You’ve heard of the city that never sleeps? Well, I live in the house that never sleeps. Never. We’re like a cellblock of insomniacs.
You see, insomnia is as contagious as pink eye at a daycare center and mono in a college dormitory. It has caused many husbands and wives to get separate beds, ear plugs or a divorce, not to mention a prescription for Ambien.
Insomnia spreads from one person to another, from people to pets, and from pets to people. Yes, it afflicts the animal kingdom. Our dog frequently wanders around the house at night, looking for someone to play with her or give her a treat — usually me. She’ll sit by the side of the bed, moaning until I get up and crack open a bag of Newman’s Own organic chicken and rice snack sticks. After that act of kindness, I’m up for hours.
As Richard III said in Shakespeare’s play, “Some sleep! Some sleep! My kingdom for some sleep!” Or that might have been Little Richard.
When I was a kid, I had this wonderful ability. Actually, I had many wonderful abilities, but this one was special: I could put my head on the pillow, close my eyes and then open them … and it was morning.
Now, because of age, stress or a bad mattress, I wake up at 2 a.m. and stare at the ceiling for hours while my mind wanders like Ulysses. I’ll lie there thinking about my bills, my health, Karl Marx, the state’s plan to bring back the tolls, and the idiot who cut me off on the Merritt.
I toss and turn and watch the clock go from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. In desperation, I start doing all sorts of things like checking the weather, sending out emails, saying my prayers, reading yesterday’s news and watching Seinfeld reruns.
When there’s a full moon, I’m really restless. Who knows? Maybe a werewolf bit me when I was a kid. I told my wife not to be surprised if I wake up howling some night. There’s nothing worse than a full moon if you want a good night’s sleep, except the nocturnal curse of all men — the midnight pee. If you drink too much before bedtime, it will catch up with you, especially with guys who have beer bellies. Just remember not to flush the toilet, or everyone else will be waking up, too.
Sometimes I lie awake because I’m hungry. When my stomach starts gurgling and growling and aching, I make my way down to the kitchen, where I find my wife at the table eating yogurt while the dog is beside her, chowing down a bowl of rotisserie chicken. Our house is like an all-night diner. You’ve heard how misery loves company? Well, so does insomnia.
I’ll rummage through the pantry and refrigerator, looking for something I can stuff in my mouth to settle my stomach so I can get back to sleep. Bananas work, but my mother always warned us not to eat bananas before going to bed because she said they cause nightmares. She was right. The other night I dreamt I was in high school taking my final exam in calculus and about to flunk. I already did that once. My mother also told us not to drink Coke at bedtime because it would keep us up, and she didn’t lie.
After I have something to eat, I need to brush my teeth because I don’t want cavities, but the sound of the electric toothbrush wakes everyone up. Pretty soon, they’re yelling — and barking — at me to shut the bathroom light, stop flushing the toilet and turn off the toothbrush.
Other times I lie awake because I ate spicy food, pepperoni pizza or nachos for dinner, so I get out of bed and rummage through the medicine cabinet looking for antacids. Agita is the curse of every insomniac.
Oh the torment! It reminds me of those other famous words of Shakespeare, who was a lifelong insomniac: “To sleep! Perchance to dream!”
His poor friend Hamlet was also known to stay up all night, wandering through the castle and opining: “To sleep or not to sleep. That is the question!”
Joe Pisani can be reached at [email protected]