Monday, November 05, 2007

On Insomnia

While reading Angus Wilson's engrossing The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling - I am probably the only person to have picked up a book by Wilson in a decade, which is sad - I gave a little yelp of delight at the discovery that Kipling was an insomniac. This is because I am an insomniac and I like to hear of gifted, talented or successful people who share the affliction. People who rarely or never have a bad night cannot imagine what real insomnia is like nor do they have any access to the strange brotherhood of insomniacs. To us each night is a threat or challenge and each day is defined by the exact quality of the rest we achieved the night before. In fact, a bad night's sleep is not necessarily a prelude to a bad day; I often find the resulting dreamy, detached condition rather better for my work that the excess of energy I get when I sleep well. I suspect others find both conditions irritating which could explain the faint but distinct air of exasperation that surrounds me wherever I go. The trick is - or at least my current tactic is - to go with the sleeplessness. I don't do anything, I just let my mind wander. This seems to make the night a friendlier place. Indeed, I look forward to entering this liminal state. It makes the night seem very long, though not as long as when I decide to eat breakfast at 2 am or try to do my VAT. Anyway, as you will have guessed, I had a bad night which is annoying because I am about to have my photograph taken. But I don't mind. I feel, as I am sure most insomniacs do after their better bad nights, untouchable.


  1. Insomnia sucks. i get it when i'm stressed, or rather i get a nocturnal insomnia, i can sleep only from about dawn onwards. In my own case i guess it's my mind trying to persuade me to withdraw from the world that's annoying me, by only being awake when other people are asleep.

    i had this kind of insomnia as a pretty much permanent state for about ten years. Luckily, for most of this decade i was a student or on the dole. It was tough when i had to hold down a full-time job: i could just about get 5 odd broken hours of sleep if i went to bed at 1000 and woke at 0630 every morning to go to work. But i was permanently exhausted.

    Then i started doing a tai chi killer class in order to slay chavs. The 15 minute chi kung (or qi gong) exercise - which i did with utter scepticism - sorted my sleep out within about a fortnight. i've had one period of insomnia since, but that was clearly stress-related. If i'm not stressed i can sleep at night now without problems, though for preferance i'll sleep during the day.

    i used to exhaust my mind by memorising vocab or poetry but that only goes so far - i'd usually wake up during the night and couldn't get back to sleep.

    Have you considered getting a PC and some appallingly bloodthirsty computer games? They won't help you sleep but they will certainly enable you to inhabit a surreal other-world and drift through the waking world with equanimity and a strangely homicidal smile.

  2. I am an insomniac and I like to hear of gifted, talented or successful people who share the affliction

    I have experienced sleeplessness of varying degrees. The price is, of course, that it engenders social irritation. But once you’ve broken through the pain-barrier, everything falls into place. You are dreaming, dreaming, dreaming....communing with the gods. It is something very, very special!


  3. i have mastered the noble cup of chai tea. it's just as effective and you don't have to mime a sloth looking for a tree (or whatever it's suppose to be).

  4. In my opinion, exercise and daily routines are the key to sleep. When I get on writing jags and don't exercise, don't eat meals at regular hours, etc., I can't sleep either. And I hate the zombie feeling the next day.

    Loads of famous people have suffered from insomnia. I believe it's particularly common among writers. In "The Education of Henry Adams," Adams is up all night wandering around his house and he muses on his old friend, Henry James, whom he knows is also insomniac. He likes to imagine the both of them, up and thinking about the decades gone by as they wander their nightbound houses.

    Also, I just read a first-rate essay on insomnia -- well, really on night vs. day people: It's called "Night Owl," by Anne Fadiman. In her most recent collection of essays, "At Large and At Small." Other excellent pieces in there about lepidoptery, S.T. Coleridge, and the great unsung essayist (in our day), Charles Lamb.

  5. Susan, I believe you're absolutely correct on the exercise point. A dodgy back for most of this year has ruled that out in any meaningful way for a while, and has dramatically affected my slumber. In the absence of physical exhaustion, every last little atom of stress runs riot in my all-too-awake mind after dark.

    I have to say my girlfriend is the best and luckiest sleeper I have ever come across. She will always, without fail, fall asleep within moments of closing her eyes in bed (although I could do without the snoring). I'm sure it's no coincidence that she's an exercise nut.

    I've been horribly sleepless in Shanghai since arriving on Sunday. After two nights of barely three hours combined, I found the answer: gin.

  6. Hello Apple YardM

    I hope you dont have depression problem but Insomnia and depression go hand in hand.

    Disturbed sleep is the characteristic of depression.

    80% of people with depression are experiencing insomnia that is a difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

    Another symptom of depression is early morning awakenings. 15% of depressed people sleep excessively.

  7. Coffee and amphetamines are no use at all in conquering sleep deprivation.

  8. For any who don't know it - this great poem by Edward Thomas, about insomnia, death, life, etc.

  9. Oh, I love that poem -- thanks, Nige!

  10. I believe Steve Ovett beat Seb Coe in the Moscow 800m final after not sleeping (Coe could catnap anywhere and nearly missed his first championship final when he fell asleep in the changing room). This consoles me as I'm lucky to get a couple of hours the night before a race. I agree with Susan that exercise and routine help but it feels like some of us are just not meant to sleep - could there be a night-watch gene?

  11. There you go, Bryan, you're depressed. You need to stop wearing black and take some Prozac, that'll sort your sleep out.

  12. i feel there's a George Steiner essay in here, somewhere "La Nuit Blanche and Gethsemane". My porno site/blog was originally called A Court for Owls after Isaiah, but also as there is a crystalline alertness to being awake when everyone else is asleep.

  13. Found this review extreamly helpful when I had insomnia. Take a look...

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  15. I share the affliction and relate to your description. I can fantasize about sleep all day but once the time comes to get into bed I experience and overwhelming sense of dread and frustration. No matter the degree of exhaustion, fatigue, deliriousness; my mind does not and will not allow me to fall asleep.

    I, like you, obsess over sleep. People’s whose minds and bodies allow for rest never quite understand what a gift sleep is or why we resort to prescription drugs to do the job for us.

    I am on day three without a single moment of sleep.

    Right now I have two enemies: First, those that insist I drink warm milk and take melatonin; and second, my insurance company, who will not allow me to fill my ambien prescription for another week.

    Ahhh. At what point will my body/mind succumb?

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  17. I have found that the best treatment for insomnia is restricting the amount of sleep you have so just hving say 6 hours sleep per day and having it at the same time every day.

    Also I stopped taking naps which was a big part

    I feel for everyone who has insomnia it can be really debilitating.

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