Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sleep Is My Elusive Friend

I chase sleep like my Labrador retriever chases deer in the fall.

Sometimes he is relentless in his pursuit, staying gone for hours and coming home with a happy, panting face. Other times he knows it's no use, they're already too far away and instead of bothering, he sits at the end of my driveway and howls mournfully. Sometimes I think the deer toy with him and he's not in the mood so instead he just stands and barks, looking into the woods.

He never actually catches a deer, however, so in that regard we are still different. He did wind up with a deer in the yard one day this week, through careful plotting and cooperation with several other dogs and perhaps coyotes, who stole two hunters' prizes from where they been hung during the night. Although he was fat and happy after the success, he didn't get to keep it.

While sometimes I pursue sleep and sometimes I sit and bemoan its escape, I do manage to catch my own sleep. But like Rebel, whatever means I use to catch it, I never get to keep it as long as I would like.

I have what I consider a healthy fear of lying in bed and not sleeping. My often tenuous grip on anything resembling emotional stability would be completely undone by a sleepless night, or even an hour or so of tossing and turning in a quiet bedroom. The past cannot be changed and no amount of mentally rearranging reality is going to bring my son back or give me a measure of peace. I know that it would, in fact, do the exact opposite and that once it began just a few tosses and turns might cast me loose without a rudder on a dark and stormy sea.

So I pursue sleep with a careful plan that most nights gets me into bed before midnight and quickly to sleep.

It hinges on not going to bed until I'm positively falling asleep on the couch, sometimes watching a recorded television program (so I can pick up later where I left off) and other times fumbling through a few games of Words With Friends until my eyes begin to slip shut. No reading, because reading never makes me sleepy, although the Kindle would allow me to read with lights off.

That transition to la la land is eased most nights with a glass of wine. Or on bad evenings, a couple of glasses. I realize I'm using a chemical crutch, but at the same time is it any worse than seeing my doctor for a sleep aid? I think not. Plus red wine has health benefits and I do use a 5-ounce glass.

Before enjoying my sedative, I take care of the whole bedtime routine carefully. I wash my face and change into my pajammas. I avoid Facebook and stay away from my blog because they can be emotional triggers. I cut off all lights at 10 p.m. to set the mood. I do everything but brush my teeth, which I do in a dark room, in an effort to avoid disrupting my slide into oblivion.

Some nights, I'm done before 11. Other nights I'm easing up on 12 before my eyelids are heavy enough to feel safe setting my mind free. But every night, despite my fear, I've been able to sleep.

Mornings are the hard time because I have no control over when my eyes will flutter open to still dark windows, a clock telling me the hour is far too early to be forced to begin my day.

While I'm used to getting up before 7, there have been many days in the last two weeks that I'm up before 6 and a few really desperate mornings when my internal alarm was triggered before 5. There's already coffee, (my husband has to be at work by 5) and as soon as I move most mornings my canine companions are ready to hit the back yard and see if they can scare up a squirrel or at least rattle the cage (literally) of my irritable rabbit.

I figure I'm losing a night's sleep every five to seven days and don't see any hope of gaining ground.

Because just as I chase sleep at night, I run from it during the day. Even before my sleep pattern became so disrupted, a doze on the sofa could easily spawn a sleepless night, even if my nap was a short one. I think I've managed one midafternoon snooze, and while it was desperately needed it still caused a delay at bedtime.

Hence, the coffee consumption that begins at whatever time I stumble out of bed doesn't end most days until dinner and sometimes later. I know I'm drinking too much coffee, but I haven't been able to find any way around it. That morning half-pot may be followed by a pre-lunch cup of joe if the morning has been really long. When nap time comes for the girls, I need coffee to avoid joining them, especially since only two of three usually sleep (even if I could nap without losing sleep, that wouldn't be a good option). Many afternoons I need at least one more to keep me upright until they head home shortly after 8 p.m.

Pretty soon after that it's time to decelerate, so I feel like I'm probably not getting really good gas mileage by always being on the gas or the brakes.

Still, despite the brevity of some nights, I have not had the sleepless nights I so fear. Sleep, my friend, always settles in at some point to keep me company for a few hours. While I still long for a morning sleeping in, an ease in the pervasive exhaustion that I carry like a weight across my head and shoulders, I'm relieved that sleep has not deserted me.

Sleep, although elusive, has not decided to abandon me to my grief, but each night gives me a few hours of total peace where not even dreams come to torment me. For that I have to be thankful.

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