An Insomniac's Diary

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

May 2013

August 12: Sleep research tells us that chronic insomnia has an “instigating event.” I’ve been pondering that for 10 years. My daughter is 10. Perhaps there were hormonal changes during my pregnancy with her; perhaps the graveyard feeding shifts just threw me into a permanent loop. But tonight I have an epiphany: That was also the year that a family member started showing signs of what would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia. Perhaps my brain won’t fall asleep because it needs to stay on the alert. It must “watch” itself to make sure it doesn’t “lose” itself. So I say to my brain, “Brain, are you worried you have schizophrenia? You don’t. Please let yourself sleep. Let yourself go.” It doesn’t work.  

September 19: For the first time in years, I fall asleep without much trouble, without drugs, without a lot of hubbub. I just conk out. The reason? I have the flu. I’m vomiting every two hours, but I sleep in between the pukes. What a relief!

October 30: Autumn begins its fade into winter, which is always the hardest season, even when I’ve added melatonin to my diet. Again, I ask my brain for a divorce. “Hello Brain,” I say. “You sure are busy up there. You can take whatever you want—all the money, the CDs, the pets. Just sign the papers. Please, I am begging you. I don’t like you anymore.” The predominant theory of sleep is that the brain demands it. So why won’t mine?

November 2: My therapist encourages me to make better friends with my brain, suggests that maybe couples counseling is preferable to divorce. I’m dubious. Last year, she encouraged me to end a “toxic friendship.” I did, and I felt much better afterward. What’s the difference?

My therapist also urges me to quit catastrophizing the lack of sleep. It’s not really so bad, is it, to be tired? She’s wrong. It really is bad; the sloggy hell of exhaustion is horrible. “I am not catastrophizing,” I tell her. “I am simply being observant.”

She changes tactics: She wants me to think about my sleep problems as manageable, even solvable. “Okeydoke,” I tell her. “But that seems to run counter to all evidence.” Perhaps she and I should get a divorce instead.

December 24: Well, no one wants to sleep tonight anyway. We agnostic humanists still have Santa Claus to keep an eye out for.

March 12, 2012: I may have passed on this particular genetic trait to my daughter, who also is becoming anxious because she can’t fall asleep. It makes me so very sorry. There is a highly genetic component to many forms of sleep disorders, but I haven’t told her this because I’m hoping she can trick her brain into believing that she’s not predisposed. There is even a rare disease called “fatal familial insomnia” in which people can’t sleep at all, and then they die. According to National Geographic, “the syndrome usually strikes when the sufferer is in his or her 50s, ordinarily lasts about a year, and, as the name indicates, always ends in death.” Oh, Brain. Suffering is serious stuff, and you’re culpable.

April 1: At last, a cure. Actually, that’s just a bad April Fools’ joke. One year has passed. Hopefully there’s still a vault of time ahead of me—not just long, sleepless nights, but life itself. Which means, I suppose, there’s still time to achieve peace. “Hello, Brain,” I say. “Would you like to work on a peace accord?”
No answer. All I can do is keep trying.