Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sleep Cycles

Back in November, I took an overnight flight to Atlanta, Georgia for an SLP conference. It wasn't an ideal plane schedule (who wants to attend an all day lecture after a red-eye?) but I wasn't really worried because me and Sleep are on a first-name basis and I was pretty sure I'd get enough shut-eye to last through the next day. Unexpectedly, however, I found myself tossing and twisting (as much as you can in a plane seat), blinking blearily at the overhead light, and tuning in to baby cries, rustling paper, and the intermittent announcements regarding seatbelts. I finally dozed off with the help of my earphones and a sleep-mask I macgyvered out of some artfully draped hair and a barrette. It was the opposite of a restful night.

The restlessness bugged me. No. It more than bugged me. It annoyed me so much that I've thought about it for several months since, and am now writing this extraordinarily long post about it. You see, I've come to consider sleeping as one of my top talents. You may laugh, but I'm not kidding. I have very genuine gratitude for my sleeping ability. Sure,  the downside might be that waking up is always a herculean effort. And there have been a few girl's night heart-to-hearts that ended awkwardly (for me) as my brain abandoned the conversation mid-sentence for some deep REM. But over all, the silver lining totally outweighs the cloud. I don't wake up to lights, traffic sounds, house noises, or midnight bathroom breaks. I've slept as restfully on couches and at desks as I have in my bed. And best of all, I rarely have to struggle to unwind at night; by the time I lay down its usually less than 4 minutes before I fall asleep.

Of course, this wasn't always the case. As a kid, going to bed was the WORST. My parents tried everything they could think of to help me fall (and STAY) asleep. Lullabies. Classical music. Stories. Relaxation routines. Stern talking-tos. You name it, they tried it. But what can I say? I had really terrifying nightmares that made the whole bedtime routine stressful for me. It was a losing battle from the start. What kid is going to willingly close their eyes when they know that monsters are waiting behind their lids?

I don't remember when, exactly, the nightmares stopped. They must have just wound down gradually, allowing me and Sleep to come to terms with each other. Sometime toward the end of high school I realized that I no longer needed my cassette player next to the bed with its stack of gentle, soothing tapes. My dreams had lost their terror, and I was free to sleep whenever I laid down. oh sweet victory.

until now.

I wish I could say that the flight to atlanta was an anomaly. But really, it was the defining moment that helped me acknowledge something  that has been gradually changing for years. FACT: I really can't sleep anywhere anymore. My back hurts when I camp - and even on some couches. I had to get a new bed because I couldn't sleep restfully on the one I had. I can no longer nap and then expect to fall asleep at a normal time that night. I wake up sometimes to my roommate opening the hallway cupboard. And worst of all, there have been a few nights when I've even had to wake up to go pee. But this doesn't mean any of the other stuff has changed - I still need a solid 8 hrs of sleep to be functional in my work day. I still have to scrape myself off my mattress each morning. I still fall asleep at inopportune times - but I can no longer count on sleep being there for me when I need it.

I wish that Sleep and I could sit down and have a heart to heart, maybe work out our differences before it gets worse and we break up for good, or - worse - Sleep trades spots with Nightmare again. But verbs are notoriously hard to pin down. So, with all the finesse of the sleep-deprived 10 yr old that still lives somewhere inside of me, I send this message out to the internet atmosphere, hoping it lands on the right ears.

Dear Sleep,
Want to be best friends?
I'll let you have my favourite pillow.

check the box
[ ] yes      [ ] no

yours truly,
Maria Burnham