Causes: There are many possible reasons why I have not been able to sleep over the years, but none of them are particularly predictable except in retrospect. Too much stuff whizzing around my mind. Drinking red wine late. Cheese. Not enough liquid. Too much liquid. The curse of Trapped and/or Bilious wind. But even with these preconditions (possibly simultaneously) I can sleep as though tranquillized with horse pills one night, and endure hours of attempting to sleep before giving up, on another. No point trying to predict it.
What to read: The ideal reading matter is sufficiently interesting to be initially readable, but so ultimately dull that one’s eyes close after 30 minutes. It’s hard to find stuff like this. The medium also creates it’s own problems. I no longer read actual paper books – largely because we have no more space, and any book bought requires another book to be thrown away. I use Android tablets instead – there is no other tool that allows so much to be done while completely prone But this provides me with too much choice. The old way required me to leave the bed area if I wanted a better book. The new ability to immediately switch from a carefully selected sleep inducing novel to Google reader or email means that great self-control is required – which is invariably absent.
Illumination: Surprisingly important this. As the DLW prefers the lights off, I sit glow-worm-like in the early reaches. In the old new days, I used a little lamp clipped to the Kindle. Now of course tablets are self-illuminated – too much so. Recent research has indicated that more than one hours exposure to iPad screen lighting starts to reduce melatonin levels, leading to impaired sleep. Part of this may be due to the blue light cast by the screen, which is said to keep the brain awake. Kindles and other e-ink products don’t give off this light, and the new Kindle Paperwhite may the best solution for night reading. If you use Android tablets to read with however, there are other solutions. Most reader apps have a ‘night reading option’ (in the Android Kindle app it’s found in the text options area). That helps, but even then the intensity is too high. An additional filter app can dim the screen even more. I like this one that can be set up with home screen widgets at various preset levels. With these two dimmers in place, I find that the correct dull tome can send me to nod status in no time flat. Of course there is no dimmer function in email, which is where the problems start again.
Shouting: Like most retired former IT executives I find an almost irresistible urge to start shouting as soon as I have settled into bed. The problems of the DLW’s potential anger and bafflement at being woken up this way, or indeed the likelyhood of the neighbors calling the police, mean that a short non-shouting-frustration period has to be endured before the urge passes away. The shouting I envisage is strangely different from the regular daily shouting I employ in the car, or on deserted airfields. It is more varied, blending touches of chimpanzee or gorilla with the usual ‘oh dear’ and ‘oh oh oh’ repetitions. I usually spend 5-10 minutes thinking through amplification schemes for the full executive version of this, which obviously includes many variations of mobile shouting platform and suitable bed locations for both effective sleep and maximum non-attributality of the shouting.
On waking up: A few environmental variables affect whether I can return to sleep after waking up. Too much brain activity, usually some residual irritation, can lead to the whole situation spiraling out of control. This usually involves composing an icy email, then being angered by the imagined response and so on. At this point the game is up. The other variable is the relative silence of the DLW’s sleep. On certain occasions she assumes the sound of a small outboard powered dinghy, running out of petrol on a murky night in a Scottish loch. The tension caused by both the sound itself, plus the concern about whether the little vessel will make it to the shore again, is the equivalent of a blue searchlight in the face.
Getting back to sleep: If I am bounced awake, reading again is usually not an option. This is because while it is possible to come into the bedroom with a marching band in the early stages of the DLW’s slumbers, later in the night, her bat-like hearing and Tarsier-like light sensitivity kick in. Should the DLW be awakened by my snuffling, grunting or rapid body rotations, she employs a few mind routines which often get the job done The most effective for her is counting down from twenty a few times . This takes the mind off whatever it was spinning over, and can settle her back again. Twenty is not enough for me, so I start with one hundred, and sometimes more. But it is very very tedious doing this, and I have now memorized counting down sufficiently effectively that it doesn’t fully take my mind off whatever was bugging me. An alternative is going backwards up the alphabet from z to a. For me at least this so hard it actually wakes me up again. But should you be awake in the dead reaches, either of these are worth a try. The simplest solution of all is to pretend to be asleep – by far the best solution to sleeplessness on planes, and sometimes effective in the home as well. It’s almost guaranteed that during the pretending period, you will actually really drop off, and some sleep is better than none.
The last resort: Is of course getting up and padding down the corridor to my study (or lab) where a reading light can be employed. This process guarantees full alertness by the time I am resettled in the new location . Strangely, at this point, if I can maintain the discipline of staying with the dull book, I can get off pretty quickly. All too often though, I remember some important software patch or installation that could be done, or start an eBay search, and the game is up again. Once up though, the twinkling lights of the switches, routers and storage systems are too seductive, and the many entertainment opportunities to hand mean that the day just started early. All that is then required is a swift and accurate piloting into the optimal afternoon snooze window, and the day can be restored to rights.
I hope this helps.
A sleepless night 6 months ago was the stimulus for this post. Of course there was no way I could have structured anything coherent that night, and it took a while to get the photo of my night attire and get to the right state of mind for the content. The latter required a full 8 hour slumber as a base, which I am pleased to say I received last night.