On Sleeplessness and Getting ‘Quality Sleep’.

I have had issues with sleep since the 4th grade. 

At that time, I was a child of two worlds. This is also known as living with mom during the week and living with dad during the weekend.

During the week, I was inundated with the strict Catholicism that my mother tried to use as a tool to enforce my obedience. On the weekend, my newly sober father was multi-tasking: he was learning how to be a father again (as he was drunk when he was supposed to be doing those duties when my siblings were my age) by basically letting me do whatever and spoiling the shit out of me (a common tactic divorced dads usually resort to in an effort to curry favor with their children). Occasionally, he’d alternate spoiling me with letting me know how he really felt about my mother.

One time he dropped me off from school and laid this one on me: “I would be getting out of prison right about now if I had killed your mother.” I was still in the 4th grade at the time.

Freshly divorced parents are too self absorbed to realize that if there is a kid in the picture, that the familial schism that their hubris has caused is going to fuck up the kid more than it ever will them. 

So, from the 4th to the 8th grade getting quality sleep was a pain in the ass for me. If I couldn’t shut my brain off at night, I was getting to bed on time only to wake up an hour later unable to get to sleep until the wee hours of the morning. By the weekend, I was completely fucked because my father wanted to be ‘the cool dad’ so it became normal for him to let me sleep until the afternoons.

Bear this in mind: I harbor no ill-intent towards either of my parents. I’m just illustrating how sleep was a hard won ally for me. 

From high school until the present day, I didn’t fare much better. Sure, I got better at understanding people and how they worked. And sure, gainful weekend employment coupled with social activities made going to sleep at the end of the night a breeze thanks to sheer exhaustion. But getting enough quality sleep has always been a pain.

In recent years, if it hasn’t been anxieties about employment, or the future, it’s been about someone else: a new baby, a sick child, or a light sleeper sleeping next to me.

Since I have become the resident Resident of my family and since I have accepted the fact that I can’t burn the candle at both ends (like I did in my youth now that I’m in my mid-30’s) sleep is my favorite hobby.

Unfortunately, there are still some incidences where I can’t turn my brain off.

What to do in the Event of a Sleep Malfunction.

Before I go further, I should re-iterate that I’m not a sleep expert, nor am I a medical professional. 

I’m just another asshole who has an opinion and can kind of write good.

If you’re having trouble sleeping for a prolonged period of time (longer than a week), quit dicking around and make a doctor’s appointment. I  personally hate hospitals and I have a general disdain for doctors. However if there’s something keeping me from sleeping that may be “internal” you better damn well believe I’m making the appointment.

If you can’t bring yourself to do that, here is a short list of things that have worked for me in the past. (Maybe something herein will work for you too).

  1. Ear plugs and an eye covering of some sort. Yes, it’s a very thin line that separates you from a bird in a bird cage when you use these tools but sensory deprivation fucking works. I don’t use ear plugs often because they get irritating after a while, but I do make it a habit to cover my head. No light = better sleep.
  2. Daily physical activity (a.k.a keep yourself so busy through the course of the day that you have no choice but to go to sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow). Think of it this way: you’re earning your right to sleep at the end of the night.
  3. Writing and meditation. Both are very effective means of helping you shut your brain off. I use the writing because I live with four different and dynamic people. Sometimes they do shit and behave in a way that makes me want to squeeze their heads so hard that their brains shoot out of their assholes. Instead of doing that, I write about the stupid shit they do that pisses me off. In doing so, I’m able to strike an understanding of said behavior and come to a middle ground without entertaining the idea of exactly how much Comet I would need in order to clean up feces and grey matter. The meditation has helped in the past because sometimes you just need to sit down and breathe. The only problem with that is that you need to make yourself do it consistently so it becomes a habit. Here are the apps that I use: Stop, Think, and Breathe, Meditation Studio by Gaiam.
  4. Alternate methods and drugs. As far as the ‘alternative methods’ are concerned, they’re pretty simple. The first one that I started using was to have a cup of ‘sleepy’ tea. Lame sounding, but it works. Lately I have been partial to Sleepytime Celestial Seasonings with Echinacea. It’s fucking delicious and is just as good as a traditional ‘night cap’. Sure, I have to get up in the middle of the night to take a piss, but it’s a small price to pay for quality sleep. My recent addition to my sleep regimen has been leaving one of my feet uncovered. I read an article on Mental Floss that explains the science behind it and guess what? It fucking works. I get to sleep faster. My last method I don’t do as often as I should: it’s taking a cold shower before bed. Doing this is the real life equivalent of getting hit over the head with a sledge hammer. I first came across this when Tim Ferriss included it in his book, The 4 Hour Body and came across it again when AOM did a post on it as well. It works. And yes, you get used to the blast of cold water on your bits rather quickly. With respect to taking pills to go to sleep, I haven’t taken any that require a prescription (yet). When it comes to over the counter drugs like Benadryl and Melatonin, I highly suggest that you tread lightly and do your own research. Speaking for myself, both drugs have consistently left me sleep drunk (I need to take a nap shortly after getting up in order for the fog of drugs to dissipate). This may not be the case with you. Again, tread lightly.

Have a sleep ritual or trick you’d like to share? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

 

Advertisements

In which, I talk about adopting parental figures.

Once upon a time, the idea of two people getting divorced within the realm of America was considered wildly verboten. As we progressed down our timeline, our collective minds evolved and concluded that regardless of our religious stance, if it isn’t working between two people, they should be allowed to divide their assets and go their separate ways.


I am a child of the 1980’s. While I can’t speak to the cultural happenings of this time (because I wasn’t old enough to know the difference between my ass and a hole in the ground), I can unequivocally state that divorce became the in vogue experience that a large percentage of middle class families slogged through.

Even though I was the youngest of four children, My family was no exception to this event.

By the 1990’s I found my toes on the edge of being a teenager. It wasn’t pretty. I was lonely and horny all of the time and I didn’t know how to talk to anyone, let alone girls. I was angry all of the time because I was being shared between two people who didn’t get it right with my first 3 predecessors and now they were trying to get it right with me but they were doing it in two different ways.

Serendipitously speaking I was a lucky son of a bitch because I effectively came of age when the era of “Grunge” redefined a stale musical landscape. I was awash in music that defined how I felt. Anger, horniness, isolation and loneliness: it was all there and I could tap into it every time I turned the radio dial or punched in the channel numbers for MTV.

When I officially became a teenager, my sister, the oldest of us kids, and the one person of our family who guided me the most, proffered some sage-like wisdom to me:

“Find some surrogate parents. Ours are ok, but they’re never going to be able to be the parents that they ‘should be’ for you. They’re more concerned with ending their parenting stint on a high note at any cost”.

I’m paraphrasing of course but she was absolutely right. While my parents did have their hearts in the right place, they constantly butted heads on the wrong things, let things slide that shouldn’t have been slippery in the first place, and imbued me with a certain amount of schizophrenia due to the fact that their parenting styles were drastically different.

Shortly after my sister dropped that bomb on me, I took it upon myself to adopt the mother of my best friend at the time. I never told him this. Don’t know why, I can’t imagine that it would have mattered to him. But his mother always treated me like I was one of her kids.

It was nice and weird at the same time. I could make her laugh and she seemed genuinely interested in me and what was going on in my life. When I went back to my own home, or my father’s home, I didn’t get the same level of consideration for various reasons.

Finding a surrogate father proved a little more difficult as most of my friends were refugees from divorce as well. Their dads had their hands full as it was. They didn’t need someone else’s kid sniffing around their domicile.

Then, in 1994 the single ‘Liar’ by Rollins Band gained heavy air play.

This… This was the guy that I saw in the Mac ad in one of my sister’s Rolling Stone magazines a few years prior. This was the guy who went on to write for that same magazine for a short period of time. His level of anger seemingly matched my level of anger. That is to say, I felt that we were both of the same mind.

I adopted Henry Rollins as my surrogate father.

As I dived deep into the corner of time that this person claimed as his own, I was overjoyed to learn that there were books and spoken word albums as well.

Henry got me through a lot.


My teens gave way to my 20’s and like with all relationships, familial and otherwise, I grew up and moved on. It’s not that there was anything wrong with what Henry was talking about at the time. It just didn’t resonate with me as much.

Throughout my 20’s and into my 30’s, I was bludgeoned with life changes.

A certain series of events with multiple friendships had shown me that those friends, the relationships that I had had with them, had run their course. It was the first time in nearly a decade that I had been as lonely as I was in gradeschool.

I was the caregiver for my father for the last 3 years of his life.

I left a job I was at for over a decade in search of other, more suitable employment.

I rooted down and started a family of my own. I experienced job loss when I need it the most: shortly after my 3rd child was born. I felt the pain that comes with having to ask for help when I have never had to do that before.

Life was moving on even though I was hanging on by my fingertips.


Through the miracle of podcasts, I found my way back to Mr. Rollins within the past couple of years. It had been a while since I had listened to anything that he had to say, so I figured “Why the fuck not?”

Everything resonated with me the way that most of his early stuff resonated with me. It was dumbfounding. What I heard, and I deep-dived again, was the voice and thoughts of someone who was trying to clear a path in the world for the younger generation. A thing of which, I have been trying to do for my own children.

Of course, this re-ignited my fandom. On occasion, I’d fire up some of his spoken word stuff (the stuff from this century) and use it as background noise. One day, I caught something, an idea that he was trying to get across.

I was listening to him tell the story of when he got to play with the Ruts during their benefit show for their ailing guitar player. During the second half of the story, he was going on about all of the ‘surrogate fathers’ of the bands that he idolized when he was a kid who were also playing the same benefit.

What I thought was “Doesn’t he realize that he is in the same position of surrogacy?”

Maybe he has. Maybe someone else has all ready brought this to his attention. I can’t imagine that he’d bring it up himself.

Henry Rollins may not be a legitimate dad, but he’s been a father for a lot of us. I for one, am grateful for it.