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MARTHA SEZ: Insomnia: sleep on this

April 22, 2011
The bad thing about waking up in the middle of the night is that you are always worrying about something you can’t do anything about. You know that wakefulness serves no purpose. Still, you can’t get back to sleep.

This time of year I catch myself worrying about sugaring, which requires cold nights and warm days. I’ll wake up in th middle of the night concerned that it isn’t cold enough or that the next day will be too overcast and chilly for the sap to run. What if the maples bud before sugaring gets properly underway? What if the frogs start to sing and we don’t have enough syrup?

This is all the more ludicrous when you consider that I play no part in the maple sugar economy here in the North Country, and even if I did, there is not a thing I can do about the weather.

There are songs about tossing and turning all night. Whether the source of your insomnia is thwarted love, your children, the bills that cover your desk like early spring snowdrifts in Saranac Lake or indigestion, thinking about it now is not going to help. You tell yourself this, but still you lie there, ruminating.

Midnight is commonly called the witching hour, but at least it is a reasonable time to still be awake. To my mind, three o’clock is the brutal hour. It’s too late for people who don’t work the night shift or indulge in recreational stimulants to still be up and about, and too early to rise and shine and begin the day.

Insomnia can be torture. You could read, but you may feel constrained to turn on the light. If you sleep in the same room with someone, spouse, sibling, or whoever, you know that he or she will not like being awakened just because you can’t sleep.

“Wake up! Wake up!”


“I can’t sleep!”

People tend to be irritated when awakened in this manner. On the other hand, it is very irritating to have to listen to a loved one’s tranquil snores as you lie awake in a snit. This is especially true when, as is often the case, the person who lies sleeping next to you is the cause of your agitation, due to something said or done during the day, or perhaps several years ago. Little does this person know that he or she is creating deep resentment inside you simply by being unconscious. You will feel that this person should know, and is slumbering on purpose, in order to torment you, which will make it even harder for you to fall back asleep.

The solitary insomniac may not turn on the light either if she has made the mistake of watching scary television shows about murderers before bedtime. Illuminating the bedroom  is a sure way of alerting serial killers, ghosts, monsters, velocirapters or what have you to your location, like the blue light special at K-Mart. You might as well just announce it: Here I am, helpless in my flannel nightgown, what are you going to do about it?

My father used to say “Nothing of any value gets said after midnight.” I think this is true of philosophizing in the middle of the night. My friend Beatrice said her therapist gave her a rubber band to wear on her wrist so that she could snap it and bring herself back to reality every time she caught herself ruminating about situations — or certain people — over which she had no control.

Another friend, Pete, suggested that a bungee cord around the neck would be more to the purpose. He figured it would step up the behavior modification process.  But snapping yourself with rubber bands or even bungee cords probably won’t help you get back to sleep.

Just when you think that sleep will never come, that you will have to lie there and tough it out for several more hours, you fall without warning into a profound slumber, which renders you oblivious to the racket of your alarm clock. Later, as you drink coffee and attempt to look sharp, your coworkers ask you what on earth you were doing the night before to make you such a wreck. What will you tell them? That you were worrying whether the sap was running? Maybe it’s better to raise an eyebrow and attempt a roguish smile. Try not to spill coffee down your front.

Get some sleep, and have a good week.


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