Friday, March 1, 2013

Sleep and I

While you were sleeping
You tossed, you turned,
You rolled your eyes as the world burned.
The heavens fell, the earth quaked,
I thought you must be, but you weren't awake.

—"While You Were Sleeping," Elvis Perkins

I have long had a somewhat troubled relationship with sleep. It's not that I have difficulty sleeping; far from it. You might call me a "somniac"—one who sleeps joyfully, drinking deeply of sleep's pleasures and rarely having much difficulty achieving it under the right circumstances. If there's a deadly sin I can be regularly said to be guilty of, it's sloth.

The trouble in my love affair with sleep originates not with myself nor with sleep, but from third parties. They just don't seem to understand our love, or don't care about it.

This first became apparent when I started going to sleepaway camp at age eight. Up until this time, when bedtime rolled around, I generally headed to bed, turned out the lights, and went to sleep. Happily, without a struggle, because sleep was awesome. For most of my peers at camp, though, lights out time in the cabin was inexplicably this time to ... talk about ... stuff. Like anything. It was so weird to me; they would just lie in their beds and chatter mindlessly about the stupidest things, as if the wholesome, beautiful, excellent, promising, joyous world of sleep that lay just around the corner were invisible to them, or worse: seen, but viewed as worthless. Worse than my confusion at my peers' rejection of sleep in all its great goodness was the fact that I could not sleep when they talked to each other. Or threw things around the cabin, or burped, or farted, or (everyone's favorite) mooned each other. I was despondent.

I tried various strategies to overcome this sleep obstacle down through the years, but the central one remained constant for the next decade or so: any time I knew I would be forced to sleep in a room full of other humans, I would invariably make it my goal to be fast asleep before anyone made it back to the room at night.

I had pretty limited success with this strategy. That first year at camp, the counselor would find me sleeping (or, more often, pretending to sleep in the hopes that my sleep would soon become real) and wake me up so I could participate in "devotions," the Christian sleepaway camp equivalent of an end-of-day debriefing meeting...with Jesus. For this, I earned my fair share of ridicule. In high school, I once shared a hotel room with an acquaintance, which we had booked so we could attend a weekend conference together. I successfully hit the hay before he returned to the room in the evening, only for him to [1] wake me up and ask if he could turn off the radio (why!?) and [2] invite his friends to come hang out in our room and then (because they had come to the conference without booking a room for themselves) to sleep with us in our beds. In college, I generally went to bed well before my roommates, but occasionally I would wake up to the sounds of the aftermath of "too much party" in the bathroom a few feet from my head. 

Eventually, though, I gained a measure of control over this kind of situation: I became a camp counselor. As a counselor, I considered myself second to none in convincing kids to go to sleep. True, I had an occasional kid who stayed awake out of fear rather than rambunctiousness, and in those cases I was at a loss. However, when it came to general cabin-fever restlessness (a universal problem for camp counselors, in my experience), I had the perfect method for settling kids down. The method is as follows: you sit in the room with the kids, lights off, everyone in bed. And every time someone talks, you call them by name, and tell them to be quiet and go to sleep. After about 30 minutes, no one is talking, and after about 60 minutes, no one is awake.

(Unfortunately, this method does not work if you are good friends with the people in the cabin, which happened to me once. In this case, my friends chatted away while I sat in the room with the campers, and when I told them to be quiet they chuckled and kept talking. Perhaps they thought I was joking, or that because I was their friend I wouldn't be able to do anything about it. I ended up smacking the loudest friend a few times with a broom to emphasize that I was seriously tired and needed to sleep. This got the message across.)

The best strategy, I finally realized (just a couple years ago, alas) is drugs. Specifically, over-the-counter sleeping pills; essentially the sleeping ingredient in NyQuil or Tylenol PM. Now with the magic of drugs, sleep and I can meet whenever and wherever, no matter who is there to throw things, moon people, or simply talk about nothing. 

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1 comment:

  1. Ha! I was not expecting this ironic conclusion to a wholesome post.