I swear if I ever get to sleep good again, I won’t tell a soul. Its a treasure worth keeping secret.
I feel like as soon as I bragged on it, good sleep went away. I should’ve known better tho — It was suspicious to begin with, that among the widespread reaction to COVID19, my sleep would improve. Fun fact about me: I freak out when I’m the only one freaking out. So while true, my initial panic was relieved when everyone began respecting the severity of the situation we found ourselves in, which included the closure of many businesses and strong encouragement to stay home from state and city officials — I slept better than I had before, for a few days.
But then it stopped.
The thing about sleep, is that it’s healing. Rest resets the body. There is, I believe, a certain level of trauma to simply being awake. To see, think, experience; to move, affect, and make associations all day in waking life has a degree of shock, it sneaks up on you and leaves an imprint. Sometimes conscious, often subconscious. Sleep, whether you remember your dreams or not, restocks your shelves, categorizes the experiences, files away the newly created feelings into the shorthand language of memories.
Less abstractly, sleep also just allows the muscles you used all day, to chill. In fact, your whole body chills…literally, if your sleep cycle is aligned with the Sun, then the coolest hour of the night is reflected in your drop of body temperaure. In optimal sleep cycles, the heart’s bpm slows down, the blood pressure thereby also lowers. Sleep is legit the coolest thing you can do.
In regards to actual healing, the body’s immune system releases proteins called cytokines during sleep. These cytokines produce cells that protect us against infections, regulate immune responses to disease, inflammation, and even trauma!— In general, the production of disease fighting antibodies and cells decreases when your sleep is flat out trash. Hence the emphasis on rest and sleep when you’re sick.
The body you take into sleep is like a dirty car going thru a car wash, at the end of the night’s tunnel, that dawn that wakes you, recovers a cleansed, refreshed body. You feel it immediately when you sleep good. And there’s certainly no doubt whether it happened or not. When you slept good, you know you slept good, your body tells you.
One of the fucked up part of insomnia is uncertainty. Because some nights your eyelids could be shut during the whole thing but you’re awake. But then there are moments during which your mind wanders off, and you can’t account for your consciousness in those lost instances, so maybe sleep happened in that time. In David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club, Edward Norton’s character, who remains nameless throughout the story, has insomnia, he describes it in the beginning of the film and I’ll paraphrase:
When you have insomnia nothing is real, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy…you’re never really awake and you’re never really asleep.
The words feel very Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel by the same name the film is adapted from. Palahniuk is great at applying just enough poetry and rhythm to his ideas that still feel very real and succinct. The description fully captures the quasi-world quality of my sleepless nights, it feels like time hits different too. Like suddenly there’s more minutes in an hour, more seconds in a minute but yet time still manages to hurry past you with all its paradox; and suddenly the Sun’s rising; and every opportunity to sleep was abandoned at the station, as every train departed.
And despite not being sure if you nodded off for a second or two, your body hasn’t healed. The same tired eyes you went to bed with are still tired. They feel full, like actual bags carrying everything you saw the day before. Your heart never slowed and as you get more anxious over sleep and if it will come, it speeds up, operating like a sabertooth tiger is right outside your door, flooded with adrenaline in case you have to physically fight or escape it.
Fun fact: Fight or flight is not who you want in your corner when you’re tryna catch some Zzzs.
So the body drags that same trauma from the previous day into the next. After enough nights, it accumulates to a kinda normalcy (copy of a copy of a copy of a…) that makes the damage less noticeable but no less harmful.
I’m not sure how to make it end because it requires both the ease of apprehensions that cloud the mind at night, and the simultaneous belief that sleep will happen…When you fear it won’t — Tossing and turning in bed, vigilantly anticipating the moment you drift off into sleep — That’s when things start to go downhill. I’ve had these problems before, they do go away….when they do, you celebrate it by not thinking about them. It reminds me of what comic book writer Rick Remender wrote in an issue of Deadly Class pertaining to depression. The main character Marcus reflects:
“Depression is a big fucked up monster. Everyone gets a turn, whether or not they want to own up to it. It’s a hard fight that fucks you top to bottom. Drains you hollow. And when you’re finally rid of it, there’s something about having overcome it that robs you of compassion…Secretly, in the darkest pits of your self-centered subconscious…you’re just happy it’s not you anymore. The black dog moved on.”
Insomnia feels that way to me. I’m just happy to be let off the hook eventually. I don’t want to analyze too much, for no other reason than the superstitious fear I’ll get sucked back in.
But I do believe the answer is in the subconscious, where most answers tend to be. Factors that change during the day, often subtle, help you sleep better at night. It’s about the right experiences, that leave the mind in a state of absence by the time it goes to bed and sleep awaits it there like a loyal lover.
That absence is everything.
You want to be present during your days so that you can be absent when it’s time to sleep, to get out of the way and let the healing wash over your mind, body, and soul. To heal your eyes, to make sense of life by volunteering to let it go, momentarily in a suspended state. To see and move thru truths with acceptance as they visit throughout your day, as opposed to putting their appointments off till bedtime. What does that even look like during the day? That’s the work I have ahead of me.
The current state of affairs can be overwhelming and even if you’re taking it easy, there’s plenty that can sneak into your psyche while you’re adapting to the new normal. A present too heavy to be processed all at once. I’m hoping writing this was a start. An acknowledgment of the present I partially neglect; and by acknowledging, identifying myself as an eyewitness. Saying I’m here and so are you…let’s talk…let’s reconcile…let’s try and sleep well.