Sleepless in SF

I’ve been having some sleepless nights lately. Nothing in particular is wrong – I’m not any more or less stressed that I usually am. It’s just that sleep hasn’t come easily for a few nights, and I’ve had a hard time staying asleep.

I spent a few years after my dad’s death dealing with some pretty epic insomnia. I would finally fall asleep an hour before dawn and get a few fitful hours. After a few days I would eventually crash and sleep for 11 hours, only to have the cycle repeat again. I tried everything – melatonin, hypnosis, Ambien, warm milk, you name it – to no avail. In retrospect I was dealing with some unnoticed and unmanaged manic episodes, so the fact that nothing seemed to work makes sense.

Luckily I’ve never returned to that level of sleep disregulation, but I’ll experience occasional jags like the one I’m in now. I’ve found that it helps to spend a little time checking in with myself – is there something going on internally that I’m not paying attention to? Am I drinking too much coffee? Am I not taking my meds correctly? Am I spending too much of my evening staring at screens?

If the answer to all of the above is no, I simply let myself be OK with the fact that I can’t sleep. Not anxious, but also not in some magic state of blissful acceptance (although that would be nice!). Rather, it’s a studied neutrality. Huh, I can’t sleep. Isn’t that interesting. I guess I’ll just hang out awake until I feel like sleeping.

Worrying about your inability to sleep is not going to help you with sleeping. The more global corollary, which I remind myself of daily, is that feeling bad about feeling bad is not going to make you feel better. Sleeplessness and feeling bad are hard enough; we don’t need to further cause ourselves pain by needlessly blaming ourselves. Sometimes things just are, and the best we can do is to sit with whatever it is.

Finally, I always try to take a page from Pinkerton’s book. Whenever we travel, even if it’s somewhere that’s totally new to him, he’ll find a way to make himself feel comfortable and safe, which generally involves finding a soft place to lie down, and finding some of my clothing to lay on. A sweater, a scarf, occasionally dirty gym clothes – anything he can fashion into a nest that smells of me. He finds the things that are comforting and comfortable and creates a safe space to rest.

A good object lesson for all of us.

6 thoughts on “Sleepless in SF

  1. Interesting that you should choose to write today, not because of your insomnia but because I happened to be listening to Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks music (David Lynch turned 75 on Jan. 20) linked from Jazziz Magazine. Then I happened to see in the YouTube margin that you and the Danish National Symph. Orch. also made a video recording of a longer version from the Jazziz piece. I closed that window after watching/listening to your outstanding work, turned to other emails and there was your blog. Nice coincidence. I always like to see what you do and always enjoy it, especially when it’s live. I’m looking forward to next Friday’s MN Orchestra presentation and your explanations. Thanks again for everything that you do to keep at it, and when you can, sleep well.


  2. Wayne Zelenak says:

    Sarah, welcome to the sleep deprivation club. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) estimated that over one-third of the adult population in the U.S. sleeps less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours each night, of which I am also a member. I have accepted my fate and use it for research time and catching up with the daily news.

    I like your page from Pinkerton’s book while you travel with him, by finding a soft and comfortable place and lying on a piece of your clothing like a scarf or sweater. Your scent gives him a feeling of safety in a strange place, eliminates anxiety, and provides sweet dreams, as he awaits your arrival. A lesson learned is wisdom earned…



  3. Hi Sarah.
    Dre Sonia Lupien (post doctorate in neuro psychology & researcher) recently said on the radio (Radio-Canada) that there is a corollary between insomnia and the pandemic. It is exacerbated by the anxiety that people experience at different levels. There will be a lot a studies made from the aftermath of the covid-19.
    Pink is always photogenic. Dogs remind us every single day that they don’t need much to be happy. As you probably know a dog’s nose has about +- 3 millions receptors compare to +- 100 000 for a human being. That explains why dogs can be use in airport, in the medical field,…All they need in return is tlc (tender loving care). In Pink’s case there’s no doubt about it.


    1. chefdorch says:

      I’ve been reading a lot about pandemic insomnia – and I know for sure that many of my friends who’ve never experienced it before covid suffer from it now. I’ll be curious about future studies!


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