Sleep has been a hard thing for me all my life. Like every other child who waits for Santa, Christmas eve was particularly hard. I must have been maybe 4 at the most. I couldn’t sleep. I’d been told he wouldn’t come if I didn’t sleep. I was one of those children who wouldn’t be able to sleep or I’d wake in the night and roam or play. It drove my parents nuts, especially my mother. At any rate, this particular Christmas eve when I couldn’t sleep I got up to pull the shade down so he couldn’t see I couldn’t sleep. I pulled so hard I pulled it down or broke it or something like that. I was so upset that he’d see me that I cried myself to sleep. I’ve hated pull-shades since that night even though I bought a pair of black-out shades for my room a few years ago. No light is more critical to my sleep than what kinds of window covers I have.
Mom made sleeping even harder for me. She wasn’t a patient person. She brooded. When she got to a boil you really weren’t sure what she’d do. My Dad worked evening shift, not getting home until after 11:00. I suspect he wasn’t home one night when she got mad about something. She stormed into my room as I was sleeping and started hitting me. I don’t recall anything except that explosion of fear I felt, not knowing what was happening. Many years later she said she regretted it. That night and until she threatened to punish me I slept on the floor on the other side of the bed from the door. She might even have apologized told me it would never happen again, I don’t recall. I wouldn’t have trusted anyway. The damage was done because she was so unpredictable. I don’t think I ever told her it was because of her I slept on the floor. I was afraid to go to sleep for the longest time. She must have known but I think I was afraid to bring it up. To this day if someone suddenly opens my bedroom door I jump and my heart beats wildly. If I’m asleep and am startled I feel like I can’t breathe. Of all the things that have happened to me this one has stuck most tenaciously with me unlike things that sound more dramatic. What happens to small children really does count. Now I have trouble sleeping if my bed is next the door. The slightest noise outside will wake me. I always try to get the bed next to the window in hotels.
I recall waking up one morning, I was maybe 9 or so, with one leg under the covers and one leg over the covers. It was a revelation that you could do that. I’ve always slept hot so mostly slept without blankets and sometimes no sheet. I grew up before the age of home A/C so we sweated a lot during the summers. With this new idea I found I could get comfortable with my feet outside but cover over my body. I came to snuggling with my pillow and my feet waving outside the blankets even in the winter. As a hyperactive kid I was always moving, even in my sleep and the feet wiggling at 90 mph was why no one would sleep with me when we traveled. Another thing people complained about was I’d laugh in my sleep, which I’ll still do.
I’ve always been nocturnal. My mom said I was that way before I was born, sleeping all day and keeping her up all night. I suspect that is why night sleeping is still hard. I get my best sleep from about 4am to about noon. I worked swing shift in several jobs. In the days of VCRs I programmed them to record the shows I liked and I ‘d be watching TV at 3:00-4:00 and going to bed when daylight appeared. I don’t like facing sun-up at the end of a day.
When I was in my late 20s I went to a psychiatrist about tensions and sleep issues. He gave me pills saying I was missing some body chemical that kept me asleep. They worked wonders. I recall the first morning after taking it and saying to my sister how wonderful it was to get a good night’s sleep. I stayed on that medication for years. I don’t recall why I stopped. Maybe once I was on a regular pm shift I wasn’t as bothered by my odd sleep pattern.
I also made sleeping hard for myself. For years I drank iced tea by the gallon. It was cheap and sugar free but I never considered how much caffeine was in it. For at least 10 years I used Excedrin PM to go to sleep most nights. It got to the point where I was taking 3 a night instead of the 2 they recommended. I also had to recognize that any coffee in the evening didn’t help, that took several more years. In fact I’ve kind of gaven up all but my morning mug of coffee. Any night when I’d had more than a glass or two of wine I’d again have trouble. This is all quite normal but I had to learn it all the hard way, by losing sleep.
Another thing I had to change was that I had been sleeping with a radio on for years to block out outside sounds. This was before the age of digital and white noise machines. I now have one of those playing the sound of rain. What was happening was that the news voices woke me. When NPR classical radio came about in the 70s I played that and it didn’t bother me as much because they didn’t increase the volume for things like ads. I still found some of the voices intrusive so the white noise machines have been a blessing.
I’m fortunate because I’ve learned how to mostly keep worries from keeping me up. Once asleep they may surface in my dreams but I mostly know I’m sleeping and can push them away. Now that I’m retired I don’t have the stresses that really can make waking life, much less sleep a burden.
Every night I try to remember to count my blessings. You’d be amazed at how that changes your outlook. It sounds trite to say to count your blessing but it works because most of the time we gripe about the stuff that is hard. I go to sleep or at least bed with gratitude. I start with being thankful for my full size bed instead of a twin, or no bed. Then I snuggle under the puffy down comforter that is so warm and feels so luxurious. I go on to think about the privileges I’ve experienced that day like eating when I was hungry, being able to pay the bills that came in the mail that day, having a spouse whom I love and who loves me, having the cutest dogs and so on. I marvel at the internet and how much it has added to my life and knowledge. If I’m still awake at this point I start to make up stories that are fun from plans to make something to plans to take a trip or even just thinking about the last good book I’m reading. From there more drastic measures are needed, like turning on the light and reading until I’m sleepy. I have to read something that isn’t the best or it just keeps me up. Rarely am I still awake by 4:00 am.