This is a piece I have been writing over time but is too long to publish all at once; a friend suggested “Why not offer it in parts? After all, the story is ongoing.” The dates and times in parens are from my sleep log.
When I ask women friends over age 55 if they have trouble sleeping, almost everyone says yes. Hormones? In the menopausal years, night sweats did not trouble me. I experienced only what I called bitch-in-heat “power surges” — embarrassing flushing and burning that started when I was in my late 40s and continued for decades longer that I thought they would, often exacerbated by stress. Mine is not the insomnia in which one can’t fall asleep. No, this is conking out exhausted and waking up three or four hours later. I know 3 a.m. better than midnight.
[12/12: 10:34–2:30; 4:15–8]
My doctor advises keeping a worry journal. “Use the writing to empty your mind and then close the book on it.” Other suggestions? Put Bach Flower Rescue Remedy drops under the tongue. Make the room vary dark. Cover up the clock. Keep your feet warm with a hot water bottle or wool socks. Get a new mattress and pillow. Check out the feng shui of the bed. Have a protein snack (not a big meal) to keep blood sugar levels up until breakfast. Don’t drink caffeine for eight hours before bedtime, or alcohol in the evening, or any liquids two hours before turning in. Get plenty of exercise, but again, not right before bed. Try meditation and breathing techniques: think heavy, think floating, think cool forehead/ warm solar plexus. Take sleep supplements: Valerian, Kava, Melatonin. Read, but avoid a novel that makes you want to keep turning pages. And my favorite—but not always effective—last resort: masturbate. I wish there were a lovelier-sounding word for it.
My walking companion suggests getting up and doing mindless chores like washing dishes or checking email; she once put on a headlamp and pulled weeds in her garden at 4 a.m. I’ll admit to making granola or minestrone in the wee hours, especially in the winter when an oven-warmed kitchen soothes. But leaving my bed usually means I won’t return to it until mid afternoon when I’m compelled to take a cat nap to keep going until the next bedtime.
[12/18: 10–3:30; nap 2–4]
“This is a Manhattan-bound Q train; next stop Prospect Park.” Every twenty minutes all the Brooklyn night, I heard her voice as the doors opened to the subway platform, above ground here at Parkside Station. Even with the 4th floor apartment windows closed, the automated announcements are loud and clear. It was my first night trying to sleep on the blow-up mattress next to my infant grandson’s crib. Theodore Joseph, only two months old, was sleeping in a bassinette in his parents’ room so I had his space to myself for this Christmas visit. Each time the doors closed and the train pulled away, there followed a predictable clackety clackety clack…pause…clack! Accompanied by steam radiator hiss, it would have been an interesting jazz riff, if not designed to drive the listener mad. I thought of turning on the baby’s “Sleep Sheep” cuddle toy and putting the sounds of ocean waves or momma’s heart beat next to my ear.
[11:30-–2:30, read until 4:45; woke up twice until 6:15]
So goes my sleep diary.
I’m re-reading D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. As a young teen, I’d found the infamous paperback in my Aunt Marie’s magazine rack and happened to turn to a page where I saw the word “fuck” used with tenderness. It was my first experience of written erotica, the moment I learned that words had the power to make parts of my body ache. Even the lady, Constance, desires the protection and bliss of sleep:
What did it matter who he was, in the daytime world! Now he was the silent male who enclosed her in the phallic circle, and she was like the yolk of the egg, enclosed. She wanted only, only to be perfectly enclosed, to be perfectly comforted, to be perfectly put to sleep.
I’ve known since I was a girl that having an orgasm is a great way to relax enough to fall asleep. And yet, a body next to me after years of solo nights is as effective as black tea chai in the evening. Slumber is banished.
[Midnight – 3:30 only]
I am lying on a satin-covered futon behind a partition made of mirrors. A palm-leafed plant, a low table, and a tall brass candlestick complete the “wall” to my right; on my left, a glass sliding door covered floor-to-ceiling with strings of red crystal beads is open to the outside deck. The man beside me is snoring softly, his mouth closed and turned up at the corners as if smiling at a pleasant dream. I’ve been awake for a while listening to the sounds of wings flapping. Birds come in one window, peck at the pile of seeds dumped on a newspaper in the middle of a once-elegant corduroy sofa, and fly out another window. The air is fresh, but I smell the promise of another day of intense heat.
Moonlight glitters through a lattice of oak branches into this crazy rural hideaway of an old friend, a musician, I’d driven 65 miles to see. It had been 18 years since our last intimacy. We are both nearing sixty with several relationships under our belts, each of us with blonde hair mixed with gray, each sporting a little more belly than when we first met. On this August day, we played like kids on his wave-runner at the lake. I clung to his back like a motorcycle chick as he maneuvered in zigzags and ever-decreasing circles that made me squeal. Spray flew over us, water birds ducked under as we passed.
“When it’s 100 degrees out, you’re happy to fall in a few times,” he shouted after a sliding turn that almost dumped me off.
By some standards, including my own, this old house where I’ve agreed to spend the night, is beyond unconventional and “artistic.” It is unkempt, cluttered, and the bathroom is, for lack of a better description, filthy. The place is littered with sound equipment and numerous guitars, a saxophone and flute in their cases, statues of the Buddha and many-armed goddesses. Ashtrays overflow with remains of the mellifluous “buds” we’ve always enjoyed together, and which he promised would allow me a relaxed night filled with colorful dreams. I partook of the smoke and the sex…all lovely. Yet in spite of many hours of sun and swimming, the dry, mosquito-less weather and not a hint of traffic noise, I fail to fall asleep.
(Continued in next post)