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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
HOW TO LIVE: The nogoodforme Guide to Insomnia
MY NAME IS KAT ASHARYA, AND I AM A CHRONIC INSOMNIAC
(l to r: this is me staying up till 7am a few weeks ago; sometimes when I can't go to sleep, I say, "Fuck it" and I go to the library to write and take pictures like this.)
A lot of people suffer through bouts of insomnia at certain points in their life, and everyone's had a sleepless night here and there. But insomnia has been so woven into the very core of my being that I can honestly say that I AM AN INSOMNIAC. I am congenitally unable to fall asleep before 2AM and have not done so in years, no matter how early I got up that day or how early I have to get up for the next one. Sometimes my sleep schedule gets so skewed that I am awake until 6AM and wake up either at 9AM (for morning classes) or 1PM (if I am lucky enough to have class in the afternoon). I honestly just cannot get to sleep at a normal hour. I used to think I was the night owl to end all night owls, and while I do think I'm a bit nocturnally-oriented, it is just not normal or healthy to spend weeks staying up till dawn and subsisting on 3-4 hours of sleep a night. As an undergrad, I even spent some time in a sleep disorders clinic, making researchers marvel at what a hard sleep nut I am to crack. Being in film school and in the high-stress environment and industry hasn't helped at all, but neither has having super-jacked diurnal biorhythms.
In some ways, I make insomnia work for me really well, and there's no doubt I've been able to achieve some things because I don't sleep. I'm well-read, I'm a very prolific writer, I've maintained friendships and long-distance relationships with those in far-flung time zones, I have a million random skills under my belt, I blog like a machine, and I kick ass at Trivial Pursuit and other games dependent on random knowledge since I have all night to be on Wikipedia and what not. But in other ways, it completely sucks. It's really bizarre and psychologically isolating to wake up and realize you'll only see four hours of sunlight that day. It sucks to not be able to focus and concentrate as much as you need to, to have every florescent light be ten times brighter and more annoying and every yapping sound pound ten times more fiercely in your skull. It sucks to be tired, it sucks to feel fried and stressed out, and it sucks to stress out about feeling fried and stressed out. And if you're feeling at all sad or blue, being awake at 4AM is like the echo chamber hour of negative emotions: it makes everything seem more vast, deep and cataclysmic. I'm a pretty posi-core person, but when it's 4:20AM and I'm feeling semi-suicidal because I'm convinced that humanity sucks and it's our fate to die alone and no one loves me and no one cares if I disappear because it's the deep of night and the whole world is just a void filled with a miasma of pollution, selfishness and the maw of hormonal fluctuations masking themselves as emotions...well, luckily I realize it's really the witching hour talking and not really me, and I shudder to think about insomnia combined with genuine soul-killing depression or anxiety.
The thing is, I'm convinced that insomnia never really goes away if you're chronic like me, with crazy biorhythms, a super-active mind, an insane commitment to what I do and the misfortune to have that be in one of the most unstable, uncertain, demanding fields in the Western hemisphere (i.e., anxiety city!) Every now and then I lick it for a few weeks and find myself on a normal sleep schedule. And it makes such a difference: you're at one with the sun, you walk on the streets of New York in the early morning like everyone else, feeling that great communal sense of purpose and endeavor, you feel stronger and your running gets better and the world's in harmony and all is great. But it's so easy to slip off the wagon and then it's 5AM and you're awake and despairing that you'll ever be normal. Dealing with insomnia requires constant vigilance. And while it sucks that my life is so nutso that it makes the "constant" part a bit hard, I'm nothing if not vigilant and have had plenty of experience dealing with insomnia, over and over and again and again. These the things (besides the basics) that I find help me deal with insomnia:
UNPLUG: It's nearly impossible sometimes to accomplish this, because I blog, a lot of my freelance work is computer- or Internet-based, and I'm attached to both my laptop and my Blackberry in a typically Web 2.0 kind of way. But making sure my Internet is disconnected earlier than later in the evening helps me so much. I mean, yeah, the Internet is great, OBVIOUSLY...but being on it all the time is soul-killing and sleep-killing. (I assume television is at this level as well.) On an ideal day, I'm off the Internet and my Blackberry by 11PM, and having two electro-free hours before I finally get to sleep is like a mini-detox before I hit the hay.
GET DOWN WITH THE IDEA OF "SLEEP HYGIENE": This concept actually came into my life when my sister was trying to get her troika of kiddos to sleep like normal human beings and not the toddler-monsters they really are. It was impossible till she got them on the "routine." And the routine is sacrosanct and you know, it kind of gets the little buggers into that whole "you are going to sleep soon" mindset. There's all kinds of sleep hygiene things to do, from getting exercise to turkey to dark, cool rooms; you can read more about them here. For me, there's nothing like a hot shower, clean pajamas, Herodotus (I can't read fiction at night, it will keep me up like crazy) and NO METAL OR POST-PUNK, no matter how much I want to listen to it.
DON'T BE HUNGRY OR DIRTY BEFORE YOU SLEEP: This is a ridiculous mental pattern I fall into sometimes: I stay up so late that I forget to eat or do stuff like brush my teeth and wash my face. Then I'm so tired I don't feel like doing any of these things, but I know it's WRONG, so I sit on my bed and argue with myself: "BUT I DON'T WANNA GET UP, I JUST WANT TO SLEEP!" "But you'll get cavities if you don't brush your teeth..." "BUT I DON'T WANNA MOVE!!!!!" "DO YOU WANT TO BREAK OUT? THEN GET UP AND WASH YOUR FACE!" "BUT I DON'T WANNA!" And lo and behold, hours have passed and I hate life even more. So now I try, try, try to get all cleaned up and stuff right when I get home late at night so I can just pass out on my bed like a normal, non-neurotically disciplined person.
SEX: Yeah, sex is pleasantly exhausting sometimes. But seriously, I'm convinced that I will shack up not just for love or sex or connection or companionship, but because I tend to have better sleeping patterns when I'm cozied up with a dude with a comparatively healthier relationship to sleep. Maybe this is the odd "peer pressure" method to dealing with insomnia? I mean, what else am I going to do when a dude is asleep in my bed? It seems kind of rude to get up and potter around like I usually do...so I might as well sleep, too. And I do! I think this is the weirdest reason for me to lock it down with a dude, but it may just be the most compelling.
YOU GOTTA DEAL WITH WHAT KEEPS YOU UP IN THE FIRST PLACE: For me, I know it's the amount of stress that I put myself under and the crazy super-achiever shit I do sometimes, and just from being a classic textbook New York workaholic. I'm trying to figure out the best way to be passionate and driven while being healthy and balanced about other elements in my life but it's hard when a city never sleeps and you can only blog at night. What to do, what to do? It's an ongoing dialogue, but hopefully I'll be able to sleep on it one day.
COUNTING SHEEP WITH STEPHEN MALKMUS
When I was a wee teen, insomnia was one of my sweetest friends. I'd wake up in the middle of the night all the damn time, look at the clock and just radiate joy over the fact that there were at least three or four hours till I had to drag my ass outta bed and board the stupid school bus. I liked to lie awake for a long while and listen to records, write stories in my head or just dream about making out with certain rockstars (or someone imaginary, or the stoner boy at school who was really good at basketball and probably the most Todd Sparrow-esque creature I've ever known). It's easily one of the three things I miss most about high school.
Now I'm way older and still wake up in the middle of the night all the damn time, but it's not so lovely anymore. These days insomnia invariably means staring at the ceiling and fretting about The State Of The World, plus other troubling things of a more personal nature. It's annoying! I hate anxiety! Probably the miracle cure for my sleep woes is to stop being such a worrywart, somehow, but - in the meanwhile - here are some things that usually help:
NATURAL SLEEP AIDS AND THE SUCH. One good thing about my line of work is I've written at least 12 articles on "How to Sleep Better, Naturally," and a lotta the stuff I've learned has actually come in kinda handy. For starters, listen to what Kat said about sleep hygiene. Reading in bed for a while before shutting out the lights helps a bunch too. And get yourself a little bottle of lavender essential oil (I like Aura Cacia's) and put a few drops on your pillow - but not more than four or so, cuz supposedly the oil's stimulating rather than sedative if you use too much. I also wear a sleep mask sometimes, since I live in lovely light-polluted Los Angeles where nighttime is almost as bright as daytime, sort of. And when the going's real rough I take valerian, in the form of Herb Pharm's Relaxing Sleep Tonic. It tastes terrible, but it helps.
COUNTING SHEEP. Actually, I don't count sheep. I count backwards from 100, over and over, and it tends to work. The hard part's not getting distracted and thinking troublesome thoughts, but if you can stay on track, chances are you're good as gold.
IF THE SUN'S UP, GET THE HELL OUTTA BED. "Waking up way too early" is consistently a major prob for me, and sometime last fall I decided to deal with it by getting up, getting coffee, and getting on with my day. It's nice to be out and about before most of the world has woken up, and there's lots of music that sounds extra-lovely in the early morn. The Beatles are a very good band, for instance.
OWN IT! Lately I'm trying to reclaim insomnia as "my sweet friend," which is hard - I'm a girl who needs her eight hours, and it's my instinct to resent anything that might try to steal even one of those precious hours away from me. But if you can let go a little and resist the freakout impulse, magic things might happen. Like, one night last summer it took me a thousand years to fall asleep, and the next morning I woke up to find "What if there were more than one Paul McCartney?" written in the notebook beside my bed, which turned out to be a totally life-changing question. Also, one time on Christmas Eve I was so excited about opening my presents the next day, I just stayed up all night long and watched Titanic almost three times in a row on pay-per-view (courtesy of the scrambler that used to be attached to the TV in my old bedroom). Titanic came out in 1997, which means I was 20 at the time. I'm really into Christmas.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, JUST LISTEN TO "FILLMORE JIVE" BY PAVEMENT AND FEEL SORRY FOR YOURSELF.
Or just sing it in your head. It's so good! Imagine Malkmus is running his fingers through your hair as he serenades you. Wait, no: Imagine you're running your fingers through Malkmus's hair as he serenades himself. That's probably a lot closer to the way things would actually shake out. (Liz)
LAURA JANE TAKES BACK THE NIGHT
ABOVE: Be cool like John Lennon in this photo, NOT like John Lennon in "I'm So Tired"!
Ever since I stopped being a newborn baby, I've had insomnia. Bad insomnia. I had insomnia when I was eleven, I had insomnia when I was twenty-three, I had insomnia when I was, like, four. But I don't have insomnia anymore! Which means that I've figured out the only solution for curing insomnia that actually works, and now I'm going to tell you it.
LJ-brand insomnia is the sort of insomnia informed by stress and anxiety. I am generally a high-strung human being with a tendency to "freak out" and "have emotional breakdowns." I am the type of person who makes to-do lists, and sometimes I make little check-off boxes next to the different tasks on my to-do list. But I've mostly stopped making the check-boxes, because they stress me out. And that's what insomnia is: indulging my manic inclination to fret and fuss over things as absolutely insignificant as "check-boxes " There have been periods of my life wherein I regularly experienced insomnia so severe that it would literally keep me awake all the whole night through. I would stir and sweat and shake and smoke, running through every single thing I had to do tomorrow and imagining how tough it would be to carry out these tasks while running on 5, 4, 3, 2, or 0 hours sleep. I would look at my alarm clock and subtract the time it was from the time I had to get up at and think "If I fall asleep exact right now, I will get exactly three hours and twenty-three minutes of sleep tonight" and then I'd flip out and think "OH MY GOD THAT IS SO NOT AN ADEQUATE AMOUNT OF SLEEP!" and then I'd stay up for the remainder of the night stressing out about inadequate sleep amounts.
If you're that type of insomniac, lavender oil, "visualizing yourself relaxing on a beach" and/or Simply Sleeps From The Makers Of Tylenol ain't gonna solve shit. Your only hope is called EMBRACiNG INSOMNIA. I invented it, kind of. It's a two-step program. The first step toward embracing insomnia is accepting the fact that you can't do the things you have to do tomorrow tonight at 3 AM. The second step is the "embracing insomnia" part of Embracing Insomnia. See- as far as things go, there are a lot worse of things than lazing around in a comfortable bed with absolutely no obligations to anyone or anything. Doesn't that sound so preferable to, like, work? Or school? Insomnia is fun. It's so easy! It's way easier than "the day", that's for sure. All you have to do is lie there! You can think about whatever you want. I like to make up stories in my head about my fake relationship with Syd Barrett, or imagine myself meeting Paul McCartney. Sometimes I play a game called "The Alphabet Game", where I write songs using words from all the letters of the alphabet in order, such as, "All babies can dig elephants/Friends gather here in a jukebox/Kids, Ladies, Men...etc."
And that's what you do. You stop freaking out about how you're having insomnia, and you enjoy some chill quiet hanging out within yourself brain-time. The longer I can exist in what Sir Paul McCartney calls "That Twilight Moment," the better. Sometimes I come up with really cool ideas in That Twilight Moment. For instance, just last night, I wrote down "Start saying 'Whatevsies'?" in That Twilight Moment. And I will. Whatevsies, Insomnia. (Laura Jane)
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