SLEEPING UGLY

‘Insomnia’ by Faithless – ‘I can’t get no sleep’ etc. – was a hit emanating from a culture in which insomnia itself was a by-product of ingesting certain substances to excess and therefore spoke volumes to the core audience that lapped it up when staring bleary-eyed at ‘Teletubbies’ on mid-90s Sunday mornings. However, now being over 20 years away from that culture means when insomnia returns to the E-free fibres of one’s being, it can’t be blamed on the drugs. Yes, the condition can blamed on legal highs such as nicotine or caffeine, though not everyone who smokes or drinks coffee struggles to sleep when night falls.

The ceiling may be being stared at, though it looks different at 4.40am to how it looks at 4.40pm; night-light paints the room in such sinister shades that the dream disrupting the twilight slumber that eventually overcomes the insomniac is entirely complementary to the ambience natural darkness sketches with malicious relish. Ever woken-up yourself or a sleeping companion by shouting out loud? I did last night, though the imaginary fat man (like the imaginary wizened old lady in a headscarf) who had invaded my space and provoked an operatic cry wasn’t there when my eyes opened; he lingered, however, as nightmares do in the shadows of the autumnal dawn. Oh, dreams can be horrible sometimes; when you snap out of them, the unfamiliar landscape of surroundings retouched by nocturnal fingertips is a barrier to realising one’s imagination has been having sadistic fun again. You are safe, but this eternal truism isn’t initially obvious. Switch on a bedside lamp and awareness of the divide between imagination and reality gradually – if belatedly – sinks in.

The room always looks different through the eyes of the short-sighted, anyway; once I remove contact lenses or spectacles, my perception of the world alters. I once compared the sensory impact to the stark visual contrast prevalent in 1970s-produced TV drama, whereby interior studio scenes are shot on crystal-clear videotape and outdoor location footage is shot on grainy film. My bedroom transforms from videotape to film the minute my eyes are deprived of artificial stimulants, anyway; but abruptly waking from some unpleasant encounter with a figure conjured up by my sick subconscious renders the room even stranger than it looked when I switched out the light.

It doesn’t help matters when these periodical phases interrupt the necessity of rest and recuperation from the grind of the day by drenching bed-sheets in gallons of sweat. I often awake feeling as though I’ve just been swimming in my clothes and am confronted by the kind of uncomfortable scenario parents of small children who wet the bed have to deal with. But even getting to that stage can be something of a marathon. Clambering under the covers in the wee small hours should really be an end to all problems, though it tends to be the beginning. Regardless of how exhaustion when awake suggests sleep will descend with ease once enveloped in the paraphernalia of bedtime, it’s remarkable how elusive such sweet surrender can be.

Tossing and turning – and the former isn’t a euphemism for masturbation in this case – are par for the course when something that should be a given proves to be a bastard. The sheet covering the mattress feels like it’s covering the uneven surface of a mountain, with petrified ripples and frozen bumps permanent hindrances to comfort for the back; the duvet that should be the ultimate pair of friendly furry arms wrapped around the unloved torso becomes a weighty medieval torture implement designed to crush the life out of the reluctant recanter; the pillow that is intended to give the head a facsimile harbour to dock in overnight is transformed into a sack of rocks retrieved from the wreckage of a recently erupted volcano, cool for a minute and then heating up to insufferable oven temperatures. And then, right at the very point when all these factors are triumphantly overcome, the twat next door opens his audition for the Ministry of Sound. At ten-to-five.

As unwelcome side-effects of life go, insomnia isn’t one that bodes well for its sufferers as far as the stats are concerned. Surveys regularly suggest persistent sleep deprivation not only adversely affects one’s ability to function when awake, but also reduces one’s lifespan. Anomalies such as Al Herpin, the so-called ‘Man who Never Slept’, are not exactly commonplace. The American who died aged 94 in 1947 attracted the interest of the medical profession when he claimed he didn’t sleep; possessing no bed, he apparently rested in a rocking chair through the night and read the paper before resuming his working day without any notable negative effects.

Then there was Paul Kern, a Hungarian solider who never slept again after receiving a shot to the head; and over in Vietnam, 75-year-old Thai Ngoc is still alive despite claiming not to have slept since recovering from a fever in 1973. These are more freaks of medical science rather than customary cases of insomnia, however; for most of us, the inability to either go to sleep or to sustain sleep over a prolonged period of hours can produce a disorientating ‘out-of-body’ sensation when awake that might cause observers to conclude we’re under the influence of alcohol or illicit substances.

Insomnia is something of a vicious circle for its recipient; depression can provoke it, yet depression can be maintained by it. Whether or not vivid nightmares are associated with the condition when sleep actually comes, these are symptoms I can confirm as particularly personal products of insomnia, things that render the prospect of sleep far-from desirable when one knows an unwanted reunion with one’s demons are on the cards. Then again, we don’t all require the same amount of hours per night. Some need the full seven or eight to feel as though their batteries have been comprehensively recharged, yet others can get by on half that. Some succumb to afternoon cat-naps whereas others survive the full waking day without recourse to such luxuries and show no discernible signs of fatigue as a consequence. Maybe I should stop trying and just let my body dictate the pattern as it sees fit – or devour all reports on Prince Harry getting engaged; that should do the trick.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1