Can Insomnia Have Value?
I’ve never been a gifted sleeper. Even as a toddler, my dad would sit with me at bedtime, massaging my forehead and humming Brahm’s Lullaby. Then, when he thought it was safe, he’d tiptoe away, invariably hearing “daddy?” once he got to the door.
It’s pretty heady when you think of it: a young imagination, waking up to the world and witnessing all this mystery laid out before her. Watching and listening to parents, her little pals, sniffing all the corners of a pink-carpeted bedroom, staring at herself in mirrors wondering What Is This Creature? Eventually interacting with classmates and teachers, all the popular culture outlets, learning the vulnerability of her body. Then getting into bed at night with this mental cacophony . . . and expected to sleep? Soundly? For eight uninterrupted hours?
That’s a lot of pressure! No wonder there’s so much sleep anxiety out there. (We’re not even touching on those of us with active dream lives.)
Over the years I’ve had great sleeping periods, medium ones, and horrible restless, anxiety-ridden night frights. I always found a way to explain my sleeplessness — because that’s what we do in a culture obsessed with answer the question: How am I doing? One thing remained constant: sleeping throughout the night just wasn’t my thing.
Then, I read a phenomenal article about the myth of the eight-hour sleep. A new theory postulated that humans were more inclined toward a nighttime pattern of two sleeps, in four-hour chunks. Finally, I saw a model that mirrored my own way of sleeping.
I began to question everything I thought about sleep. Especially after a winter of waking up at 3 a.m. in a state of anxiety, trying every natural and over-the-counter sleeping aid and still, not sleeping.
It was time to accept the way I slept, for better or worse. And accept that whatever it was right now would change — like weather.
Sometimes insomnia is a gift
Knock, knock. Tap, tap. In my late thirties, after being up at night staring at the ceiling and reading books of poetry, this idea occurred to me: