I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (Tired)

There could be a hundred reasons why I’m not getting a decent night’s kip at the moment. But I mustn’t lose sleep over it…

A sleeping man's feet
Image: Wokandapix/pixabay

THERE’S A SCENE in the movie, Parker, when love interest Jennifer Lopez asks serial killer Jason Statham how he sleeps at night. 

He replies: ‘I don’t drink coffee after seven.’ 

​Oh Jase, if it were only that simple…

Because I never take caffeine after seven, yet I’ve been tossing and turning all night, and wish I knew why.

It’s been going on for a while, this restlessness.

Although I have no trouble getting off to sleep at first, I usually wake up about four hours later – then seem to hover just under the threshold of consciousness for the rest of the night.

And the worst thing about this not-quite sleep is that I’m also assailed by a swirl of worried thoughts, half-dreams and self-accusation about things that I’ve done, haven’t done or fantasised that I’ve done.

On Saturday morning, I had another episode and told my wife I’d dreamed I had done something awful.

She said I should be glad that I hadn’t committed this (now-forgotten) atrocity, and I was, of course.

But I was also quite shaken up by having the dream at all. It took me some time – more than an hour – to shake the unpleasantness of it all and start having a normal day.

The problem happened again this morning – me waking up feeling upset about nothing real – and, this time, it took an hour-long run to put my mind and my day back on the right track.

So what’s causing the shallow sleep and the nasty dreams? I’m fucked if I know.

It could be so many things: stress, sleep patterns changing as I get older, perhaps just The Missus or me snoring.

Perhaps it was the two – just two – beers I’d had the night before. Mayhap the fact that it’s summer, when we sleep with the window open to any sound outside.

It could just be London, where everyone seems to think they can make all the noise they like – whether it’s a party from 2am-6am down the road, or some arsehole cabbie sounding his horn at four in the morning rather than get out and knock on a door for his client.

It might be the pissed idiot passing our window at 3am last night and saying loudly: “I don’t give a shit about it.”  Hmm. Clearly.

Then, at five, the trains start running on the track about 75 metres away from our home and I often give up trying to keep my eyes closed. Another day, another poor start.

It’s not that I’m not trying to sleep better. Every night, I settle quietly into my slumbers by reading a relaxing book until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore, and I keep my tablet and phone out of arm’s reach.

I do lots of exercise, although the fact that I’d been puffing up hills on my bike just a few hours earlier didn’t help me summon Morpheus last night.

I’ve tried deep Yoga-style breathing and Counting Hills – my version of Counting Sheep, where I bore myself comatose by replaying everything I remember about recent runs and rides.

I’ve even got tough with my inner self: I’d read The Chimp Paradox, by psychologist Professor Steve Peters, which pointed out that if we wake before 7am our thoughts are “very often disturbing, catastrophic and lacking in perspective.”

So, last night, I distinctly remember telling myself that I was talking bullshit and ordered my panicked thoughts to just shut up. I’m not sure if it worked, although it probably proves that I wasn’t really asleep.

One thing that I know that I must avoid – even more than coffee after 1900 hours – is obsessing about it, because worrying about poor sleep risks opening another can of worms altogether.

Earlier this year, the psychoanalyst and author Darian Leader wrote a fascinating article in which he noted that – pre-1850 – the dominant sleeping pattern was two four-hour cycles interrupted by a two-hour waking period called “watching”.

Somehow, this made me feel a little better about having to get up for a pee after four hours, every night since about 2005.

But Leader also warns against taking our Zeds too seriously when a Sleep Aid industry worth an estimated £76 billion annually is just itching to ‘solve’ our problems by selling us Space Age mattresses, Smart Watches, Gurus, supplements and pillow sprays.

“Like so many other aspects of human life,” Leader writes “sleep has now become a commodity which we are desperate to acquire and never quite sure of possessing.”

So, pissed off as I am that I’m not sleeping, I can always try again tonight. And surely, by the Law of Averages, I must conk out properly at some point.

I’m also started thinking that, much as I love summer, things might improve on the slumber front once the nights start to draw in again, we can close the bedroom window, and things generally become more conducive to nightly hibernation.

Of course, waking oneself up again on a winter’s morning is a completely different problem but – at the moment – I’m happy to cross that particular bridge when I come to it…    ​

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