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Sleepless in Suburbia

The ultimate goal? To sleep as soundly as her husband


I’m indebted to the team of psychologists at UC Berkeley who just released a study that poor sleep in middle age raises your risk of developing dementia. I was running out of things to be alarmed about when I’m still wide awake at 2:47 a.m. Which is pretty much every night.

I have Restless Brain Syndrome, Not Otherwise Specified (see: also DSM-V, Axis-I, Self-Diagnosis and Hypochondria.) I haven’t slept much since grade school, when I sneaked watching one too many Twilight Zone episodes and developed a nightly compulsion to check my bedroom closet for burglars, black widow spiders or a vindictive doll named Talky Tina.

Here’s my truth: It’s years past my bedtime, but at least I never need an alarm clock because I’ve already been up for hours.

Many things get better with age, but insomnia isn’t one of them. While not sleeping, I often scurry along the hamster wheel whirring away in my head, ruminating on topics ranging from the merely mundane — where did I stash that 50 lb. bucket of Boxiecat kitty litter? — to diseases I probably have, like plantar fasciitis, narcolepsy, or SARS. Except I don’t actually remember what SARS stands for, which makes me worry my memory lapse is the first sign of impending dementia.

Some other things I brood about:

  • Am I having a heart attack, or is it indigestion from that pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream I scarfed down two hours ago?
  • Why did I say that humiliating thing in 1983?
  • The local news video of a rat wriggling out of a bathroom sink was shot in my kid’s Brooklyn neighborhood.

Goop and Other Remedies

My husband of 38 years is no help, because we are fundamentally incompatible in the bedroom. No, not that way, no complaints there. But he can drop off in a New York minute (defined as that infinitesimal interval of time between when the traffic light turns green and the guy in the Range Rover behind you blares his horn) and lie stupefied for the next seven hours, snoring louder than the restroom hand dryer in Grand Central Station.

I’ve suggested 7,023 times or so that he might want to visit a sleep study lab for his snoring, warning, “Sleep apnea can be deadly.”

He says, “If I have to sleep in a CPAP mask I’d rather die.”

Since this conversation leaves me wide awake, I ignore the sleep experts and do exactly what they tell you never to do: stare into the blue light of a computer screen so I can log into my online support group, The Wakeful Dead. We swap tips on such sleep enhancing aids as weighted blankets, white noise machines and a FitBit that assesses the quality of the sleep none of us is having.

I Google “natural sedatives” and wind up on wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site, Goop. I bet Gwyneth doesn’t check her closet. Why would she, when she’s busy selling such cool sleep aids (all real) as these:

The Martini Emotional Detox Bath Soak. Contains Himalayan pink salt and chia seed oil. $35.

Ancient Ayurveda Vitamin Regimens with names like Madame Ovary and Why Am I So Effing Tired? $90/month supply.

Lorox Aligned Foam Roller. Rolls away stress. Also, cellulite. $51.95.

That’s when I hit bottom. Even though I know it will only make everything worse, I turn to late-night TV, a wasteland of infomercials and That’s So Raven! reruns. I settle in to binge watch a seductive lineup on Home & Garden Network’s HGTV: Fixer UpperFlip or Flop, and Love it or List It. I admire such programming diversity. Also the alliteration. Real estate fantasy is porn to sleep-challenged, middle-aged folks like me.

The Concept of Sleep Hygiene

Too many nights like this finally convinced me last winter that it was time to visit a cognitive behavioral therapist. I explained that I was ruminating about a bit of upcoming surgery. It involved anesthesia, which guaranteed some shut-eye, but I was concerned I might go gentle into that good night permanently. He had me keep a “worry log” and rate the level of my anxiety on a scale of 1 to 100, which gave me plenty of wiggle room.

“I’d also like you to track how often you have dark thoughts,” he said. I suggested it would be more efficient and require far fewer legal pads to track how often I didn’t.

Next, he introduced me to the concept of something called “sleep hygiene,” although I’m not clear where the hygiene comes in, unless it involves flossing while I’m detoxing in Gwyneth’s Martini Bath Soak. Together, we practiced a mindful meditation technique to calm down.

“Can I use this technique to fall asleep too?”

“The goal of mindfulness is to remain mindful,” he reminded me.

That was unfortunate, as the only times I wasn’t having trouble nodding off instantly were the same times we were practicing the technique in his office.

Still, he was a lovely man. He made me aware how often I catastrophize, and gave me some useful tools to deal with that, so I’ve stuck with them. Also, Ambien.

My Sleeping Role Model: My Husband

My yogi friend says we’re all living our stories, when we should be living our truths. Here’s my truth: It’s years past my bedtime, but at least I never need an alarm clock because I’ve already been up for hours. Also, nobody sleeps any better under Gwyneth’s sustainably-sourced hypoallergenic baby alpaca throw hand-loomed by Peruvian llamas themselves ($319.95 plus shipping), not even Gwyneth.

Come to think of it, I don’t even want to sleep like a baby.

I just want to sleep like my husband.

By Liane Kupferberg Carter
Liane Kupferberg Carter is a New York-based essayist and author of the memoir, “Ketchup is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism.”   

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