9.6.09

Sleepless

What human beings don’t know about our own brains is staggering. No one knows why we’re self-aware. No one can say for certain why we sleep, if we can really “sleep too much,” or if we even need to sleep. I speak in terms of science. In terms of experience, I have no idea why we’re self-aware, if we can sleep too much, or why we need sleep, but I know that we need sleep. Without question.

For most of my years on earth I was an insomniac. I am told by my parents and sisters, all, that, in my infancy, I almost never slept. I don’t remember ever sleeping through the night as a child.

As I got older I would have bouts of literal sleeplessness - a day or two, no big deal, really. Especially considering I lived my life in a state of constant sleep deprivation.

I tried sleeping pills. Sleeping pills today are different than the sleeping pills of yore. Now they try to regulate your natural circadian rhythm so you can sleep on your own. The pills worked as long as I took them. I went to sleep, but as soon as my 14 tablets were gone, I was awake again.

I was never particularly comfortable with taking pills for anything so when the second batch of sleeping aids failed, I decided that I was doomed to insomnia for the rest of my life. It seemed okay to me.

Then, in my last semester of college, I had a horrible time where I slept an average of about 2 hours a week for weeks and weeks. If you’ve never experienced extreme sleep deprivation, there’s no way to truly describe it’s effect.

I can say I felt like I was losing my mind and that’s putting it mildly. I didn’t really hallucinate, as I’ve heard other people report, but I couldn’t keep a thought in my head or an object in my hand. I walked into things, tripped, dropped things, and worst of all, I couldn’t remember anything. It was like sleepwalking without the benefits of being either asleep or awake. I could hear everything. I could hear grass grow, it seemed like. I was always uncomfortable, all of my clothes were too rough or too tight or itchy. I got headaches from clenching my jaw so tight and my teeth were sore.

Oh, and I was a little cranky. Just a little, though…

Somewhere in the middle of all of that, my father said something I didn’t really pay much attention to. Not because I don't love and respect my father's opinion, but because I couldn't have paid attention to my head aflame due to my state of mind and body.

Finally, possibly due to extreme exhaustion, or possibly due to some other thing in my brain, I went to sleep for more than 10 minutes. I got back to my regular routine of 3 or 4 hours a night and felt fine.

A couple of years later, due to several factors in my life, I was, again, not sleeping. Not at all. Not even a little. I couldn't even get my eyes to stay closed. It was about a week and a half in with not a wink of sleep that I remembered that my father had suggested something to me the last time. What was it? It took a few days more without sleep before I could get the thought back. It was acupuncture.

I didn't really know anything about it, but I figured it was worth a shot. I looked online for an acupuncturist (because how else do you find one?). I found acufinder.com and from there found a practice in Santa Monica. I sort of picked at random.

I was skeptical and was only made more so by the acupuncturist. He was about 35, tall and blonde and the first thing he said to me after I told him I'd never had acupuncture before was, "It'll probably take at least 5 sessions before you see any kind of results." Riiiiight. And you happen to sell packages in sets of 5, huh? How convenient. But open mind, open mind I reminded myself.

The first thing he did was take my medical history and then my height and weight. All standard. Then he took my pulse - in about 17 different places. He had me stick out my tongue and he looked at that for a long time. Then he told me that the flow of my chi was reversed and that was probably most of my problem. I just went with it.

He gave me a gown and told me to lie on the table on my back. He came back with a little tackle box and a scary machine. He lit a little candle and turned on a little fountain I hadn't noticed before and then broke out the needles.

I tried really hard to relax, but I wasn't sure what I was in for so I had a little trouble. Finally, he was ready and he stuck the first needle into my left leg. Minor sting on impact, but really not painful. He made his way around me, sticking needles in both legs, both arms and a couple in my head. Then he turned off the lights and left me to marinate for about 30 minutes.

After the first session, I felt no difference, but he said to give it 5 tries. So I went back. The third day, I felt more relaxed during the pinning itself, and by the time I got home, I was actually sleepy. I lay down on my bed, pulled the corner of the comforter over my feet and fell asleep for about 13 hours. Solid, uninterrupted sleep.

I was sold. I've been sleeping full nights for the last 5 years. I lost my acupuncturist when I moved to Vegas last year, but the Bikram seems to have kept me in balance. At least until recently.

For the last couple of months my sleep has been off. I have trouble going to sleep, wake up a lot and have, what can only be called, fucked up dreams. Dreams that I'm being chased by men with guns, dreams that people riding giant snakes are trying to kill me, dreams that I can't find my way somewhere even though I've been there a million times, dreams that I'm swimming and swimming and there's never any land, and dreams that I buy a house who's rooms keep changing places.

Clearly I need to be needled. I get more relaxation from acupuncture than I do from a massage and it helps me sleep. So now I have to try and find someone in Vegas. Maybe it won't be as hard as it sounds. I just know that I'm too old to live on no sleep anymore.

And, at worst, I think I can dig up a straight-pin or two and do it myself... Actually, maybe that's the kind of thinking that indicates the dire need for professional intervetion.

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