I love to sleep. I’m just not always very good at it. I keep trying though.
As a child I was plagued by nightmares and would sit, bolt upright in bed and scream, like a heroine in a Victorian horror story, before laying back down and going back to sleep. Unfortunately this habit has persisted into adult life and although less frequent, I’ve scared a few sleeping partners over the years. One long term partner had a pull cord light switch over the bed and I managed to snap it twice during attacks of the night terrors. I’ve knocked over lamps, jumped out of bed in a start and shaken people awake. Annoyingly for them, I then instantly fell back to sleep. They usually didn’t.
I dream a lot still, one of the more annoying side effects of the Serotonin Uptake Re-Inhibitor anti-depressants I take long term. I dream in Technicolor, my brain spewing out the surreal and the mundane and rearranging them into life like meandering stories. I get confused at times about what is a dream and what happened, they’re so vivid. It’s usually easy to work it out; if I was a teenage girl or a goat when the incident happened I can usually work out that it was a dream.
I very rarely struggle to get off to sleep. I wake up in the mornings and am wound up by a couple of coffees and a few cigarettes and like a clockwork toy I set off and go until my key winds down mid afternoon and I pass out. I then begin again and whizz off until I collapse into a coma at night. Insomnia for me is when I’m not asleep after 3 minutes.
I do struggle to stay asleep, waking frequently throughout the night and am often to be found standing at the back door having a sneaky cigarette at 3 or 4am. It’s a pain, especially when I get the odd week or two where I wake religiously on the hour every hour. I tend to wake early too, something which has got worse with ageing. In spite of stopping working shifts almost 3 years ago I still wake up for the early shift at 530am on a regular basis.
Being childless has many advantages. Yes, I’ll be in old people’s home which smells of urine one day, but I can have an afternoon sleep and no one bothers me. I got into the habit as a student nurse. The shift pattern was odd and the work was laborious and back breaking at times so I got used to snatching sleep when I could. Finishing at 9pm and then having to be back at work at 7am meant that the split shift sleep was a necessity to function.
The habit crept up on me. It started innocuously with me getting into an absurd routine. Whenever I finished an early shift I’d race home, lie on the settee and put the TV on. The minute the quiz show Countdown came on at 4pm I’d nod off and wake up the minute it finished. I never saw the program but it was a perfect sedative. I think it might be a show about anagrams. I’d then jump up, swig a quick coffee and set out with the dog for a walk. This meant that he also got into a routine. He’d sit by the side of the settee staring at me, knowing he was due a walk soon but hoping that one day I’d wake up before Countdown ended and he’d get an early walk. He never did. I always went to sleep with a dog staring at me and woke up with a dog staring at me. He was persistent. He hated me working nights and would sit outside the bedroom door all day, occasionally banging on the door with a shoe until I arose let rip like a crazed banshee and he’d skulk away.
The afternoon napping progressed and soon I was actually going to bed in the afternoon. It’s a blissful feeling to strip off, slide under the duvet and hide from the world for an hour. Yes, it grew to an hour. I’d get quite excited and jump into bed exclaiming to myself “I’m in bed!” Then it grew to two hours. I had to draw a line there. It was getting to a point where I’d get up in the morning and be thinking how soon I could feasibly be back in bed. Naturally, I haven’t stopped doing it even though I work regular hours now. I invariably go to bed every afternoon on my days off. It’s my body clock now.
I hated working nights and never really adjusted well to them . It’s pure cruelty to be so tired that you could pass out and be surrounded by sleeping people. It’s like being on a diet and having to watch a room full of people eat. Unlike other jobs, nursing also involves having to be quiet and sit in semi-darkness during a night shift. Quite an ordeal for the weary.
I once slept through my ex-partner breaking down the flat door when I was a teenager. I’d locked myself in and forgotten to take the key out of the door. I spent a 5 hour night flight asleep without moving once. A couple of pensioners complimented me on my ability to sleep and I nodded graciously in acceptance. I think they’d got a book going on whether I was dead or not.
My previous love of alcohol was often about sleep. I found that in large enough quantities alcohol could make me sleep through whatever crisis I’d invented in my head or whatever was going on around me. Unfortunately it was a flawed plan and led to deferred problems with the added burden of malnutrition, lowered moods and storming hangovers. It felt good to sleep constantly for a day or two though, during a good drinking bender. Thankfully, I got out of that habit. It was hideously dangerous and not a good way to spend your time off work.
Up to the 1960s they used sleep cures in psychiatry, inducing unconsciousness for a week or so with heavy sedation to cure depression or anxiety. Now isn’t that a tempting thought? Mind you, it didn’t work so well for Michael Jackson, did it? As a recognised treatment it fell out of favour well and truly in the 1970s when 26 patients died in a clinic in Australia due to over sedation. Maybe I’ll stick to a good book and a Horlicks.