An Insomniac's Diary

One woman’s epic attempt to quiet her mind and get just one good night of sleep.

May 2013

April 1, 2011: My brain is not in cahoots with my body. This knowledge has come to me late in life. I naively thought they’d work together, since each semi-depends upon the other for the overall happiness of the creature known as Laura. The body needs to sleep, but the brain is all too willing—indeed, it diabolically wishes—to thwart that which it needs. How silly of me to think they would want peace!

April 9: Things I have tried to combat insomnia: acupuncture, acupressure, cognitive behavioral therapy, prescription drugs, natural drugs, meditation, other drugs, more therapy, reading boring books, staying up late, going to bed early, giving up coffee, giving up alcohol, drinking tea, drinking disgusting tea, drinking milk, exercising in the morning, turning down the temperature, begging my brain, ignoring my brain. I spend the majority of my day trying to foster sleep. No luck: So far my brain has outsmarted all attempts to get what it supposedly needs.

April 10: After 10 years of resisting, I finally decide to visit a sleep specialist. I walk in with my notebook of medical papers and research and announce, “Whatever you do, do not tell me about ‘good sleep hygiene habits’ because that is like telling a person with a migraine to take a baby aspirin, and I may kill you if you do that.” The specialist nods graciously.

He ends up saying exactly what I expected: I don’t have apnea or restless leg syndrome; I have traditional chronic insomnia. We banter around phrases such as “arousal threshold” and “homeostatic mechanisms” and discuss various “sleep restriction programs.” He suggests I try hypnotic sleep medications. I’m an all-natural gal, and I avoid most medications. But I realize there’s something to be said for “quality of life” and “not being grumpy to important and good people, such as your children and husband.” This pharmaceutical, the specialist assures me, works like a dream. I take the prescription and leave.  

May 30: True insomniacs—people diagnosed with psychophysiological insomnia—either can’t get to sleep or can’t stay asleep for no apparent reason. They lie down and their brains whir. Indeed, daydreaming is part of my problem. I seem to have a deep-seated need to watch myself (as the star, of course) in thousands of different scenarios. Last night, instead of sleeping, I daydreamed about winning a Pulitzer for my essay about insomnia.

June 1: Early summer in Colorado brings a beautiful night sky. Luckily, I have two. My bedroom ceiling glows with white stars that “come out” when I turn off my lamp and gaze up from my pillow. My house’s previous owner painted them on, invisible by day and glittering at night. With painstaking detail, this person got the constellations, from the points and streaks of light to the spaces between them, just right. The phosphorescent flecks dim after a while as the paint stops re-emitting the light it’s absorbed.

I turn my attention to the real stars hovering over the small skylight in my bedroom. An airplane or satellite sometimes crosses my rectangle view, but mostly it is the stars, and since I live in the Rocky Mountain foothills, they’re “country bright.” They don’t fade, and I appreciate their intensity, their company, their fiery energy burning with my own. Because I have a long night ahead of me.

June 7: I believe it was Jean-Paul Sartre who wrote, “Our daydreams tell us the extent to which we are not living.” Clarity is what I crave. If I’m not alive, what the heck is my brain doing up there? Enough already! I’m living as best I can!

June 8: Honest to God, I wish my brain and I could get a divorce.

June 19: My 19th wedding anniversary. My husband has been putting up with my insomnia for 10 of those years. That’s OK. I’ve been putting up with his ability to fall asleep in three seconds for 19 years. We find each other so wildly irritating in this regard that we can probably get through anything together.