Thursday, August 25, 2016

Anatomy of a Sleepless Night

When I discovered the Big Three recommendations for a good Third Third (structure, purpose, and a sense of community), I knew my most obvious challenge was probably going to be sleeping. Or rather, sleeping on a regular basis on a regular schedule for a regular number of hours. Or, to be more accurate, sleeping. Period.

Some people fall asleep. They close their eyes, and sleep comes to them. With my husband, sleep overtakes him. For me, sleep hides. I have to hunt for it, coax it out of hiding, and hope it decides to stay.

I used to follow little schedules: no exercising after 8 p.m. Begin sleep readiness and shut-down behaviors at 9 p.m. Go into bed at 10 p.m. Hope.

When Sophie was born, that was shot to hell. I don’t think she slept through the night till she was eleven. Even if she’d slept, I’d be Alert to Her. After I stopped being crazy from lack of sleep (Did I stop?), I adapted. I simply acknowledged that every now and then, I’d “go around the clock,” stopped fretting about it, and went along pretty smoothly. If you don’t worry about being tired, you can find that you don’t feel tired. But that was my Second Third.
Right now, writing this, I’m sort of dulled. Not comatose, but just a step up. No zip. I had a long, long night.

10 p.m. Uh, oh, I already knew I’d messed up. I was reading Nicci French’s Thursday’s Child, which is fourth in her series. Her books are intelligent and clever, but they kind of make my hair stand on end. I’d decided it was a daytime-only read book, but at 10 p.m., I’d already messed that up.
11 p.m. Go into bed. Pick some reading material that will force Nicci French out of my head. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time had worked the night before. Tim’s head hits the pillow, and he’s out.

12 a.m. According to general relativity, time moves more slowly closer to the earth’s surface because of gravity so, for example, a clock at sea level will run slower than one on a mountaintop. But is the clock itself actually slowing down – its mechanism and all – or is the elapsed time slowing down? Would the clock show a minute and ten seconds, for example, or would it show a longer minute? Obviously, Stephen Hawking is not putting me to sleep. He’s giving me IDEAS! I am so absorbed in this – I’ll have to check out the 1962 water tower/atomic clock experiment he refers to – that I have two choices: get up, embrace the night, follow this physics problem to its conclusion, OR try a chemical aid.
I have several choices: Advil PM or prescription Lunesta. I have to make this decision quickly because any later, and I’ll be stuck and groggy in the morning. I go with my latest experiment, that ZzzQuil generic.

1 a.m. I’m definitely drowsy, but now my restless legs are awake in bed. My head has moved off clocks and is back with Nicci French and who did it? I have learned that there is no relation between physical exhaustion and falling asleep. Either the toggle switch toggles to “sleep” or it doesn’t. I’d gone for a hike today, been outside, drank my warm milk, done all the right things to promote “feeling tired.” No dice.

3 a.m. I am really, really trying not to fret about the clocks and gravity. I think maybe if I browse a Good Housekeeping magazine, it will be brief (short articles), not intellectually exciting, and not scary. I lie in bed.

4 a.m. I decide to get up and go out to the couch so my reading won’t disturb Tim. As I cruise around getting a blanket, Tim emerges: “What’s going on?” and scares the shit out of me. Now I’m wide awake with adrenalin pumping and might as well finish the Nicci French book. Maybe once the mystery is resolved, I can relax and fall asleep.
6 a.m. I think that works; I may have dozed off for a while. Tim says goodbye. I get the newspaper.

8 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. I may have lost some time there because I’m aware of waking up to look at the clock (which is at sea level). I feel queasy and fogged. This is not going to be one of those smooth round-the-clock days. This is going to be a mess. I miss a 10:30 gathering.

I compensate by cleaning the stove, sink, and cabinets and Googling the water tower clock experiment and Einstein’s time dilation.

Relativity question: Is my Third Third going to be longer than my previous thirds because I spend more of it awake? Is my clock running slower? Or is that just a foggy question from a sleep-deprived fool?


  1. Ah, we missed you on Thursday - now I know why!

  2. Does anyone have a citation for the 1962 water tower experiment? I can't seem to find it in the literature.

    1. You're right! I've looked everywhere and they all seem to reference Hawking. I did find this (, but that clearly says it happened in 1959.

    2. One more citation:!topic/sci.physics.research/OrUCLx_s1lY


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