons. My major block is that everyone in the house must be asleep before I can begin to relax. There’s no point in getting ready for bed if anyone in the family still up. My owl hearing fine-tunes to their every movement. My owl vision sees every glimmer as a spotlight. My owl sense reacts to every movement. Come morning, I have the personality of a predator.
As my children enter the teen years, they stay up later and later. I look forward to setting a new pounds per inch record on eye bags. When I lie awake, the hours tick by. It is mesmerizing how loud and varied the sounds from an electric clock are at 2 AM. I take about an hour and half to fall asleep in my own bed, with the house quiet, the lights off, and everyone asleep. You can imagine how well I cope with strange beds. Add an hour for sleeping in a hotel, two for a tent, and three for someone else’s house.
My husband is developing the Dagwood style of napping. He will insist that he’s just, “resting”. No need to go to bed. Before I can muster a comeback, he’s snoring.
I should have suspected we were opposites when he told me about his teenage hiking tour of Greece and Italy. Unable to afford hotels, he slept on park benches, in farmers’ fields, and, this truly boggles the mind, on the tiny green islands between traffic lanes. Apparently the possibility of being mugged by a gang, dumped on by a cow, or turned into pavement pizza by a wild driver never disturbed his sleep. It would’ve disturbed mind. Everything does.
Between the time my head hits the pillow and I actually enter the delicious state of R. E. M., I solve the ecology problem, overpopulation, errant youth, the deficit, rampant crime, and my inability to diet. Unfortunately, sleep erases these brilliant ideas and by morning I have no notion of what I spent the hours deciding.
Perhaps children are quick sleepers because they leave the heavy decisions to grown-ups. I never envy a child, except when I see them being carried through a noisy mall, sound asleep.
To be fair, losing the ability to stay awake can cause problems too. In 1957 The Everly Brothers sang about the special problem of two chronic sleepers. Little Susie and her date dozed off in the movies. She realized her parents would not believe that the ushers didn’t notice the large lumps in the back row.
I chuckled when I see chronic sleepers waking up on a plane or a bus. They immediately check to see if anyone is staring. I smiled the grin of someone who has seen them at their most vulnerable (I saw you with your mouth slack, bobbing like an empty headed doll. And, you don’t know if anyone has robbed you while you snorted your way past four cities.) It is an image I comfort myself with when I am tossing and turning.
Some places trigger chronic sleepers better than pills. Church seems to be a stimulus (or lack of stimulus). It must be the warm, safe feeling. It can’t be the chairs. I sometimes suspect it’s the sounds.
Automobiles are worse. The white noise and the rocking motion would stop my squalling babies when nothing else worked. Sleep can still be a blessing when we are on a long, family trip. I’m awake, but at least the kids will doze after time.
Not like my sister, who was infamous for falling asleep instantaneously in anything that moved. She would fall asleep in buses, cars, trains, boats, and even taxis. When the buckle up sign went off on a plane, she had approximately 20 seconds to recline her seat before she faded out.
On her first date with her husband, she nearly fell asleep on the way to the theater. She has missed every drive in the country my family went on. I think that’s why she liked the Zipper and The Wild Mouse at the fair. It was the only time in her life she was still awake when a ride ended.
Instead of doctors spending fortunes treating sleep disturbances, they should just drive their patients around the block a few times. If that doesn’t work, they could sing a few hymns and launch into a sermon. Of course, in my house, everyone else better be asleep first.
Click on the cover for more info or to buy the book.
Published Sunday, July 22, 1990 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.