I don’t recall thinking much about sleep when I was a kid. Except for having to wake up early for school, which could be annoying, I rare had trouble sleeping. I put my head down on the pillow and drift off. There were occasional bouts of sleeplessness, but they were rare. I even have vague memories of taking naps when I was five or six years old. I close my eyes and the next thing I knew nap time was over.
Now I observe this behavior in the Littlest Miss. We lay down for our nap and we are both usually asleep within minutes. We put on some music, lay on the guest room bed, and she tucks her head on my shoulder. I usually wake up when the music ends, but she is still sleeping and always looks peaceful (although lately, also very sweaty).
It has been well over twenty years since the last really good night’s sleep that I can remember. It has become something of legend in my memory, the sleep to which all other sleeps are held up in comparison. It came at a time in the late 1990s when I was working long hours. During this particular stretch, I headed into the office one day at 5:10 am, and didn’t get back home until around 2 am. I was heading back to the office 3 hours later after a restless few hours of sleep, and finally made it home at 6 pm that evening. I remember going into my bedroom and flopping down on my bed thinking I’d rest for a few minutes before dinner. I awoke the next morning, fully refreshed. I had no dreams, and it wasn’t the instantaneous time-skipping sleep of anesthesia, either. I felt perfectly at peace, my mind clear, as if I was floating in a timeless, featureless space, until I woke up.
I’ve never had as good a night’s sleep since.
For the last 15 months or so, my problem has been actually falling into sleep. I feel tired, but I just can’t sink into unconsciousness. I hover above it sometimes for hours. It got so bad that I eventually told my doctor about it. I tried out about 3 or 4 different prescription sleep aids, and none of them worked. Eventually I gave those up. I gave up caffeine, too, which shows my level of desperation. My sleep improved, but only a little. I can fall asleep now, so long as I don’t miss my window. That is, I can fall asleep if nothing disturbs me during the windows when I feel most tired. But of course, with three kids, that never happens. Once I am stirred, I have a hard time getting back to sleep.
What I find particularly frustrating is the fact that I can fall asleep within minutes when I nap with the Littlest Miss after lunch. I don’t sleep long, but it amazes me how quickly I do fall asleep.
Lately, it has been better. I’m falling asleep faster, and staying asleep longer, but my sleep is always unsettled. I have strange dreams that seem to go on all night, and continue even if I wake up and head to the kitchen for a glass of water. I sleep, but the dreams themselves are exhausting. Now that I am writing again, the dreams have subsided a bit. That tells me, as I have always suspected, that my writing is an outlet for what goes in in my head.
Our kids like playing the game of “would you rather.” Often, it is something like, “Would you rather get a million dollars, or… fill in the blank.” I sometimes imagine them asking me, “Dad, would you rather get a billion dollars or be able to have the perfect night’s sleep each night for the rest of your life.” I wouldn’t hesitate in answering: “the perfect night’s sleep.” I know they’d be disappointed that I’d so quickly discard their substantial inheritance, but at this point, I think I would turn down a trillion dollars if I could be guaranteed a lifetime of nightly sleep like I had on that on night in the late 1990s.