Have you seen the film Insomnia? If it is showing anywhere near you, it’s worth seeing. I went to see it last night and really enjoyed it.
While I was struggling with my cold and my soundcard, Stephanie asked us to share our experiences with sleeplessness. Though I have never suffered from insomnia so severe as Al Pacino’s in the movie (he goes without sleep night after night because of the midnight sun in Alaska), I have had my share of sleeping problems.
I remember having trouble going to sleep as a child. I remember being afraid to go to sleep, because I might not wake up. I remember the orange flower syrup. I remember going into my parents’ room to tell them I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid that an atomic bomb might fall on the house while I was asleep. I was afraid I would die if I went to sleep.
I remember my mother lying down beside me in my bed, helping me breathe and relax to go to sleep. I must have been seven or eight. I don’t have many memories of my mother.
In my early teens, I discovered the “empty box” method. To try to stop thoughts spinning through my head, I would try to think of nothing, but that was too difficult. So I would think of an empty box.
I also started staying up late. I would read until I almost fell asleep on the book I was reading. I would listen to music or stay up until I dropped. I fell asleep many times with my headphones on my ears, listening to the radio. The years went by, and I recall that by the time I was twenty I was suffering from chronic fatigue.
When I was about fifteen, I started writing. A diary. When things were troubling me and keeping me awake at night, I would write, and write, and write, until there was nothing left to be written and I fell asleep.
During my teenage years, I perfected the “empty box” and in the end stopped needing the box. I would just breathe, think of nothing, and let passing thoughts do just that—pass. I still use this technique today. Some call it “meditation”.
I have got back out of bed at two o’clock in the morning to cook myself spaghetti. I sleep better on a full stomach.
Today? I usually stay up late, and when I go to bed I am just so tired that I drop. If I have trouble going to sleep and something is bothering me, I write it out of my mind—literally, with a pen and paper. Or, I pick up a book and read: that usually takes my mind off whatever it was on, and allows me to relax enough to find sleep.
A few weeks ago, Danielle told me of a trick that Aleika had given her. When you can’t sleep and the hours are ticking, try the following: instead of thinking “Shit, I only have four hours of sleep left!” think “Oh heck, I have four more hours to wait before morning!”
- Sleep With Me Podcast [en] (2018)
- I thought I might write [en] (2020)
- On Grief and Losing Bagha [en] (2010)
- Bagha's Story, First Part, First Draft [en] (2009)
- IUCAA News [en] (2001)
- Sleeping in India and Putting My Brain Straight [en] (2015)
- Hello From Kolkata [en] (2015)
- In Praise of the Morning Routine [en] (2011)
- The Orange Plastic Bag [en] (2002)
- At Some Point I Started Caring About What I Wrote Here [en] (2017)