When I was a kid, my parents and I lived in an old farmhouse in the mountains of western North Carolina. The house was built in 1888, and every night as the sun set and the temperature dropped, the old building would come to life. The floorboards creaked and the joists groaned as if the house was preparing to devour the small child who lie wide awake in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Occasionally a squirrel or other small animal would become trapped between the home’s walls and scratch at the plaster like a furious zombie trying to claw its way to my young, delicious brain. Sometimes one of these vicious animals would scamper down the chimney and run across my bedroom floor. This would send me into such a panic, I’d grab my blanket and sprint into my parents’ room as if I were being chased by a pack of rabid wolves. The fact I was 15 at the time is irrelevant.
When I was in high school, we moved into a new house and out of the haunted mansion where I’d spent seventeen sleepless years. This house was set deep in the woods, and as darkness fell the wind blowing through the trees sounded like a sinister Gregorian chant. Many nights the hoot of an owl perched outside my window was answered by the distant but bone-chilling cry of a coyote, and I would become convinced the creatures of the night were mobilizing against me. “He’s on the second floor under a Miami Vice duvet cover,” I imagined the owl saying. I wasn’t sure how they would get me, but I was certain each night was my last.
Thirty odd years later, my sleep has not improved. While I’m no longer worried about being dragged through the woods to some wild animal’s liar, I now toss and turn while dipping into my bottomless well of cringeworthy memories. It’s as if a sadistic projectionist is just waiting for me to tuck myself in. Ready for bed? Great! Let’s cue up the time you vomited on the school bus. We’ll follow that with the time you asked the obese flight attendant when her baby was due.
During my last check-up, my doctor said, “Either your anxiety is causing your lack of sleep or your lack of sleep is causing your anxiety.” Whichever way, it’s a vicious cycle that has been my norm for decades. But maybe lack of sleep is not really a problem. I recently read an article about a hunter/gatherer tribe in South America that operates well on just a couple of hours sleep each night. I don’t hunt, and my gathering is generally confined to offerings available from Amazon Prime, but I take solace in this tribe’s productivity. They are living proof that it’s possible to be a high-functioning insomniac. I’m sure I could get a lot done, too, if I could just stop yawning.