Can’t Sleep, Sleep Will Eat Me



I has it.

Well — erm, I did have it. Last night. And now I feel like a scarecrow with his stuffing-guts removed. A hollow, tattered burlap sack of a dude.

It doesn’t happen to me often, not anymore. Used to happen with some frequency, all the way back to elementary school. (I blame many of my current anxieties on school. Dang, I hated school.) But last night? Here she comes: the sleep-stealing succubus, nesting on my chest and vacuuming my breath into her lungs.

It started off so innocuously. A little Dexter at 9pm. Go up to bed, watch Mad Men from bed. Start to get a little sleepy around 10, but push through because — hey! Awesome show. And on commercial breaks, flip back to TBS, watch the Phillies not so much knock the Reds out of their own park with a home run but quietly steal bases from that team’s field of self-confidence until they are a withered unit, a poor version of the team that just beat their asses. (Seriously, look at the uniforms. The Reds wish they were the Phillies.)

But therein lies the problem.

By the time Mad Men ended and I caught the last 15 minutes of the Phillies game, the time mysteriously (maybe not so mysteriously) became 11:15, and then? Then I wasn’t the least bit tired. I was excited. Great episode of TV. Great game! Head’s-a-buzzing! Got a new novel idea! Hey, aren’t we traveling at the end of the week? Let’s think about that! Let’s think about everything. Anything in the world that demands thought, I can handle it. Large Hadron Collider? America, the Impoverished? Lyme Disease? (Did I mention I suffered a nasty tickbite over the weekend?) Fuck it. Let’s think about all of it right now.

And so: insomnia.

Insomnia of course feeds on itself: a self-replicating machine. Insomnia causes you to think about insomnia which raises your heart rate and blood pressure and general state of inexplicable panic, which of course only boosts the mercury in your own personal insomniac thermometer. Can’t sleep, sleep will eat me.

Doesn’t make sense, but there it is.

What I’m saying is, this is why you’ll get no awesome post this morning. I was writing up a post about how writers are, by necessity, sort of fucked-up people, and then — irony! — insomnia.

I finally got to sleep around, I dunno, 2 or 3 (only to wake up at quarter till 6), and I’m not entirely sure how I did it. I just know I managed to calm down enough and elicit a thorough “well, fuck it,” attitude toward the whole insomnia thing, going with the notion that, “Hey, if I don’t sleep tonight, then tomorrow will be amusing for everybody! Who needs sleep? Eff sleep right in the ay! ZZZzzzz.”

It does beg the question, though: what do you do about insomnia?

Do you suffer from it? (Hell, who doesn’t from time to time, right?)

Any tips and tricks on how to put your brain and thrumming heart to bed?

Anybody have any awesome “waking sleep” moments with that crazy legal hallucinogen known as “Ambien?” Man, you hear some goofy-ass stories of people whacked-out on that stuff. Good times.


  • Well, Chuck, you just described a good 70% or so my nights. Especially lately – I think I’ve totaled 7-ish hours the last three nights. Grrr … Like you, no real reason. It’s just something I’ve always had to deal with (Momma too, so I blame her damn genetics) but isn’t bad enough for me to want to get meds for it. I catch up eventually.

    When it does strike, it helps to get out of bed for an hour or so and read something. Try to avoid the bright lights shining right in my face, so the internet is off limits. Maybe do a little channel surfing until I’m so focused on nothing the old brain goes numb. That usually helps me get at least 2-3 hours before I wake up again. Repeat as necessary.

    I do find it’s not quite as bad when I get regular heavy exercise. Of course I don’t exactly have the time (or inclination) to spend 3 hours a day in the gym anymore. But a little vigorous exercise the morning after a bout of insomnia will help me function better than I would otherwise.

    • @Kate:

      That suuuuucks. Even more: that suuuuuhh-huhhhhhh-uuhhhhhhcks. You need all those breathy vowels to confirm its suckitude.

      Books would do it, but the problem is that I can’t wake up the wife. And I’m afraid that getting up and going to another room to read will be counterproductive. Might be wrong, though. Hurrm.

      Also: exercise after insomnia. Interesting. Will try that, thanks!

      — c.

  • Actually, getting out of the bedroom for the while is infinitely helpful. At least for me. I sleep next to the one man snore machine, so listening to him makes it all the more frustrating.

  • Getting out of bed usually helps me, too. I curl up on the sofa and turn on a “bed time story”- a movie or show that I’ve watched so many times I don’t get distracted by “omg what’s gonna happen next!”

  • I have the somewhat opposite problem: narcolepsy. Excessive daytime sleepiness. I’ll get dozy in the middle of meetings, sitting at my desk, even driving. Drop off and pop right into REM. Fortunately, I’m a pretty good driver in my dreams. Unfortunately, not good enough sometimes. I also lose track of what I’m doing when I drop off so I’ll sometimes find myself reading the same page of a book over and over, dropping off before I can turn the page.

    I regulate with medication when needed, but mostly just allow myself adequate naps.

  • I get insomnia a lot too. I have found that sometimes it helps to eat a turkey sandwich (trying for tryptophan) with either cheese or a glass of milk. Sometimes that will put me into a stupor enough to doze. Sometimes I try a warm bath.

    Other times I just lay awake and try to convince myself that I am not missing out on sleep, rather I am getting up insanely early for the next day. Like, 2 AM early.

  • In Russia, you don’t have Insomnia…..

    Holy monkey, do I know what you’re talking about. Under optimal circumstances, I have a bitch of a time gearing down the ol’ brainbox and heading off to La-La Land. Lately, my sleep cycle has changed settings to ‘dastardly’. Between a graveyard work schedule (home at 5.30am) and kidlets to get off to school (one at 9am and the other at 1pm), sleep is garnered in furtive spurts of a couple of hours at a time. Twice a week I have a shot at a full night’s sleep, but that’s only available during the hours I’m awake and busting ass the other five days of the week.

    Sooooo……I’ve tried damn near everything to fight off the slobbery demon, Insomniel. Sleeping pills? Not a chance, they always leave you feeling like a suck-ass prize-fighter when you crawl out of bed. Reading? That works sometimes, but the material has to be as dry as a popcorn fart or else I get sucked in. TV/computer? Flickerbox baaaad. Too easy to lose track of time.

    About the only thing that has any consistent success is meditation. A bit of zazen clears the mind, calming the mental waters enough to get to sleep. The downside of that? You start associating meditation as a precursor to sleep and you start losing the efficacy of meditation as meditation. For now, it’s a fair trade-off. I’ve been a horrible Buddhist for a while now. I’m sure my dharma will understand a short while of half-lotus evolving into fetal for a bit.

  • One tip that I live by is that the bedroom is for sleeping or sexing, nothing else.

    Your mind is a creature of habit.

    If you eat in bed, read in bed, watch TV in bed, or do your deep thinking in bed, your mind dissociates the environment with sleep. As soon as that association is broken, the little triggers in your brain that say “hey jackass, it’s pillow time” stop firing.

    Same thing goes for bright lights. The human body is very photosensitive, so you should avoid high contrasts of lighting around bedtime. This could include a flickering TV in a dark room, a computer monitor, or bright lights in your bathroom as you’re getting ready for sleep.

    Think of it this way, 10 minutes of bright lights = 1 cup of coffee to your brain.

    And knowing is half the battle!

  • Insomnia since second grade when a bully, Louis Moonblatt (doesn’t he cry out to be the villain in a novel) kept letting the hall door slam on me. I used to just have trouble getting to sleep; now it’s at both ends. Have tried all the over the counters. Magnesium helps to keep me asleep a bit longer. I am taking klonopin every night now because my doctor finally came to believe that four hours of fitful sleep wasn’t enough. But the effect will wear off as did xanax two years ago.
    Don’t do anything in bed but sleep, read and have sex. And the reading should be dull stuff.

    • Generally, while I think the “sleep/sex” rule of beds is probably a good one, I’ve been watching TV in bed for a long time. Generally, TV puts me to sleep. It, like reading, helps put me in a distracted frame of mind — and the bright light doesn’t bother me.

      It’s just, last night, man. Phillies game + great episode of Mad Men did a number on me.

      — c.

  • Insomnia is one of the reasons I gave up caffeine. (The other was anxiety.)

    Aside from that, my approach is similar to Paul’s: I’m trying to kick my nervous system back to parasympathetic mode. So I consciously relax all of my muscles and slow my breath (four counts in, eight counts out). And if there’s any room left in my brain, I think of things I know make me feel relaxed and happy. Mine might be, say, snuggling with one of my little kids; yours might be petting your dog, or hugging your wife, or… I don’t know, you figure it out.

    Anyway, insomnia sucks. I’m sorry you had a rotten night.

  • Having suffered from intermittent insomnia my whole life, I have developed some techniques. A couple have already been mentioned (Bed is for sleep and sex only, go read when you can’t sleep). In particular, when you’re reading, make sure it’s not something ultra riveting (or scary, as I learned when reading It). You don’t want it to be something that keeps you up because you want to read it so much.

    But the biggest piece of advice I can give is: The time is your enemy. Do you have a bedside clock? Turn it away from you. When you’ve got insomnia, never look at the time. It only makes things worse. You look at the clock and go “Shit! It’s 11:30! I have to get up in seven hours!” And then you can’t sleep, look at the clock and go “Shit! It’s 12:30! I’m only gonna get six hours of sleep!” “Shit! 1:30! Five hours!”

    And so on. It just makes you more anxious about your insomnia, and how little sleep you’re gonna get.

  • I get insomnia on occasion and man does it piss me off. Generally it’s lights out around 10:30pm for me. To sleep better I try to start winding down around 9-9:30. Have a cup of caffeine free tea with milk, wash face, brush teeth, and read. This gets me more relaxed and usually leads to a good night of sleep.

    Of course this doesn’t usually happen. I mean, I can use that hour to play video games. Adrenaline inducing shooters and intense raids are good for sleeping. Right?

  • Patrick: “But the biggest piece of advice I can give is: The time is your enemy. Do you have a bedside clock? Turn it away from you. When you’ve got insomnia, never look at the time. It only makes things worse. You look at the clock and go “Shit! It’s 11:30! I have to get up in seven hours!” And then you can’t sleep, look at the clock and go “Shit! It’s 12:30! I’m only gonna get six hours of sleep!” “Shit! 1:30! Five hours!”

    And so on. It just makes you more anxious about your insomnia, and how little sleep you’re gonna get.”

    Oh yes. This this this. I NEVER look at my clock once I’ve gone to bed. Even if I’m sleeping well and wake up for a piss. The moment I look at the clock I start to freak out.

  • My solution? if it’s not a regular thing or cause, a couple benadryl and zonk.

    (Remember kids: Chemicals are the Natural way of life)

    Failing that I create an amusing, brain-smashing or completely munchkin gaming character. Be it an invisible pixie decker in shadowrun, a malkovian malkavian Machiavellian doctor in NWoD vampire, or a halfling Pastafarian monk in D&D. The idea is that if my brain is going to be working I’ll give it something to do. My body will eventually catch up to it and I’ll wake up in the morning surrounded by half-remember notes like “Mdfy decanter of water, pot of endless psta: Weapon 1d4, grease spell & food.” or “Believes everything on the matrix: Trolls immune to stick&shock”

  • I’ve been trying to earn my cap of “Sleep before Midnight” (which gains its plus modifiers for every night I manage it.) Last night I went to BED before Midnight… sleep? I think I made it to sleep before 2am.

    The most obvious thing, of course, is not to set your sleep schedule that late. Circadian rhythm or just habit, it’s just too easy to think that sleep is where our extra minutes of accomplishment come from.

    My bedroom is my refuge, so keeping the bed “only” for anything is talking nonsense to me. The light thing – very important. The notebook by the bed to write down those niggling thoughts – very important. Self-pleasuring? Not always the connection you want to build in your head… (“Whee! ZZzzz.”) The exercise method? Awesome, except that it generally wakes you up. I could recommend a ton of herbal concoctions, or namebrand chemicals.

    My secret? Giving up. Getting up and deciding to do things anyway. Works almost every time. Except that the stuff I write while szonkner’d (I don’t think that’s a real word – I blame lack of sleep) just isn’t as good. The muse does not steal the insomnia fairy’s clothing. (She says it’s tacky at best.)

  • Insomnia is part of the reason I went freelance. How’s that for overreacting? I could manage to make it to work on time, but I’d be out of it for the first four hours, then only really get into the swing of work right about the time it was time to leave. I don’t do my best work on a strict schedule.

    Most of the tricks I’ve learned in my extensive research before giving in and just going freelance have already been mentioned here. Bed = sleep. Reading. Around an hour of no intense activity before going to bed. No bright light contrasts. One more to add would be that keeping a schedule is supposed to help.

    Might I suggest finding a good *business* book that will help you on the business aspects of your life. Re-reading those to keep the principals in your mind is not a bad idea, and once you’re through the book once re-reading it is probably dull enough to put you under. I do that sometimes.

  • Coincidentally, the wife couldn’t sleep last night either. Maybe an alien race was trying to invade & you two foiled their plan with wakefulness.

    I don’t know if this helps, & it’s kinda my answer for everything but I eat. As much as it takes to get that sated, sleepy feeling. But, again, there’s a chance I may try to cure dismemberment with Munchos.


  • I don’t have a problem with insomnia because I have a job that simulates the condition wonderfully. Bed at Midnight, 1:00am, 2:00am… up at 5:00. Do that shit all week! Do it with Alcohol! It helps! This job is camp, so there’s no girlfriend to keep me up with all sorts of fun enticing shit, so despite the fact that I’m waking up at 4:30 I’m still getting a decent sleep. But most of the home jobs… I know I can function for a week straight on 4 hours of sleep a night because I’ve done it many times. Though I usually sleep 16 hours for 3 days straight after that. It’s really interesting discovering what you’re capable of when you totally disregard anything resembling a sleep schedule.

  • I’ve seen it mentioned that the bed[room] is for sex. This strikes me as a bit bizarre perhaps because I am a Millennial and we’ve been conditioned to understand that sex is to be had everywhere, and indeed anywhere, other than the bed.

    However, there is an important point wherein sex is involved, and that is that it is the ultimate sedative (though I know that some of my unhappy ex-girlfriends might argue that sex with me was actually the ultimate soporific).

    Vigorous, emphatic sex will definitely cure insomnia, and if performed with sufficient conviction, might even induce periodic narcolepsy so be sure to moderate but not restrain your ardor.

    Drugs will not help, neither will habituation. Backbreaking sex will solve all your nighttime woes. And if it doesn’t, then at least the bed itself will be permanently damaged, and you shall have had the ultimate revenge.

  • So we told you about the time J took ambien and needed help getting to the bedroom from the dining room? Yes, the 20 foot trip? Ah, and he has a lyme disease story for you too. All I know is he was misdiagnosed by the brilliant doc, then had to stay out of the sun for a month of summer while on meds to make him better. I think he liked the ambien better.

  • I’ve had this problem for about 15 years now. Recently I hit on something simple that fixed it for me, no idea if it will for you.

    I don’t think of it as going to sleep; I think of it as going home.

    If that doesn’t work, this is the method I used with good success:

    1). Lie down, flat and relaxed.
    2). Draw in a deep lungful, through the nose, to capacity.
    3). Draw in one last sip.
    4). Hold it for 60 seconds.
    5). Release it as slowly as possible, verbalising ‘relax.’
    6). Take two good breaths.
    7). Repeat.
    8). Crash out.


  • Learn Tai Chi…I mean REALLY learn it! practice it! And then if you really need it you can employ some of the Taoist meridian massages (kidney and foot) that will calm your self down to the right space for sleep. That probably sounds hard and perhaps a bit “exotic”…Fine then,.. Drink some Valerian tea…if either of those are too much for you, then you will likely be awake to think about it longer or you will simply take a pill that will not only help you to fall asleep, but to stay that way once you are awake;)
    Pleasant dreams:)

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