…sleep. You were swell, John Lennon, but love can wait. Beginning this past Sunday night, I embarked on one of my less thrilling, more sacrificial adventures. “Sleep Restriction Therapy” is what the medical community calls it, which is a nice term for sleep anorexia/brain cell starvation/memory kamikaze bomber/quality of life slayer/90 year old doppelganger creator/tired elf.
As an idiopathic insomniac (there’s got to be a better term for it), I haven’t slept well since I was a child and there’s not an explanation as to why. After participating in two sleep studies (the first one was inconclusive), my docs, perplexed, showed me my charts. No signs of apnea, no signs of resting leg syndrome, just a brain that dives down through levels 1, 2 and 3 of the sleep stages, and then at REM, seemingly out of breath, I resurface and awaken. Perhaps an underactive sleep system, or an overactive awakening system, or an allergy to REM. Either way, I’m not swimming in the Zzzzz’s.
So, they prescribed me Ambien, which knocked me out for the most part, but for the other part, made me feel really good and warm and awakened, which as much as I try to follow the Buddha’s lead on, I’m pretty sure his idea didn’t involve narcotics. And… it made me think I had cats. Like I had this new cat, no joke, that I would catch myself petting. It sat next to me on the couch, silent as nonexistence, while I pet it. Every now and then I knew it wasn’t there, but still my hand eventually found its way back to it’s hairless, boneless, nameless back.
During the days following the nights, whether they were sleepless or renditions of the Cats musical, I started losing my memory, acuity, fresh ideas, inspirations, ability to learn and retain, to interpret and concisely communicate, to reason, to measure, to calculate (not numbers, not happening), to wonder (lots of wandering, no wondering). I felt like a blunted, dulled shell of myself, but thankfully still with enough lacquer to realize it. So, when I went to Peru with only enough pills left to get me through half of the trip and no hope for a legal prescription refill there, against the doc’s recommendation to slowly ween off it, I quit.
Which brings me here today. Sleep Restriction Therapy is exactly what it sounds like. You restrict yourself to a certain amount of sleep (4-5 hours for me) for a certain number of nights (3-4 for me), then slowly give yourself a half an hour a night back until you attain a healthy number. It’s a behavioral therapy that works to improve the efficiency of your sleep by limiting the amount of time you allow yourself in bed. Triggers some kind of reset. I’m on my 4th night, and battling the resentful feelings growing toward the two furry critters who’ve literally slept three quarters of the past six years and are snoring on each other on my lap. It’s kind of brutal, but, I’ve always been a proponent of temporary pain for long term gain. Not in the peck and ab-plastering muscle shirt kind of way; closer in brotherhood with the monks.
Part of the issue is that I just really enjoy being awake. I enjoy the quietness of both the morning and the night, and I like to do a lot of things, which require a conscious state. Since I am awake right now, and spend most of my time here, I thought it’d be appropriate to share two of my favorite poems from two of my favorite awakened people:
May You Awaken
By John O’Donohue, Irish poet, philosopher, and Catholic scholar
May you awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path.
May the flame of anger free you from falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
By Mary Oliver, American Poet/Author
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
The Buddha says, “You’re body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” Thanks, Buddha. Let’s revisit this sentiment post-therapy. Until then, my friends, I’ve included a pixie of a song from one of my favorite artists Lisa Hannigan featuring Ray LaMontagne, to hopefully lull you, and eventually me, to sleep.