The sleeping patterns throughout my life were as erratic as the four stages of the sleep cycles themselves until I started putting my mind to work in the dream state.
Sleep-walking was a common practice for me growing up. I, of course, never knew I had been out of bed until the next morning during breakfast when Dad would tell me about my half-comatose trek to the kitchen for a Twinkie or to the closet for my coat.
The sleep-walking ended when I went to college, where I’d cut class and sleep until noon on a whim. Then came the babies and the bills period when I’d waken to a cry or a worry about where the next dollar would come from. Finally, when I hit 35, I could catch a good seven hours of shut-eye with a simple bat of an eyelash.
Then, a few years ago, at 45, I began a vicious cycle of waking every few hours, often finding myself nose-deep in the peanut butter jar. I’d never heard of a sleep-eating disorder, but I’m pretty sure I had one. I’d doze off while writing and waken myself to finish — which was much easier to do with a surge of sugar. I wanted to get my book into print.
When I did finally shut the laptop and fall asleep, I’d waken with a start, feeling like I’d slept all night, but less than an hour had actually passed. I longed for the days when I could sleep anywhere — on a lumpy straw bed at an inn or in the pew at church. In high school, at least a few times a week, I’d wake up in class hoping I was wearing long sleeves so I could sop up the puddle of saliva that had drooled onto my desk. Whether I was curled tight in a rocking chair or sprawled out on a friend’s couch, dozing off and staying in blissful slumber was as easy as orange sherbet sliding down my throat.
Just last month, I decided to re-capture the Sandman, who was as elusive as the magic dust I wanted him to sprinkle on me. I powered down my electronics. I sipped my sleepytime tea. I dimmed the lights and cranked down the air conditioner. But as the overhead fan spun, so did my head.
Conditions were perfect for sleeping, but I lay there replaying my day and inventing my tomorrow, and I realized that whether I’m on a cot in a crowded dorm room or in my own comfy bed, I’m not going to be able to sleep until I can let all the conditions evaporate. I remember a TV show in the 1970s called ‘The Waltons.” They had their share of problems, and they all slept just fine.
Sleeping is a state of mind and my mind wants to run a marathon while my body recoups on the sidelines. Since that is not the way the whole sleeping thing works, I had to figure out how to iron the thoughts out of my brain — to smooth the edges of each firing neuron.
The best iron for me so far is to picture myself entering a new world to work in. My brain wants to work and I send it on a mission to Never-Never-Land, where I have important jobs to do, people to see and places to go.
I lay my hand on my pulsing belly and let lingering ideas collapse inside like a folding fan. Four hours of rest, up for one and back down for three — now for that I raise my cup of warm chamomile. I am a recovering sleep-eater, after all.
Ironing the lumps in my head has proven much more crucial to a good night’s sleep than avoiding a lumpy bed.
Good-night, John-boy. Good-night, Sue Ellen.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.
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