On falling asleep

How is it, exactly, that we con ourselves into sleeping each night, into that vague simulacrum of death? Sure, sometimes we don’t even notice our eyelids drooping as we watch some mind-numbing sitcom or police drama on the tube, but for the most part falling asleep is an active, conscious effort that we make each night. For the insomniacs in the crowd this is a very sensitive subject because long after the vast majority of us have collapsed into slumber, they are still up patrolling the passage ways of the night–eyes open, hearts beating, lonely and confused about why the rest of the world can plunge itself into gentle oblivion so easily, jealous that they cannot do the same. In fact, the harder insomniacs try to sleep, the more they stay awake. I go to sleep when I am tired so that I don’t really have to ponder the process of falling asleep. My strategy is simple: try to forget the events of the day, get as comfortable as possible, and then, don’t worry about falling asleep. Sleep usually shows up presently when I have taken care to do the other things. Part of my sleep preparation is my routine before going to sleep: contacts come out, (I’m officially blinder than a bat), teeth get brushed, flossed, and rinsed, and under the covers. It never varies from one day to the next. But if I go to bed too early, I wake up at three a.m., and then what do you do? Get up and read a book? Watch reruns of Perry Mason? Patrol the halls with the other ghosts? I think the secret to falling asleep is getting your mind to stop running the day’s scenarios–the conversations, the conflicts, the whatevers that will keep you thinking and awake. I like to write a bit (like right now) before bedtime and let my mind stretch itself before turning the lights off–I make my brain just a little tired from creating something new, and it’s easier to get it to switch off when the lights go off. Some people read, but that is a little too passive and a little too easy. I’ve greeted the morning sun a few times while engrossed by one text or another, so that is not the best solution for me. Falling asleep is a bit of a paradox, though, because you have to actively do something, but that activity might be enough to keep you awake. At some point, just before you drop into the black unconsciousness of sleep, you have to convince yourself that your mind is blank, nothing else matters, that swirling down into the unknown maelstrom of sleep is okay. There is something about the darkness of night that swaths you gently in the sweet bonds of sleep, that helps your body send out the correct chemicals for shutting down the power plant and turning off the brain for awhile. I think I am lucky in that I can sleep almost anywhere, including the subway (not recommended), airplanes, the dentist office, church, and of course, if your house has a sofa, I can sleep on it with no prompting whatsoever. I can sleep sitting up. I have fallen asleep in lots of theaters. I have fallen asleep at times when this was not the most convenient or correct thing to do. Cars are a natural sedative for me, so if I have to drive, I always get well-rested before I travel. Cat-naps are heaven sent. I have no fear of falling asleep or of sleeping, and my only sleep problems arise in connection with jetlag, which really messes me up, and the older I get the worse the jetlag gets, which really sucks. I hate resorting to chemicals aids for sleeping, so when I go to Europe, I just know that for about a week, my sleep patterns will be off. Time to say good night and go to sleep. The Sandman is calling.