I have a problem sleeping sometimes, usually because I’ve had coffee late in the evening. There is no small irony in that, after a certain point, coffee does nothing to keep me awake. I turn into a zombie, but not a flesh-eating, undead zombie; I’m more of the kind of zombie with a nervous twitch, clammy, itching skin, and a swollen bladder. I stagger around the kitchen trying to find some morsel of food that will help keep me awake, but I know sugar will be just a nail in my coffin, and almost everything in an American pantry turns into sugar.
Once I concede the point and admit that I can not stay awake any longer, my caffeine-induced irregular heart beat returns to normal as my stress about staying awake can finally be released. I fall asleep quickly in this state, and why shouldn’t I? I am exhausted to the point of collapse, and frequently doze off in my chair before finally giving up and going to bed.
I had a sleep disorder briefly, back when I was in the fourth grade. I found fourth grade very stressful, and would worry about the intrigue and politics in the classroom. I didn’t have a good friend in the classroom, and so I was perpetualy on the outs of the dominant social circles. The one friend I had, Nick D., constantly fought with me, tried to make me his bitch, and was somewhat obsessed about sex. When we sat next to each other, he would share his drawings of the sex acts he wanted to perform on various girls. It was, for me, rather uncomfortable.
That was when sex was explained to me in the form of a story told about someone’s cousin who had performed the act. Oddly enough, it was told at lunch. The perfect place for such stories is at a bar while drinking, but we were too young for that.
My fourth grade teacher, Miss Carson, was also drop-dead gorgeous. I don’t know when it’s normal to have a crush on your teacher, but in the era of mini-skirts, it became normal for me. I never asked the other boys if they felt the same way, as I never asked any follow-up questions regarding the cousin who was putting out, because I was shy about such things. So internalizing such intense thoughts was no-doubt a large part of my trouble sleeping.
In fourth grade, I was also susceptible to panic about my future, and I thought not getting enough sleep would cause me great harm, jeopardize my future, cause me never to be worthy of a smoking hot woman like Miss Carson. The panic fed off itself, often driving me to tears. Of course, it just meant that instead of falling asleep at 9:30 p.m., I fell asleep at 11 p.m. Still this caused me panic.
In college, I went for long stretches an five or fewer hours of sleep. I was studying Computer Science at a time when you needed to use punch cards to enter your program, and it was just slower to get anything done. I also wore it as a badge of courage to have stayed up late, later than my friends studying Economics and German, and so that also fed off of itself, encouraging me to stay up late instead of learning better habits and getting my work done at appropriate times. The other Computer Science students behaved similarly, and we fed off of each other, nodding with respect as we passed each other in the North University Building Substation at three in the morning.
It no longer bothers me to miss sleep. I have learned that I can easily function on three or four hours sleep for a day, and so there is annoyance, but no panic in being awake at odd hours. So let me elaborate on the annoyance.
In many cases, I’m annoyed with myself for having drunk coffee so late, making me susceptible to waking up again when disturbed. But I’m also annoyed at the disturber. First and foremost among these are the dogs. They will bother us to be let out, or if they’re hungry, and I may not be able to get back asleep.
For years, the children were disturbers, and my son woke me nightly for a variety of reasons until he was eleven. These were bothersome, but I blamed myself for not having taught him to self-soothe and put himself back to sleep. (I blame myself for a lot of things.)
There is also my wife. We have gotten ourselves on different schedules, so she will often come to bed after I’ve fallen asleep. Her normal routine, washing her face, brushing teeth, and changing into pajamas, is occasionally accompanied by questions such as: “Are you asleep?” and “Did I tell you what the cat did today?” If I mutter a reply in my slumber, this may start a conversation, and that may awaken me. She will then fall asleep, and I will be up until 3 a.m.
But now I don’t panic, and I work on one of my various side projects — web site development or blogging — and count it as simply a time bonus. We lead busy lives, and those late nights are some of the few scant hours I can call my own. If it wouldn’t hasten my death, I might just make a habit of it.
Death comes soon enough, though.