Sleeplessness: a Meditation

Or “Insomnia” for You Fancy Types

Until the last few years, I’d prided myself on my ability to sleep virtually anywhere, regardless of privacy, noise, or light levels. That this is what I prided myself on is a topic for another post.

Categories of Sleeplessness

There are two kinds of sleeplessness: the one in which your brain wakes you up and says, “I feel like we don’t spend much quality time, so I figure, we’ve got a couple of hours to kill. Let’s dish!” This type, coined by one expert as the “Sadistic Sleepover”* is inevitably irritating and can lead to nothing good, especially if done a few times in a row or over the course of a week. No one likes not sleeping, of course, but it wreaks havoc on my brain with an unusual intensity.

Science has proven that for most people, driving in a sleep-deprived state is the equivalent of driving while intoxicated. Once, while sleeping only 11 hours over the course of five days, I was arrested for attempting to make love to a moving city bus.** I was acquitted of the charge only when my attorney pointed out there was no specific law on the books prohibiting this. Also, several of the passengers testified to the fact it was in fact an attempt to make love to the bus, and not merely use it for my own auto-erotic*** needs.

Sleeplessness Type II, Sometimes Known as “The Dutchman’s Revenge”*****

Then there’s the second type of sleeplessness: the one in which your brain is excited to show you the three hour powerpoint presentation it’s made about every bad choice you’ve ever made, followed by a montage of your failures scored with the Benny Hill theme song. Maybe it varies a bit person to person.

I’m making these glib little jokes because I’m trying to use semi-clever glibness to blunt the impact of what really swims endless laps in my mind during these bouts of sleeplessness. Let’s face it, no one ever wakes up at 3:00 a.m. to dwell on their good qualities. In the grips of this sleeplessness, I perform close readings of the whole canon of my inadequacies with what can only be described as a Talmudic intensity. I lament, I pity myself, I pity others whom I wronged, or that one woman in September of 2000 who took what I meant to be a benign comment as a deeply hurtful insult and didn’t seem to buy my increasingly shrill and needy apologies.

It’s Going to Get a Little Dark for a Bit. But the Good News Is It’s Also Pretentious.

I’ve raged at things and people, and I’m not proud to say I’ve also felt true hate (always tempered come morning, but still). It’s unpleasant to know I’m capable of that. And before you think I’m splitting semantic hairs distinguishing between rage and hate, you have a valid point in terms of potential actions and consequences. And spend too much time in the company of either produces the same effect: you’ll rot from the inside out. But in terms of experience, my sleepless self contends you are very wrong. I know you’re wrong**** because I studied this idea at length during a recent sleepless night.

I’d argue many hate groups and crimes are really expressions of rage. Rage is often scattershot and feeds on ignorance, stereotypes, racial, economic, sexual, political, etc. Hate is always as sharp and exact as a needle. Rather than feeding on ignorance, it tends to subsist on a particular knowledge. Rage is often a source of pride, albeit often terribly misplaced. Rage can be communal and binding. Hate, I think, is to feel, among other things, isolation in its most punishing and undiluted state.

They’re both awful and destructive, but rage can offer a cruel exhilaration, whereas hate, if you’re doing it right, always feel like acid on opened flesh.

Rage is a drug; hate is a disease.

I Wasn’t Kidding About the Pretentiousness, Was I?

You see what I mean? This is the sort of reductive, septic sophistry that happens in the second kind of sleeplessness. As awkward as that may have been to read, trust me when I assure you it could have been worse. I could have shared my lengthy nocturnal meditations on, for example, why The Simpsons, for roughly its first ten years, was among the greatest, smartest comedies in TV history and then precipitously sank into the realm of the unwatchable. Or how there can be a symbol for Anarchy.

Worst of all, it can throw you off for days in both palpably physical and psychological terms. And I’ve tried everything in the book. The worst is that I often don’t just get up and do something for a while (sometimes effective) because I’m convinced I’m thiiiisss close to sleeping. Many’s the night my psyche’s thrown good money after bad this way.

Ironic This Is All About Sleeplessness, But SOme Might Argue It’s Been a Little Sleep-Inducing at Times

I’ll close with among the better closing lines in a play I’ve ever heard. It’s not actually the last line, but it’s pretty close. And I won’t tell you the play and ruin that play for you because I’m not a sociopath. A younger character, troubled by the play’s events, confides in an older character, “I don’t sleep well anymore.” To which the older character says, “Maybe we’re not supposed to sleep well.”

I don’t think that’s always true. But I feel there are times when it may well be. Sometimes I can understand such times, and sometimes they pounce on me out of left field. Those are the worst. They’re reminders that my mind is always trying to work something through, and that at times those things are insoluble, but it doesn’t stop my inner workings from plugging away regardless. And it reminds me that, sometimes, perhaps, the point isn’t to solve the issue, it’s to accept that the issue cannot be solved.


*Reader, it was me. It’s also the title of my latest work of Nancy Drew Mystery fan fiction. DM me for details.

**I have no direct memory of this. Or even the trial, come to think of it. But my college dorm roommate John swears it happened and when I point out how that isn’t even believable, he counters reasonably with, “How would you know? You were sleep-deprived.” And he’d have no motive for lying. Nor for telling that saga to every girl I dated in college, right? Or at my wedding in lieu of the traditional Best Man speech.

***I know, I know. All I can do is apologize and promise you that as disappointed/disgusted as you likely are with me for inflicting that on you, I feel it ten times more. Also, it’s likely to be a slide on the next powerpoint my subconscious cooks up.

**** I’m mostly kidding? What do I know? I also studied for my high school Chem final at length and believe me, I was still wrong most of the time.

***** No it isn’t. I just made that up. But I think I may have heard that phrase at some point. Most likely as either a tropical drink or a venereal disease.


8 thoughts on “Sleeplessness: a Meditation

  1. That last line is brilliant, Jack, “And it reminds me that, sometimes, perhaps, the point isnโ€™t to solve the issue, itโ€™s to accept that the issue cannot be solved.” Sometimes solving an issue is such an attractive course of action that we forget about accepting it.

    My most recent times of sleep deprivation came when I had newborns. You are absolutely right about the physical and psychological impact. It changed my whole outlook. I can’t imagine what 11 hours of sleep over 5 nights would do.

    Fortunately my newborns grew out of it – hoping that your sleepless self will grow out of it too. And if that doesn’t work, maybe watch “Sleepless in Seattle.” Because maybe that’s a hint at where it’s best to be sleepless. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Which is kinda a stupid joke about what is definitely not a funny subject. Wishing you nights of great sleep!

  2. I usually associate that kind of “I can sleep anywhere, anytime” ability with being in – or recently being discharged from- the military. If you’ve been in the military, you know why.

  3. I suffered from insomnia for 5 months in 2020. I also took sleeping pills, but you easily and quickly get used to it. Then, I found on the Internet Michael Breus, Ph.D. โ€“ The Sleep Doctor, as he defines himself. He wrote a book where he explains the 4 chronotypes, and he has a set of questions to identify your own. Once you have identified yours, you can read the corresponding part where he advises to change your habits to start to sleep well again. He is very detailed, he covers really each aspect of your life. I simply changed some and I must admit that it worked. Maybe you can have a look at his book during one of your sleepless night, and who knows, fall asleep!

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