In the second teaser from KYD issue 22, Eleanor Hogan battles against insomnia.
In the summer it returns. Scandi-noir drama binge watching combined with forty-plus degree weather conspires to push my usual date with bed from 11:30pm to 1.00am and beyond. I writhe on sour, sweaty sheets, cursing politicians who deny the existence of climate change. In the less-known hours of the morning I surf my smartphone, stumbling across an article that describes my nocturnal activities as ‘sleep procrastination’.
For the past few months I’ve been frequenting chemist shops, buying Phenergan, a drowse-inducing antihistamine, or Restavit, an over-the-counter sleeping aid. I used to buy the night-strength version of Mersyndol, a heavy-duty painkiller that put me under like a knock on the head, but disconcerting palpitations accompanied the slide into sleep. Recently, while alternating between Phenergan and Restavit, I’ve had a couple of near misses on my bike riding to work. More to the point, I’m tired of living so much of my life through the fog of fatigue.
Insomnia for me is less a black dog than a yapping heliotrope one that’s kept me awake through the watches of the night for years. My sleep has been patchy, intermittent for most of my life; the supposed eight-hour norm is an unachievable ideal for me. I usually sleep like David in Six Feet Under – with a special pillow, earplugs, an eye cover and a mouthguard. I find it difficult to sleep with anyone else in the bed. I wake in response to noise, light – even a smell, like cigarette smoke, can rouse me. Chamomile tea, along with valerian, lavender oil, melatonin and relaxation tapes, have no effect on me. A yoga teacher once put a sandbag over my face during savasana (or corpse pose, the nap on the mat that traditionally ends classes) ‘to quieten the chattering Western mind’. Apparently she knew just from looking at me that mine wouldn’t shut up.
When I was in my twenties, I could easily wing the next day after a sleepless night and pass for normal after several nights of four hours sleep. But two decades later I’m weepingly, howlingly tired after a run of four-hour nights. I don’t think I’m depressed; nothing is worrying me in particular, except my inability to sleep.
Casting about for drug-free insomnia remedies on the net I discover an app, CBT-i Coach, developed by the US Department of Veteran Affairs for returning servicemen: if nothing else, advice about ‘weapons and sleep’ gives away its source. The CBT-i Coach’s main goal is to reset your biological clock, so you’ll sleep more regularly, by restricting your time in bed to certain hours (at night, of course). You log how long you actually sleep in a diary on the app. If you wake during the night, you’re to perform mundane tasks such as cleaning out drawers, making school lunches, shredding old bills and so forth, until you feel drowsy enough to return to bed.
I download the CBT-i Coach onto my phone out of a combined sense of curiosity and frustration. During my first week using the app, my sleep ranges from five-and-a-half to seven hours a night: a good score, by my books. Whenever the dog of insomnia yaps me into wakefulness, I rise dutifully to match unpaired socks, reorganise kitchen cupboards and cull junk jewellery until I can no longer stay upright. But halfway through the second week my time asleep drops below five, then four hours a night – at which point the app advises me to see a health professional.
I’m alarmed; the CBT-i Coach seems to have lost its potency already. Reflecting on the situation and my frequent relapses into insomnia, my experience is of forgetting how – then trying maybe too hard – to sleep. Perhaps what I need is someone who can help me remember how to fall asleep.
The hypnotist is fortyish with a genial, rumpled ‘dad-like’ persona. I can imagine him jogging up-and-down the soccer sidelines on a Saturday morning, although there’s an underlying intensity to his presence. I found him on the internet and was satisfied by his qualifications, and by online interviews, that he had some substance as a practitioner. He listens patiently while I explain that I’ve forgotten how to sleep.
Want to read the rest? Issue 22 will be available online Monday 6th July! Be the first to read it by purchasing a print or online subscription to KYD (and go in the draw to win a share in $700 worth of book vouchers!)
Image credit: Mislav Marohnic