Beside me, a man is sleeping peacefully. He has probably had three cases of insomnia in his lifetime without sleep deprivation. He boasts that he can fall asleep standing up, and he can.
Next to him is a woman who has spent more than half the nights of her life battling insomnia. This woman was told that even as a baby, she resisted naps, slept only briefly, and moaned at the mere thought of being put in her crib.
These two sleeping opposites had married and expected to live happily ever after.
I admit that I don’t like my husband’s good fortune. It might be mean and mean of me, but I do. He never spends the night struggling with his pillow, readjusting his blankets, and then getting out of bed with watery eyes and exhausted in the morning. My husband lays his head on a pillow which I consider an instrument of torture because it is as flat as a pancake, says goodnight to me and off we go. No white noise machine is playing in his ear. No sheet of high number of threads is necessary for its rest.
I, on the other hand, have this white noise machine handy every night, and now the addiction is probably psychological. The steady hum presumably cradles the restless sleeper in the arms of Hypnos, the god of sleep, but in my case that’s just another emblem of insomnia.
In case you were wondering, I don’t take sleeping pills. I firmly resist because I’m a control freak who doesn’t want to surrender to them. I know it’s probably crazy, but it’s unlikely to change. So I tried other approaches to those sleepless nights in which I go over everything that is wrong with my life, the lives of my children and grandchildren, in the country and in the world.
Sometimes late night infomercials make me jump out of bed, tiptoe to the kitchen phone, and order for a miraculous night cream. Or, I turn to books and magazines, not all of the highest quality, that are stacked on my nightstand for those hectic times. I’m now one of the undisputed masters of 12 Ways to Redecorate Your Budget Den, 10 Tips to Effortlessly Lose Weight While Eating Chocolate, and (I’m blushing) 5 Ways to Make Your Man Happy.
Some evenings I will send emails. My daughters often wake up to emails sent to them at the most unusual hours, full of motherly advice (they don’t kiss them) and schedule details (which they ignore).
Of course, there are occasional mid-night snacks. Peanut butter on crackers at 2:10 a.m. Frozen cake at 4:10 a.m. Leftover meatloaf at dawn.
The holidays can be especially intimidating for insomniacs like me. The inability to browse more than one room or a small suite is problematic. Ditto for the alien bed, sheets and blankets. I now carry my own pillow to places that already offer them just to feel more secure, which of course makes my husband wince.
Yet on a milestone birthday, my long-suffering bedmate kindly arranged for a weekend. He booked a room in a New York City hotel after making all kinds of thoughtful requests to management: a room on the top floor so no one could disturb his insomniac wife by slamming on the floor. A room far from the elevator where people are talking too loudly, and certainly the end of a hallway so that very few slamming doors break through the sound barrier. An extra-firm bed, always my preference. We checked in, checked the room and found it as specified. And after a night out on the town, we settled in for the perfect night’s sleep I had imagined.
I can report that our room at the end of the hall on the top floor of the hotel on the quiet side of the building was indeed incredibly quiet. So quiet that of course I couldn’t sleep for a wink. No crackles, no noise from the street, nothing.
If there’s a next time, a post-pandemic getaway to New York or Chicago to celebrate another milestone anniversary, we’ll go for the plush mattress and the noisy side, near the elevator, of course. Who knows? Hope is everlasting for just one night’s restful sleep a day.
Sally Friedman is a freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.