Sleep and I are in a fight. I honestly have no idea who’s winning.
My psychiatrist got tired of me saying I was tired all the time, so she sent me off to a specialist.
The specialist, a white-haired, soft-spoken, South Asian woman, entered the examination room with a wry smile. “You’re pulling out your phone,” she said without preamble, offering a soft and wrinkled hand for me to shake, “because they told you I’d be a hundred years late. They’re usually right. I still surprise them once in a while.” She sat and swiveled toward her computer.
I chose not to point out that, although she had arrived promptly to the examination room, I had already listened to the Weather Channel for over an hour in the waiting room.
Her eyes stayed focused on the screen before her. She asked questions about my sleep and life habits, and she measured my neck, which was an odd experience, for no other reason than I don’t remember anyone doing that before.
She recommended a tracking plan, and said she wanted to tag team me to another specialist, someone who works with insomnia specifically.
“Can you imagine?” she asked her keyboard, “There’s someone who only studies insomnia. How is that possible? I do not know. But she is smarter than me. I tell you the details. She will actually help you. Her success rate is very high.”
I can imagine. About 60 million Americans reported that they experienced insomnia last year. We’re becoming a sleepless society.
“You won’t be able to see her soon,” the specialist continued, “because she’s so successful. So in the meantime I will tell you what to do.”
What to do, it turns out, is basically not to sleep. They call this a Sleep Restriction Program. After she described it, the doctor finished with, “I’m glad you are not crying. Once I told a woman this, and she started crying immediately. I can still see her face.”
Full disclosure: although I did not cry then, I did cry a few days later out of sheer exhaustion.
I have now unsuccessfully started my Sleep Restriction Program three times. The idea of the program is to force your body to sleep efficiently. You only allow yourself to spend six hours in bed each night, until you are sleeping for 90% of those six hours. Then you can add 15 minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Although I have been dealing with insomnia for several years, I’d been self-medicating with naps, caffeine, snooze buttons, and extra hours in bed. And I’ve discovered that not doing those things makes life pretty rough. The afternoon slump turns into an afternoon nosedive into a bottomless abyss. My brain doesn’t stop spinning, incessantly replaying conversations and running “what if” scenarios. My emotional stability guide goes on vacation and leaves the kids to burn the house down.
The doctor had warned that I could be irritable.
Lady, I can’t even see “irritable” from here.
All this to say, I’m learning to appreciate sleep and all it can do for us. I’m regretting the hours and hours I spent fighting naps as a child.
If this story feels anti-climactic, it’s because I’m sleep deprived. I want to be sleeping. Right now. Take a nap, for me, will you?