In 1914, The Lancet reported on a clergyman who was found dead in a pool; he had left behind this suicide note: “Another sleepless night, no real sleep for weeks. Oh, my poor brain, I cannot bear the lengthy, dark hours of the night.” This passage resonates deeply with me. For I, too, am hard of sleep.
It started in 2015, innocently enough, while I was creating a PowerPoint. As I worked the presentation up into a masterpiece of Prezi-like animation the hours dissolved one into the next and I marveled as the clock registered 5 am. I was not the least bit tired. On the contrary, I was energized! My brain crackled and popped with creativity and dopamine flowed as I pulled my first ever post-college all-nighter.
It seduced me with possibilities. Imagine what could be accomplished while other, lesser mortals, slept? It felt a bit naughty too, staying up so late on a school night. Then it felt heroic as I pushed on through and watched the dawn break. I was a superhero walking among the masses at work, none of them knowing that I had a new, nocturnal life that felt like an alternate universe. I tolerated the mothers at the pool. The ones who slept. “Bunco this weekend? Sorry. I’ve got Diddy’s white party…”
I thought it was my friend. But then it wasn’t. Because now I cannot control it. And it is a relentless beast. Many people think that the worst part of insomnia is the daytime grogginess. But I suffer most in the dark hours after midnight, when my desire for sleep, my raging thirst for it, drives me to the verge of psychosis. On the worst nights, my mind turns into a feral cat snapping and gnawing at itself. I count sheep. I quote scripture. I pray. Oh the prayers… They, too, become degraded by the hour; morphing into something akin to, “Yo Abba! Who do I have to LAP DANCE up there to get some zzzzs??”
“I know you’re up there! Are you enjoying this??”
99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles…
I look at the clock and mentally calculate how many hours I will get if I drift off in the next 30 minutes. I look again one hour later, recalibrate, and try again. After 30 minutes I am in the basement watching an episode of six feet under with my two dogs, Charlotte and Dash. Surely, they will help me slay the beast.
I lower the volume and turn on subtitles in anticipation of drifting off. I do not want to be aroused by the theme song, which is freakishly louder than the spoken part of the show. And yes Netflix, I AM still watching. Bite me. I get a drink of water. I make frozen waffles. I let the dogs out. I let the dogs in. I google “When will marijuana be legal in Indiana?” Such is my plight for 3-4 days, and then it vanishes as suddenly as it appeared.
You Are In Good Company
These days I am trying something new. Instead of dreading the night, I think of it as an adventure I’m going on. If I can’t sleep, I get up and do something rather than just lay there feeling like a failure. Fearing it only makes it worse anyway – causing my brain to explode with condemnation and disgust at my inability to behave like a normal person. To do what comes so naturally to most.
But then I remember. I’m kind of a strange bird. Why should I expect my sleep patterns to be normal, when we all know that my brain is often on fire with ideas and possibilities? I bet yours is too. If you suffer from this try easing up on yourself a bit. The reason you are an entrepreneur is that your brain works differently than most. Use the time to try something new because you love a challenge and you hate to see time wasted. Right? I’m working on my splits. Stay tuned.
The Doctor’s Side Hustle
Dave Bayley, the frontman of Oxford art-pop quartet Glass Animals, owes his career in music to insomnia. He only started writing and recording because he had problems sleeping after leaving home to study medicine at King’s College London in 2008.
“It was an inability to switch off my brain,” says Bayley. “I was always working till quite late and it was hard to stop myself from asking questions and thinking about things. Normally I’d fall asleep late and grab two or three hours, but sometimes I’d go back into the hospital with exactly zero sleep.”
Lately, I try to recall every detail of my day. You may find that you start thinking weird, unusual thoughts – this is because you’re on the verge of dreaming. Go with it – don’t worry that you aren’t getting to sleep – just allow your brain to do its thing. Last night I found myself sitting in a theater class with my daughter as a fellow student at the University of Tennessee. Reese Witherspoon was in our class too. Unfortunately, I was jolted awake by another thought before the dream could take shape. But I took it as a sign that my unusual, my mysterious, my uncommon mind was on the verge of REM surrender.
I am a recovering CPA with a passion for stories of redemption and resilience. After spending 20 years in the wrong profession I happened upon an online article in the New York Times called Snowfall in 2016. This was my introduction to the concept of “digital storytelling”. A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: Your heart. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul. I live in Carmel, Indiana with my husband of 26 years, Ed, our 2 children, Betsy and Jack, and 2 bichon frises – Charlotte and Dash. I would love to hear more about your story. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.