Sleep envy

Yesterday I was in the locker room at the gym, and I overheard a girl, maybe 22, chatting with her friends about sleep. “I slept so hard last night,” she said blithely, and a bolt of envy shot through me like lightning. Her words transported me to my own youth, when I took sleep for granted.  Back then, I thought getting enough sleep was merely a matter of getting in bed and turning out the light. I could fall into bed at any hour and drift into a deep sleep without worries.

Cut to a typical night in my house now. Sometime between midnight and 1 a.m., I inexplicably jolt awake and lie in the dark with my heart thumping, thinking about how tired I am going to be the next day. Finally, I give up and haul my pillows into the messy guest room, do my relaxation exercises and finally fall asleep in time to get 5 or 6 hours.

At 4, Todd is usually roaming the house, drinking warm milk and reading the newspaper. He falls back to sleep shortly before Amelia rises at 7, bright eyed and ready to start her morning routine. Rare is the day that at least one of us isn’t walking around bleary eyed and feeling a million years old.

Since I was a child, I have had the occasional night of insomnia. But I didn’t know until two years ago that my body could betray me so completely. I had no idea that it could refuse to sleep, no matter how exhausted I feel, no matter how desperately I need a peaceful respite from the stress of the day. I have become trapped in a ridiculous cycle: I worry that I won’t sleep and then I don’t sleep because I am worried. My careful bedtime rituals and efforts at proper “sleep hygeine” are no match for my fretful mind.

I have heard that something like half of adults struggle with insomnia. Who knows how many of us take sleeping pills. What is wrong with us? What is it that stops our bodies from being able to do this most basic thing? Is this punishment for some unknown mistakes we have made? Is it the price of our comfortable modern lives? Is it the sign that some huge change is needed in our lives, or is it simply a symptom of the human condition? I wish I knew the answers.

I almost never long for a return to youth. I wouldn’t want to relive those days of worrying what other people thought of me, of wondering who I was and what purpose my existence served. I am far wiser and more secure now. I know my place in the world. I know the joy of motherhood. I have stable relationships, and I am no longer looking for affirmation at beer-soaked fraternity parties. But to return to a time when I could turn off the light and go to sleep without fighting my thumping heart and racing mind? That sounds very, very tempting.

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