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Why I Can’t Sleep

Maybe to sleep like a baby I need to sleep with one?

Posted in ChicagoNow, February 29, 2016

When I was still working, a colleague and I used to joke that we should have called one another at 4:00 a.m. because we were both up at ridiculous o’clock every day. I’m not sure she still has the same sleep problems so, in lieu of calling her, I tried to lull myself back to sleep early this morning by reading An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine.

When I read this passage, I realized that Alameddine nailed my dilemma:

“Why is it that at an age when we need the curative powers of slumber most we least have access to it? Hypnos fades as Thanatos approaches.”

Or, in less elegant terms, a paradox for seniors — the older we get, and the more tired we are, the less well we sleep. My husband and I often begin the day with an important question — did you sleep? Of course, we did sleep some, but what we mean is a series of questions that describe the quality of that sleep. What time did you fall asleep? How many times did you wake up during the night? What time were you up for good?

Shakespeare must have had similar sleep issues. As I lay awake reading this morning, my mind drifted and the former English teacher part of me recalled his words:

From Hamlet:

“To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.”

From Macbeth:

“Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,

The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

From Henry IV:

“O sleep! O gentle sleep!

Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,

That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down

And steep my senses in forgetfulness?”

From The Tempest:

“We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”

Of course, in many of these famous quotes, Shakespeare is confounding Hypnos (sleep) with Thanatos (death). But let’s not go there. For now, I’ll take them out of context as they roll through my too busy mind that refuses to yield to a reasonable amount of sleep.

When I was younger, late night celebrations or crying babies stole sleep from me. Next, worry crept into my bed. It’s 1:00 a.m. and where is my teenaged child who promised to be home by midnight? How will I solve this huge problem at work tomorrow?

Now, I’m not sure what continues to wake me at 2:31 a.m. (a time when there is still the possibility of drifting back asleep) or 4:25 a.m. (a time when some folks have noticed I may post a blog piece). Sure, I still can find tons of things to worry about, but I think my problem is more like the one described by Alameddine’s main character, Aaliya. I need those curative powers of a good night’s sleep, but as I age, they elude me. If I don’t get enough sleep, I know I will crash in the late afternoon. Or if that is not possible, I will fall asleep at 7:30 p.m. watching Elementary, with my husband prodding me every five minutes to wake up so I don’t miss the brilliant plot twists and turns. And me grumping that I don’t care.

Last night was a perfect example of my struggles with sleep. After suffering through most of the boring Oscars (OMG – How many statues can they award to Mad Max: Fury Road for blowing things up, and why should I care?), I dosed off and missed the big prizes. Then I was up for a bit, happy that Spotlight won. Of course, I had a bit of trouble falling back asleep, yet I was still up by 5:08 a.m., ready to start my morning exercise routine watching Morning Joe and wishing Donald Trump would go to sleep (or at least get less airtime).

Shakespeare really understood the issue of poor sleep. Maybe he was such a prolific writer because he was a bit of an insomniac. My dance with sleep is pretty close to watching Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, desert me just when I need him the most to make it through the day. Of course, Hypnos carried opium, poppies, and the water of forgetfulness with him. All I had was a good book that made me even more alert.

I’m sure I will once again drift off early this evening watching something we recorded on our DVR. Then, I will wake up in time to go to sleep and have a hard time falling asleep. If I’m lucky, I will only get up once and fall back asleep until 5:00 a.m. I guess I’m the poster child for poor sleep hygiene. Despite knowing this, I just continue to rinse and repeat.


by Laurie Levy
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