And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Sleep has always been a challenge for me in adulthood. As a kid, particularly as a teenager, I slept too much. I usually finished my homework in study hall, so once I was home from school, I was up in my room, writing. Then as soon as it fell dark, I would stretch out on my bed and listen to music, usually the Moody Blues, but also Supertramp and Queen and a few others. And then, at around 8:00, I’d go to bed. Until I left home for college at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I basically slept my adolescence away.
But at college, the night owl in me came out. Whether studying or partying or simply getting engrossed in deep What’s-the-meaning-of-life college-y discussions with others, I was often up until the wee hours. I learned quickly to never schedule a class before 10:00, because I simply wouldn’t make it.
When college was done and I was married and babies started showing up, I was often still awake for middle-of-the-night feedings. As the kids grew older, their bedtime became 8:00, and I would head to my basement office to write until at least midnight. Then I would need to unwind, so I’d watch the Waltons, cry, and finally sleep.
And now? Now I run my own business. Burning the candle at both ends isn’t a thing, because there are no ends. My candle just burns. Since I can’t sleep anyway, I figure I might as well be working, and so I do. Bedtime for me is still typically around 3:00 in the morning. Just like in college, I try not to schedule any clients before 10:00…but this has eked back to 9:00. So I typically get less than 5 hours of sleep a night.
I’ve been experiencing issues with my memory, which has always been really strong. I can have a student come back to class after a five-year absence, and I can tell them what they were writing and where they left off. But suddenly, I was waking up in the morning and not knowing what day it was. I would know where I was when I was driving, but suddenly not know why I was driving, where I was supposed to be going. It was scary. So I went to see a neurologist.
She put me through a battery of tests. At the very beginning, she said, “I’m going to tell you three words, and I want you to repeat them. Then remember them. I’m going to ask you about them at the end of this visit.” The three words were apple, books, and coat. Then there were all sorts of other things to do. The only thing I couldn’t do was count backwards from 100, by sevens. I flat-out said no. “I am math-deficient,” I said. “Not without a calculator.” Partway through the tests, the neurologist began to laugh. I wondered, but stayed focused on what I was doing.
At the end, she said, “Kathie, in all my years, no one has gone through these tests as quickly and perfectly as you just did. There is nothing wrong with you neurologically. You are not losing your memory.”
And that’s when the discussion of sleep began. By the time I left her office, I’d been told that I am “profoundly” sleep-deprived. I had a solid prescription of no physical activity for several hours before bedtime (do you remember when I was going to the gym at midnight?), no screens before bed, no food before bed, and to try to employ a regular time for going to sleep and waking up. She also left me with a warning.
“You need to get more sleep. It’s life-sustaining. This is not something you play with. This is as serious as getting chemotherapy, as receiving radiation. You. Need. To. Sleep.”
One thing I’ve done for the last several years is meditate before bed. I started by meditating in the recliner in my bedroom, and I found that I was constantly falling asleep, then waking up and having to go to bed. So I began to meditate in bed. But the same thing happened. I’d be on my back, not my usual sleep position, nod off, jar awake, and then remain awake for hours. Sometimes until six or seven in the morning, when I had to get up at 8:20. Sometimes I didn’t sleep at all.
And then I had a brainstorm.
I was meditating on my back. What if I meditated on my side, in the way I typically sleep? I immediately worried over not shutting off my phone. But why? I’d have it on silent, it wouldn’t wake me up. And if it ran out of power, I’d plug it in in the morning.
This was so obvious and so simple, I wanted to smack myself repeatedly on the head.
So, for over a week now, I’ve been doing exactly that. The first night, I fell asleep long before the meditation app ran down. I woke up in the morning, not having gotten up in the middle of the night, not having awakened at all. Granted, it was still five hours of sleep, but it was five SOLID hours of sleep.
I woke up that day and looked right into the face of my cat, Muse, who was sitting on my shoulder. “Oh!” I said. “Hi! Good morning!”
“Mah!” she said back. I think she’s going deaf (she’s 19) and so her meows are very loud and raucous and not meowy at all. But I think she was congratulating me.
I slept! And, except for one night of insomnia during this last week or so, I’ve slept every night. I am working on getting to bed earlier. I am working on rearranging my schedule so I can sleep a little later. I am working on it. Really.
And I am waking up with a smile. Sleep feels so good!
Oh, and by the way…I emailed the neurologist late that night. “You forgot to ask me about the three words,” I said. “Apple, books, coat.”
She emailed back, “Go to SLEEP!”
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.
Maybe I will too.