Thursday, June 25, 2009


I mark some phases of my life by how I didn't sleep.

Before tests in grade school, my brain kept re-winding the facts that I'd memorized, facts I needed if I was going to get A or A+.

Before I asked my father for permission to go to NYC for the summer (he told me to present all the pros and cons), I went over and over the reasons why an eleven-year-old needed to studying dance in New York City before she was twelve. I presented facts on age, muscles, and youthful flexibility. I included facts proving to Daddy that I was mature enough to live in a rooming house.

Later, when I was seventeen and on my own, living temporarily in a rented room on 12th street -- the noises, lights flashing in the window kept unraveling the neatly knitted sleeve of my plans. I definitely developed insomnia.

Liquor? It made me sleepy (still does). Waking in the morning with a headache is not good for taking dance classes, n0t good for the morning things on my current agenda.

Pills ... When a doctor prescribes them for a month (sometimes the pill works, sometimes it doesn't). But without the pill I'm worse off than I was, before I started taking them. And convincing a doctor to renew the prescription (sometimes he will, sometimes he won't), selling a doc on the idea makes me feel like I did, selling Daddy the pros and cons of NYC.

Also some pills (Ambien for instance), work in reverse. Instead of falling asleep, I fall awake! Get wider and wider awake! The ravelings of one problem become ravels of another and soon everything knit, neatly arranged in my mind, is a mess and I'm pacing -- slurping soup, chomping crackers, looking for a fun snack in the middle of the night.

Reality: I have not been a good sleeper for a long time. If I take Benadryl, Tylenol, plus some milligrams of Amitriptyline, I may get 5 hours. (I need 5, not the 8 that most people need.) "Ami" is an old fashioned, mild anti-depressant the Malibu doc prescribed, but the three-pill-combo makes me groggy in the morning.

SECRET METHOD. I mention this last, because it might not help anyone but me. I lay in bed with my eyes closed, concentrating on a section of my daily performance dance (the Vaughn Williams I've mentioned in various posts). I do the steps in my mind. If I get through it once, I rehearse it again, forcing my mind to stay on the sequence, and that does the trick.

Dr. Em alternate: THE CHIMPANZEE CURE. I count ten chimpanzees (seconds), feeling my toes, ten for the arch, ten for the instep, then the ankle -- oops -- if my mind wanders, I start again -- toes, arch, instep, ankle, shin, etc. If I take a chimpanzee trip up my torso, RARELY do I stay awake beyond the knee.

File the Chimpanzee Cure away --give it a try -- it might work for YOU.

1 comment:

Carola said...

I listen to talking books at night at a very low volume so that I have something to focus on when I'm lying awake but they don't wake me up. Not disturbing books, but nice soothing (but interesting) books. I think I dream more, but I sleep well.
Also, another mild antidepressant to consider: trazedone. Very mild, no "hangover," no side effects, cheap. (I get unpleasant side-effects with amitryptoline.)