It’s Monday morning. I wake up with a throbbing headache. I assume it’s because I slept funny. It only gets worse the longer I’m up so I start pounding the coffee thinking it’s a caffeine withdrawal headache because I’ve been drinking too much coffee lately. It still doesn’t relent.
It’s Monday afternoon. It’s clear to me that I have caught something. My throat burns and feels like it’s swelling when I talk. The pain in my jaw tells me this is a sinus headache. I begin to sound like a kid who really needs to blow her nose. I am so cold. I pull on a down jacket, extra socks, my shearling slippers, and wrap a blanket around my legs while I work at my desk.
I hate being sick. My strategy is to ignore it for as long as possible. It’s the “if I deny I am getting sick, perhaps it will simply go away” approach. Amazingly, this approach often works for me if I do two things besides pretend I’m not getting sick: take some vitamins and get extra rest.
Unfortunately, for me today there is no rest for the weary. And I’m not feeling like going out in the pouring rain after any immune-system boosting vitamins. I sink under the fatigue when my work day finally concludes and decide to just lay on the couch playing solitaire.
I am convinced that solitaire may in fact be part of a large conspiracy to take over the world. Now that solitaire is available in every electronic form and on every electronic device imaginable, I think the plot is picking up steam. Helpless victims are immobilized for hours at a time, nearly oblivious to events happening around them. If you want to rule the world, you just have to kick off a massive solitaire event that everyone has to log into at the same time.
But, between my solitaire game and watching TV, I manage to ignore how miserable I feel. There was a time when just watching TV was enough to occupy my mind and allow me to shutdown. Now, I seem to require multi-tasking to achieve the same effect. At what point in life did it become impossible to give my full attention to one thing at a time for more than a few seconds? I saw an article recently about how people are “multi-tasking free time.” I find myself wondering if this tendency is contributing to my inability to sleep.
I wonder this, in part, because my husband used to drink massive amounts of caffeine to prevent migraines. He was constantly guzzling caffeine after a while or a migraine would start. Realizing that he couldn’t spend the rest of his life drinking that much coffee and Coke, he decided to quit drinking caffeine all together. He was pretty miserable for about 2 months, but without consuming caffeine, he went for over a year without a single migraine. As it turned out, the preventative was also the cause.
In my case, multi-tasking solitaire and TV has become my signal to turn off the brain and shutdown for the night. It gives those nagging parts of my brain something to do other than replay conversations I had earlier in the day, wondering if I said the wrong thing, thinking about up coming conversations and what I should be sure to say, worrying that I’ve forgotten something important, or reliving high-anxiety moments that cause adrenaline rushes even in just remembering them. These kinds of thoughts lead to a racing brain while I lie in bed trying to go to sleep. Even when I am so exhausted that I do fall right to sleep, these thoughts infiltrate my dreams, take over my sleep, and rouse me out of bed in the middle of the night, demanding that I take some sort of action.
My brain is not kind. It has no concerns about dumping massive chemicals into my body that I have no use for–after all, it’s not like I need to jump up and run away from a tiger. It is unconcerned that I desperately need sleep to restore and recover both physical and mental well being. It has no compassion, no basic human decency to just lay there quietly and let me sleep.
And once I have a few nights of little or disturbed sleep, like my husband’s caffeine, it becomes a contributor to the problem. With not enough rest, I am less tolerant of the stressors that arise throughout the day. I am more likely to allow things to come out of my mouth that I wish I could take back later. I am more likely to forget to do something important that wakes me up in the middle of the night. I have more gaps in my memory that lead to worrying about whether something is done or not. This, then contributes to more bad nights.
So, I have developed a strategy to turn off these brain functions before I go to bed. Solitaire and TV seem to give my busy mind something to focus on besides the things that produce stress for me. I suspect that doing both of them together helps keep me from getting so engaged in either one that I get overly involved and more riled up. I often find myself nodding off in the middle of a solitaire game as long as the TV show isn’t too much of an adrenaline rush. Although, to tell the truth, I’ve managed to fall asleep during some pretty hairy scenes from time to time.
We used to just watch the Andy Griffith Show. I love that show. It’s silly and funny, but based on values like respecting others (including children), working out problems in a mutually agreeable way, and caring about people more than things. When I find myself on a wave of accumulation, watching the Andy Griffith Show helps put things back in perspective. How many TV shows were made where the main characters each had the same 3 outfits over 7 seasons? I started falling to sleep with uncomplicated thoughts and feeling pretty content when I went to sleep to Andy Griffith.
Now, out of Andy Griffith shows to watch, I find I need the distractions to get my mind off of whatever bone its chewing and relax. Yet, sometimes, something kicks in and I want to play one more game of solitaire, watch one more on-demand episode. Then, I cannot get to sleep. I have now developed the bad habit of taking the iPad to bed with me, surreptitiously to read for a little bit so I can go to sleep. But I find myself often having a hard time not playing solitaire instead. And, solitaire by itself is less likely to make me fall asleep than solitaire in combination with TV. It becomes a compulsion to play one more game. If I lose, I think “I’ll just play one more so I can win one before I quit.” If I win, I think “I’ll just play one more since I’m on a roll–I might get a new high score.” My cure has become my cause.
Tonight, I feel so awful. I want nothing more than a sound night of sleep. But once again, I cannot stop playing solitaire. I am wide awake a midnight. I do a mental equivalent of prying the iPad out of my clenched fingers and setting it aside to recharge. I think, “If it can recharge for the night, so can I.” I close my eyes and do my best to get comfortable. But I ache everywhere in spite of the Ibuprofen I took for my headache.
I try to just pay attention to my breathing, feeling the air coming in and out of my body. But my mind jumps up and races off somewhere I don’t want to go. I try to reel it back in, but I’m strangely fascinated. My curiosity wants to follow it even though I know it’s not leading me anywhere good. I feel weak, like I can’t resist the urge to follow. Before I know it, it is 1AM and I am still wide awake.
Because I have been referred to a sleep specialist in the past, I know I am a) not supposed to do anything besides sleep in bed (like read), b) not lay in bed when I’m not asleep, and c) not expose myself to bright light when it’s sleep time. So what do I do? I get out the iPad again while still in bed, only this time I turn to a book, turn the brightness down as low as it will go, and start to read. I get through about 2 pages and am barely awake enough to set the iPad aside before falling asleep. Go figure.