To sleep, perchance to dream

I have a problem sleeping.  I would guarantee that right about now my friends and family are shaking their heads in disbelief, certain they have evidence to the contrary.  It’s not that I can sleep, I don’t have that insomniac problem of tossing and turning in desperation. It’s not even that I can’t stay asleep.  In fact, I’m very good at staying asleep. This truth of it is I have a problem going to sleep: I don’t want to.  Since I was small I haven’t been very good at going to sleep; fighting it as long as I could so I didn’t miss anything, driving my parents mad with incessant chatter all the way from Germany to England to visit my grandparents only to finally succumb at the end of their street.  I don’t know what I thought I’d miss from a car on the M25 at 9pm, but whatever it was I was certainly going to give myself every chance to see it.

Now, when I should know better, I still have a mental block against allowing myself some shut eye.  I’m definitely a night owl, much more so than an early bird, but at the same time I really need my 8 hours.  Clearly, these facts are not compatible with a productive morning.  I’ve had long conversations with myself about it; a regular feature of these being The Countdown which goes: “It’s midnight.  If I go to sleep now, I’ll get 8 hours before I get up…” “Ok, now it’s 1am.  If I go to sleep now, I’ll get 7 hours sleep…” “Ok, it’s half past 2….” Repeat until brain gives up.

One of the problems is I’ve gotten very good at coming up with excuses.  I’m so good, in fact, that I can not only come up with them but actually convince myself I believe them.  Lets take a look:

The Next Episode (aka We Can’t Leave It There!)

We have a system in our house.  He plays games on his PC, I watch sci-fi shows, he pretends he isn’t interested by asking questions, making comments and recognising people who crop up in other things (even though he isn’t watching either show, honest). Unfortunately, a lot of sci-fi shows use the ‘dun dun DUUUUUUN’ method of show ending – that is, they leave you on a cliff hanger or big reveal to ensure you tune in next week.  Which is all well and good when you have to wait a week, but when you have the whole series on Netflix – just sitting there waiting – it’s almost impossible to turn it off.  This is how we’ve watched the entire back catalogue of 5 different shows in 4 months…  Netflix has now introduced a feature that starts playing the next episode automatically 20 seconds after the previous episode finishes.  Admittedly, it also asks you if you’re still watching after you haven’t touched the remote in a while, but honestly, when you reach this point it’s probably too late.  He tends to lose hours by the bucketload when he’s gaming (who doesn’t?) so he’s no help.  “It’s probably bed time, right?” “Yep, just let me choose my level up attributes…”

Which leads us nicely on to:

Just One More Level

I got an iPad for my birthday.  It’s amazing. I’m not sure how I lived without it. It’s also a fantastic device for playing games on.  My personal favourites include Lego Harry Potter, Where’s My Water?, Words with Friends, Draw Something and Cut the Rope. Words with Friends and Draw Something I’ll let off – the others clearly hate sleep.  Not only are they beautifully made and completely engaging they’ve been designed to be all but impossible to stop playing. Progress mid-level can’t be saved so you have to play to the end and, when you get there, the ‘Next Level’ button just sits there – daring you not to tap it. I’m sure people exist with the willpower to just put the thing down but I am not one of them.  And so it goes, one addictive level after another until exhaustion, completion or somebody takes it away from me.  The phenomenon isn’t restricted to the iPad (although its portability is most certainly a factor); there are several PlayStation games where I’ve found myself saying ‘I’ll just get to the end of this bit’ only to be dropped into a cutscene that changes everything and had to carry on after because, you know, people are shooting at me, I’m saving the world here! I can’t just leave it like that!

I’m Getting To A Good Bit

Getting to a good bit is a great excuse because it’s entirely subjective.  I can justify a ‘good bit’ in a book as anything from well written to explosive action without having to explain anything. “It’s probably time to go to sleep” “In a minute, I’m getting to a good bit”.  The length of ‘good bits’ is also open to interpretation too, along with the distance between good bits and how good they are. “Are you done yet?” “I’m just getting to a good bit!” “You said that 20 minutes ago.” “I know, it’s another good bit!”

I Can’t Stop Until I Win

A variation on ‘Getting to a Good Bit’ and ‘Just One More Level’ is “I Can’t Stop Until I Win’. This ‘winner complex’ means that if I’m playing something that has a defined ‘win’ I have to achieve it before I can stop.  It applies to a certain extent to Where’s My Water and the like, but the real culprit here is Solitaire. I’ve played each of the 16 version of solitaire available on Solitaire City so many times I’ve got the best score on every one – and in most cases on each of the variations within each version.  It can be safely said that I have nothing else to gain from playing this game and yet, night after night, I play game after game of it. My self inflicted rule is that I have to win to be able to stop playing.  I’m not even sure why.  It’s become something of a ritual now.  I go to bed, turn out the light and pick up the iPad.  I’m beginning to get rather concerned that I’m training myself so I can’t sleep without it, so I’m trying to practice putting it down again but my willpower isn’t up to much and I find myself saying “Just three more… just another bonus go… I must be due a good hand next deal…”  This is why I am not allowed to go to Vegas.

I’ve Just Had A Brilliant Idea

My subconscious mind has a knack of springing the world’s best idea on me at 1am.  It generally zips through at lightening speed; just the subtlest hint of a brainwave, demanding to be developed.  Birthdays, dinners, writing, shopping, training. It doesn’t tend to be any specific theme but if I don’t deal with it that instant it’s lost to the world forever.  Which means I wake up in the morning thinking “I had a great idea last night… now, what was it about?” So, obviously, I have to deal with it or I’d spend my whole life wandering around in a daze of uninspired dreariness.  The downside of this comes from the instant availability of all information, ever, in the form of the internet.  Which just so happens to be completely accessible from the iPad. And, as anyone who’s ever looked anything up knows – it never stops there. Before you know it, it’s 3am and you’re so far down a Wikipedia chain you may never see daylight again.  Great for general knowledge and the spewing of random facts, not so good for bags under the eyes.

What Do I Have To Do Tomorrow (aka The List, including the Alphabet Game)

Assuming I’ve turned off the TV, overcome the iPad obsession and put down the book you’d think now would be the time to accept that my body needs sleep.  Perfectly natural, good for you sleep.  But no.  I have ways to entertain my brain even when there are no obvious distractions.  The first tactic I recognised in the film ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ (not great, not terrible, kinda meh) where SJP is laid in bed running through everything she still has to do on her List.  It’s probably familiar to a lot of women – get something out for dinner, fix the husband’s jeans, paint the bedroom, get the dog a new harness, find somewhere to keep the baking things, buy some flowers… it goes on and on.  I generally write it all down, but I’ve found that running through the next day actually helps mellow me out – it’s like giving myself a heads up on what I need to think of excuses to avoid doing.  Once the list is done and I’m still fighting sleep I resort to the Alphabet Game.  It’s a simple concept – pick a topic (dog breeds, cheeses, actresses surnames, trees) and name one for every letter of the alphabet.  It’s an effective way of tricking my brain into going to sleep – it thinks it’s working on a game but it’s actually a lot more like counting sheep and I generally drop off around N.  These two are the only distractions I don’t have sleep guilt over, as they get me organised and finally allow me to relax enough to get some proper rest.  But even these aren’t foolproof.

The Big Question

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a certain part of my brain who’s sole purpose in existing is to mess with me.  It’s the part that calls me fat and makes me say dumb things to smart people.  This part of my brain has been running a 30 year experiment to see if it can keep me from allowing myself go to sleep and it doesn’t play fair.  I know this because, once all of the other distractions are out of the way, it gets right up close to my ear and whispers “You know, you’re going to die one day. Night!”  During the day, I can hold rational discussions about this (admittedly morbid) fact of life. I wouldn’t say I’m OK with it, but it doesn’t freak me out too much.  At night, it’s a different story.  As soon as the thought crosses my mind I need lights and distraction – in the form of anything at all that will stop me hyperventilating myself into the grave my brain has so thoughtfully reminded me of.  So, I pick up the iPad and play solitaire until my eyes don’t work anymore, pick a topic and list myself to sleep.  Which, when I’m there, is a wonderful place of rest and recovery.  I wish I could let myself get there sooner.

Read and the world reads with you

Aside

I went to the library today.  I’m ashamed to say I can’t believe how long it’s been since I was last there, but I shall certainly be back.

The building is light, words buzz just out of hearing.  People study the shelves with interest, confusion, excitement.  Fingers reach, hesitate, reach again.  Covers are scrutinised, sleeves skimmed, first pages begun.

Suddenly, a memory floods back to me.  Mum is producing the book bag when I get home from school.  She’s been to the library.  She’s chosen books for me.  At this moment, anything is possible.  I could be a princess, a pirate, a hero, a villain.  I could learn, explore, discover, I could laugh, cry, grow.  With each book comes a wealth of words, experiences, challenges and joys and book by book the possibilities wind around each other, freeing my mind and opening doors I didn’t even know where closed.  Long after the book returns to the shelf the stories stay with me.  There’s a bond between me and everyone else who’s read this book now, especially those who held this exact copy.  We’ve been on this adventure together, we’ve held our breath, clutched the pages so they wrinkle, become so engrossed we’ve accidentally squashed the remains of a chocolate biscuit between the pages.  We’ve held it under the covers and tuned out the world around us, we’ve saved the world together and we’ve never even met.

The library welcomes us all.  It doesn’t care if we are rich or poor, it doesn’t judge us and it doesn’t want anything from us but our presence.  The library will teach us, comfort us, entertain us and guide us.  We can experiment and ask, share and engage.  We can download a book, sing with our children and meet with our heroes.  And all for free.  Like the books themselves, I think that’s worth holding on to.