Saturday, 5 July 2008

The Art of Insomnia

I do not do sleep with any great efficiency, having never quite grasped the art nor purpose of it as a pastime. It is I suspect a genes thing. I come from a long line of incompetent sleepers on the distaff side. Stretching back across the centuries are women of my ilk who have occupied themselves in the long dark hours of night contemplating the worlds wonders and pondering the unanswerable questions of life whilst next to them their husbands snored. Or more probably lay alone, as the men in the family tended do be “orf” exploring far flung continents and purchasing tea and trinkets from the natives for extended periods, probably to avoid their restless wives. Brave men to a man, cresting waves and conquering continents, driven onwards in their search not of worldly riches but selfishly seeking somewhere to lie sloth like and undisturbed by their insomniac spouses.

As children we were given purses with pennies to play with in our cots to wile away the wee hours, a wicked wheeze my mother learnt from her mother who learnt it from her grandmother. Of course with the advent of decimalization that went out the window as a pastime, the modern penny being rather too small for prudent child play. I can however still remember the taste of an old penny if anyone is interested. Cloth books replaced them but frankly they weren’t half as satisfying. They lacked that metallic bite.

So how to fill these sleepless hours? As a small child I would watch the patterns on the walls, as a teenager I would write and think and plan and commit poetry to memory, as a student I would embark on long walks and see the dawn rise over the sea. Very early one morning sitting atop the Victorian balustrades of Bognor seafront, wistfully watching the early light of morning bounce in on the crystal waves, I was wrestled from behind by an over anxious police office ,intent on preventing me from hurling myself to oblivion into the sea. I did try and convince him that should I be attempting suicide I was perfectly able to see that the end of the pier afforded a far better venue than the 4 foot drop onto the dry sand below where I sat dangling my toes but he was unconvinced and insisted on accompanying me home. After which my flat mate made me promise not to go out on dawn dawdles or, at the very least, to give her advance warning so she could prepare breakfast and some suitable attire for another visit from the Sussex constabulary.
People who sleep do , on the whole, are not awfully understanding of the nocturnal activities of their less sluggish partners. I frequently enjoyed myself re arranging the furniture at night or painting walls until my husband pointed out that he found it a terribly disconcerting to wake up to find the room, in which he awoke was radically different to that in which he had gone to sleep several hours before. Some people have no sense of adventure.

Anyway in an effort to draw myself in line with the rest of the world I have purchased for my edification a CD on relaxation designed to ease me into sleep. The trouble is I start in good spirit dutifully counting backwards to 300 and then get distracted by the bad syntax and the tone of voice of the speaker. What does he mean “Its best to be lying down when I listen to the CD” there is something in his tone that reminds me of doctors in those wonderful old black and white matinee films when they say to the slightly harrowed but brave little woman, who is invariably wearing some sort of hat at a jaunty angle, “I have something to tell you, I think you had better sit down”. And as for his suggestion that I really shouldn’t be driving a car or operating heavy machinery whilst listening to the recording does the man think I am an idiot, the object is to get me to sleep why on earth would I be contemplating driving machinery at the same time?

Sometimes my lack of sleeping annoys me as much as it annoys my husband. There are nights I yearn for rest, to close my eyes , to sleep perchance to dream, and wake in the morning refreshed and reinvigorated. The first part is easily achieved with a steady and determined consummation of liberal quantities of red wine, alas that inevitably results in the latter being replaced by a head like a motorway under going construction complete with sound effects and flashing lights. Drugs only leave me feeling as if my brain has been removed for cleaning and replaced with cotton wool padding to prevent my cranium collapsing. Neither are overly attractive options.

Perhaps after all I should just give in and accept that this is me an avid insomniac and be damned. After all deep down in my heart I feel it is all such a waste of precious time, why sleep when there are so many interesting things to do and think about and plan? After all I have some of my best ideas when the world is sleeping. Maybe then, it’s not me who is out of sync with the world but the world that is out of step with me? Either way I know I shan’t be losing any sleep over it.

The painting by the way is "Sleep and His Half-Brother Death" by John William Waterhouse. Hmm I think that says it all...


Frances said...

Bon jour,

Sleep now evelopes me the minute I cut out the lights at night. It can arrive if I happen to sit down a try to read a book about 4:00 in the afternoon.

This was not always so. I don't think that I ever really had insomnia, but have had long years of being a restless sleeper.

I am positive that what knocks me out now is just the sheer exhaustion of being on my feet, up and down stairs, looking out for staff and customers all day at the shop. And my age. Some say that one tends to need less sleep as one ages. This is surely not true for me.

The thing is, I want to be able to stay up later, to have more time to do that creative thinking. I would gladly trade you a few of my nightly REM's, if I could still keep up my pace during the waking hours.

Anyhow, best wishes to you and to all who sleep in your house!

Elizabethd said...

I have some old pennies if ever you feel the need for a nibble.

Pondside said...

Ah, Un Peu, you have written something that will touch a chord in many of us. I haven't slept through the night in many years. The Great Dane snores the night away and Rosie snuffles and snorts her way through dreams of chasing rabbits. I toss and turn, go to the bathroom, tidy the kitchen, read blogs, do paperwork, toss and turn some more. I long for the luxury of waking to the alarm clock or being able to say 'I overslept'.
You're not alone!!!

Wizzard said...

I totally know how you feel. I too have suffered sleep problems since a child. Every now and then I take Nytol which is a herbal tablet that works and the new formula means that I dont have a bad head the next day.

lampworkbeader said...

Excellent, when I'm lying awake at 3.30am (my usual time of waking) I will be able to think of you nipping about repainting the house and moving furniture.
(except I will probably remember you are - moving the house and repainting the furniture)
Anyone for pennies?

Exmoorjane said...

Oh, this brought back memories of my seven years of sleep-less nights...or was it eight? What's a year when you're not sleeping? It distressed me a lot actually and in the end I resorted to sleeping pills, which seemed to break the habit. Yes, oh yes, the taste of pennies.
I too, loved the idea of your husband waking up slightly disgruntled to find his world had changed colour in the night.
Beautifully written, as always...

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Here is you, unable to sleep in the night yet I assume wanting to and here's me, setting my alarm clock in order to get me out of bed and into another world. Pennies, I would imagine, taste revolting!

CJ xx

Milla said...

but do you not feel knackered come day, or not - in which case you probably need only a Thatcherite amount. Which is fortunate, non?
F9 sleeps fitfully and has taken to fiddling with money. how funny. He smells metallic. Being slack, I hadn't contemplated the choking potential. But then I'm in such haste for my own bed that really there's only so long I can spend ensuring I save his life. Oh dear.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Beautifully written, funny post. I love the story of the Sussex policeman.

Fennie said...

Gosh - I've just come across this by accident. But apart from the Sussex policeman - this could be me!!! Even to the Paul McKenna relaxation disc!
I sleep badly - probably the penalty for an overactive mind. Yet I begrudge sleeping badly for it makes me so much less efficient the next day and curmudgeonly to boot while my mind is sluggish and unable to determine a connection even between things as obvious as battery terminals.

But it is, as Zinnia says, a beautiful and funny post.

Judy Mackey said...

I love your writing. My words are insufficient. I too have trouble sleeping...sometimes sleep seems a waste of time although a good night's sleep is so invigorating in the morning...

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