PRESCRIPT: Writing is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it enough, it becomes flabby and boring. Bear with me as I head back to the word gym.
How long has it been since I slept through the night? I honestly cannot remember. I seem to think it began after the birth of my first child but even that seems a distant, distorted memory, as if I did sleep like the dead every chance I got. When a motherhood infused brain must make the switch from the childless “Good night, see you in the morning” to “O my God, what if I don’t hear the baby crying in the middle of the night”, there is an irrevocable change to the molecules of said brain. At that point my mind went into constant waking even when hearing phantom baby cries just so as not to miss the real ones. Many nights of walking to the baby’s room thinking I heard crying is not conducive to the best night’s sleep. But that was decades ago.
As to how our babies sleep, it has always been interesting to me that both my boys gave me an indication of how they would be motion sleepers when still in the womb and in the kicking stage. My older son Marco, the minute I started that car up, would immediately stop moving and kicking and be still for the entire ride. My younger one, Max, the minute I started the car would go from stillness to kicking up a storm the entire ride. Marco was a great one to take anywhere in a car as he immediately fell asleep. Max rarely ever fell asleep in the car and took it as a good opportunity to chat with us incessantly when he was able to talk. Marco and I would look at each other with ‘O my God, make it stop’ glances asking what happened to our nice quiet calm car rides? The only place that put Max to sleep immediately was the movie theater. To this day, you can’t get Max to a movie very often. I digress.
I say I haven’t slept in 20 years, but the singular demarcation point for me was January 2007 when I was awakened at exactly 3:42 am with a call from UCLA Hospital that then husband undergoing transplant was in cardiac arrest and would I be so kind as to get the hell out of bed and drive up there immediately. I have never ever slept through the 3am to 3:59am hour since. In the beginning I used to wake at precisely 3:42am but over the years, it has moved to random times within that 59-minute window.
Some nights have been better than others. The waking only happens maybe two or three times a night and the sleep returns rather quickly. But other times, it’s a constant up and down like a demented clown in a jack in the box popping up every hour on the hour. Or the return to sleep never comes for hours until about five minutes before it’s time to get up. You need REM sleep to dream and I rarely get this other than occasionally right before I have to wake up. I think because of that, my dreams upon awaking are so vivid and so real and I remember every bit of them as they don’t occur earlier in the night and then vanish. There is one, however, from a few weeks a go that has escaped me entirely. It was a powerful message that I still feel, but I do not know any of the details. Yes, I have had a dream fascination ever since I read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams as a teenager.
The time though has come to do something about the potential sleep apnea. Sleep deprivation, while I am used to it, can take a toll. I certainly don’t help matters with the vicious cycle of coffee treatment for daily narcolepsy and my bedtime ‘drug’ of sleeping choice, a B&B before bed. A lovely drink made of brandy and Benedictine. If it was good enough for the French Monks and the Rat Pack, it is good enough for me. I detest sleeping aids of any type. I am of the opinion it is no good to sleep unless it is real sleep. I don’t like the feeling of drug-induced sleep other than anesthesia, which is very pleasant, but certainly not for every day use if you want to stay alive in between sleeping. I actually did break down once and tried an Ambien- the national sleep potion- borrowing one from a friend. It did nothing. I believe I woke up after four hours rather than my usual two or three. And at exactly 3:26am. Nothing will keep me asleep during that entire transplant-witching hour, I guess.
I did the sleep studies twice. I actually enjoy them and sleep quite well during them, hence my diagnosis of you have sleep apnea and you don’t have it. I like the hotel like room, always sleep great in them for some reason. Maybe the trick to cure my apnea is to sleep in beds that I don’t have to make in the morning. I don’t even mind all the sticky things they put everywhere and then attach all sorts of wires to them like the Bride of Frankenstein and then tell you to go sleep now. It’s fun. Hey it’s a night away.
My second sleep study was for money. I decided to participate in a clinic trial for a new sleep aid. This was a good one. All I had to do was go there seven nights and I could make over two grand. Easy money. The doctor was a riot and we got along famously. He was an ex New Yorker with a Mafia fascination. I was an Italian from the Bronx. He was thrilled. He complained he had to be so serious with his patients but not with me. We did have lot of laughs and not only over the cute pink cat pajamas I bought for the occasion either. This was great cause when my apnea disqualified me for the study, the doctor told them to give me the first $300 anyway!! Finally someone was paying me for the entertainment. Great guy that doctor was!
My third sleep study was at home and not nearly as much fun or lucrative. They now give you a little box and a Velcro thing to put on your finger and it’s all computerized. No fun at all. Same diagnosis, five years later- you have apnea and you don’t have it. The numbers are confusing. Great. This time I decided to try the CPAP machine. That lovely invention where they stick a mask like an oxygen mask over your nose and pump air into you all night long from a hose attached to the top of your head and machine nearby. I knew this wasn’t going to end well with my claustrophobia, but I didn’t stand a chance. Apparently, they didn’t set it correctly and I didn’t know that the air wasn’t supposed to blow at you like you were in a convertible soaring through the Lincoln Tunnel. And even better was that it just happened to hit that level every time I was just about to fall asleep which was always about an hour and half later with the damn thing on. So I gave up. I did get it recalibrated, but by then the entire process was just so damn annoying I sent the whole thing back after about a month.
Now months later and sleep getting nowhere near better and because I tend to buy things I don’t need when I wake up at 3am and play with my phone, I am going to give the mouth guard a try. If football players can get used to it, I’m sure I can. It is a thing that goes over both the top and bottom of your teeth to hold the lower jaw forward so it doesn’t collapse on your airways when you sleep, cutting off breathing which is what wakes you up. I am waiting for this lovely piece of nighttime attire to be ready. Because I am not scary enough when I wake up in the morning, I’ll now have an added mouth deformity to go with it. We’ll see if it works, I don’t hold out any hope actually.
Sleep deprivation is something everyone has all sorts of antidotes for like stop drinking coffee so late in the day. Except that for some strange reason, I stopped drinking coffee altogether for three weeks last spring and it made absolutely no difference. My sleep doctor says not to take naps during the day. There are days I do and days I don’t and it still makes no difference at all at night. Doctor also said, I’m spending too much time in bed. Really, Doc? I think I don’t spend nearly enough time in bed these days, but that’s another story. I’m retired and I can sleep if I want to or not.
Sleep is a tough one. I know I’m not alone in this. People don’t sleep for all kinds of reasons. I envy those that can stay asleep all night. I often wonder what that would be like. Let’s hope the Hannibal Lechter mouth apparatus is the answer. Good night.