December 5, 2013
INSOMNIACS GET ALL THE ATTENTION; THE EVER-DROWSY HAVE TO MAKE DOSunday, September 22, 2013
It isn't idleness at all, it's sleepiness!
Even Robert Benchley, the Michelangelo of humour columnists, echoed that common misinformation when he turned to the subject of slumber (although he naturally gave it his own twist): “As a person gets older he needs less and less sleep... This accounts for the number of nonagenarians one sees on the street at three and four in the morning. Or maybe it is just that they look like nonagenarians.”
I have always been a sleepyhead — and it has only got worse. I have yawned my way through each day, usually only feeling fully awake for a few hours starting around evening. (This actually was a good thing when working in the newsroom of a morning newspaper — this one — i.e. at a nighttime job).
I fall asleep whenever and wherever circumstances permit; neither loud noise, if more or less constant, nor blazing light, nor uncomfortable positions hinder me. On planes, I have hardly ever seen a takeoff: no sooner do I sit down and buckle up than I’m utterly in the hands of Morpheus. I only wake up when a slight tinkling of tableware indicates the approach of a cart with a meal. My brain may be torpid, but it does know a thing or two.
When my daughters were young teenagers and we were living in New York, I was roped into taking them to a major rock concert in New Jersey, and it was a long time before I lived down the fact that, despite the ear-splitting din, I slept through much of the recital. My excuse that, other than for one or two rousing songs, the music had really been very monotonous, didn’t convince them at all.
It was a time of upsurge in street crime in New York, and the song Don’t Sleep in the Subway was taken as a literal warning to stay alert to any dangers. I had an hour’s subway commute each way; every time, needless to say, as soon as I got a seat I went comatose.
There is even a family myth that, back in BA, I once briefly fell asleep while standing up, straphanging, in a lurching 60 bus late at night; but the fact is that I was fully semi-conscious. I had merely allowed my head to fall forward, and my jaw to dangle a bit, but wasn’t actually drooling yet.
All modes of transport, of course, are very lulling to a person with my disposition. Often have I slept past my train station or bus stop on my way home to the northern suburbs, although only once, on each kind of vehicle, all the way to the end of the line. On the rails, what awoke me, then, was the stillness once the train had reached its final destination; on the 60 bus it was the driver shouting crossly, “¡Eh, diga, don! ¡Tigre Hotel!”
Most of my life I have held down two jobs, plus writing articles and translations in my “spare” time, so I didn’t sleep recommended hours, and pinned the blame on that. Now, I sleep eight to nine hours each night, an hourlong siesta, and on top of that a short nap in the evening — and I’m as sleepy as ever. Nor is it now a rebound effect from too much sleep, because when for some reason I do sleep less, it’s the same thing.
(Just for extra aggravation, once every long while I have the opposite problem. I get an idea for a column after going to bed. An idea is something too precious to risk forgetting. I jot it down — but it’s 5am and I find I’m awake, composing the full article in my head.)
Doctors don’t care about my sleepiness at all. Doctors want to be brought beefy diseases, not annoyances. If I help them along by suggesting a diagnosis of narcolepsy, they dismiss it because my face never actually drops into my plate while eating. If I say I might have been bitten by a tsetse fly carrying the sleeping sickness, they smile because I was like this long before I got to visit Africa. My argument that one of the bugs might have been brought here by a research laboratory, and have escaped to sting me, doesn’t seem to impress them.
Insomniacs are catered to by a lot of research and stuff. Don’t we over-somniacs also deserve some sympathy, at least?
(Text drafted on one of the nights of insomnia).
Nicolás Meyer, who welcomes comments at email@example.com, is a Spanish-English-German translator.