I’m fascinated by people who can just lay their heads down and sleep. As if all that separates them from here and dreamland is a pillow, and having found one, they’re gone. Don’t they need to run through the 87 point Checklist of Comfort? What about the 112 point checklist Things They Did That Day They Should Have Done Differently? Not to mention the required 296 point checklist Unimportant Things That Happened Years Ago That Need To Be Reviewed and Replayed in Their Entirety. Between those lists and emptying my bladder every twelve to twenty-nine minutes like an octogenarian, I’m busy for a solid hour and half after I lay down to go to sleep.
I read a lot about sleeping on nights when I can’t. The first thing mosts articles tell you is you shouldn’t have screens anywhere near your bed. “Leave your phone in the next room, or better yet, mail it to a friend a couple states away so you’re not tempted to check it during the night.” I go through phases where I heed this advice, but they’re short-lived because I tell myself I need my phone bedside so I can record the amazing thoughts I sit up with in the middle of the night. These “amazing thoughts” have turned into a solid piece of writing exactly once, and yes I could physically write them down on a piece of paper, but I’m not Amish for a reason, thankyouverymuch.
I’ve learned breathing tricks, which usually involve counting down from a randomly high number, guaranteeing you’ll be fast asleep before you hit zero. This is way too specific for me and instead of floating off mid-countdown, I fixate on not losing track of the number and so I’ll either make it to zero and silently congratulate myself for my sustained focus or get annoyed at the whole process, turn over and start thinking about something really important, like why I added a “ma’am” after my thank you at the dry cleaners last Monday and I wonder if the woman took it as polite or insulting and who even uses “ma’am” anyway?
The notion of sleeping alone in separate rooms for a single eight hour stretch is a relatively new one for humans. For most of our existence, we’ve slept in piles with each other and our animals and maybe a traveler or two, for safety and comfort and necessity. Everyone would go to bed when the sun went down, as that was our main source of light, and then our internal clock would wake us up in the middle of the night. This twilight hour is when we’d make babies or see ghosts or both, and it came to be known as the witching hour. After that, we’d all go back to bed for our second sleep and wake up with the sun, refreshed and ready to go hunt or gather or invent the wheel.
I often think about these ancestors when I can’t get to sleep, connecting with all the cavemen in my lineage who also couldn’t fall fast asleep and would just lay there, jealous of the snoring ox two cavemen over. I wonder if they tried breathing tricks or mental countdowns, until I remember the notion of numbers is also relatively new and then I sit straight up and reach for my phone, struck with a great idea about what to write for tomorrow’s 500 words.