I’m still getting used to the space, depth, and sound of my new bedroom. The way the air fills these four walls, the darker depths of the closet doors, the worn path between the door and the desk and the bed. It’s a new bed, too. My bed is different, too. I’m higher up off the floor, the mattress is softer, and there is a set of shelves on the headboard behind me. The shelves are empty, except for a lamp.
My laptop is laying on the mattress behind my head, the surest evidence that I am single. It’s so easy to flip it open and turn on some mindless brainless fluff to fall asleep to. I always choose things I’m interested in learning about, but sleep comes within seconds of my laying down in the night. I fall asleep soundly, quickly, heavily.
And then, almost without fail, about four hours later I wake. A sore muscle, an errant thought, a full bladder, something to disturb the slumber, and then I’m generally awake for an hour or two. I can try various tricks to get me back to sleep–a few bites of some food and a couple of Tylenol tend to do the trick sometimes, soft music others. But if I can’t fall back to sleep within thirty minutes or so, I’ll often just get up. I’ll surrender to the wakefulness and get things done. I always have things to do.
I scan my body, surveying myself. My toes are cold. I’m on my right side, a pillow tucked between my knees, another pillow clutched in my arms. My right shoulder is sore from being suspended up underneath my head, where a third pillow is wedged and folded. My right arm is straight out, hanging off the bed. My chest and shoulders are aching, sore from last night’s push-ups, and my glutes are sore from last night’s stair-climbing cardio. I’m warm and snug, in between sheets with two big blankets on top, one of them made by my grandmother before she died, and one of them knitted for me by my mother twenty years ago when I was in high school. I’m nude, and warm, and snug, and the air outside my bed feels chilly on my exposed ear and cheek.
It’s been a long time since someone shared my bed, since I could hear familiar and even breathing behind me as I lay awake, since I felt the weight and heat of another body, since I had my arms around a body instead of a pillow. I could move my cold toes over beneath his feet to warm them. I could convince myself to stay there until I fell back asleep because I wouldn’t want to disturb him. But there is no one there.
And so I rise. And stretch. My vertebrae gratefully expand and pop. My back is always sorest in the mornings. I stretch my hips, turn my neck back and forth, touch my toes, press my shoulder blades together, raise my arms in the air. My body shivers in the cold as I slide on a pair of sweatpants. The room is dark, but my eyes are adjusted and I can make out the hamper full of clothes, the stack of books on the floor, the desk and chair, the unfinished paperwork, the charging cell phone, the lamp, the laptop cords.
I stand there for a bit, my feet cold against the carpet, and I listen. I hear the gentle hiss of the air vent, but all else is silent, heavy, dark and chilled. I expand my awareness to outside, to the trees and concrete outside, and I can make out the crunchy sounds of a garbage truck down the road. It must be 3 AM.
On occasion, I do therapy sessions with my clients about the science of sleep, helping them realize how much goes in to their sleep cycles. Some sleep too long. Some, like me, fall asleep quickly but can’t stay asleep, waking quickly and abruptly. Some stay awake for hours, lying there as sleep eludes them, until they fall heavily out until the alarm blares and then they can’t wake. Some are lonely, some are stressed, some are anxious or frightened or sad or in pain or horny or numb or grieving or empty. Some struggle with weight and can’t breathe well, some with blood sugar and they keep a snack nearby.
We discuss the psychology of sleep in these sessions. The temperature of the room, how many blankets are on the bed, what is worn, when they last ate or exercised or showered or washed their sheets, what sounds are in the room, how dark it is, when they last had alcohol or caffeine, what methods they use to wind down. We discuss how they trick their brains into letting rest come. Some, like me, expect insomnia the majority of the time, and when a good night’s sleep comes, it is like heaven on a pillow. (And it is only on these nights of rest that I dream.) I do my best to help them find answers.
I don’t always practice what I preach.
I turn on the lamp and close my eyes tightly, letting them gently adjust to the garish ugly light that is now interrupting the darkness of the room. I look at my empty bed. I see the unfolded laundry and unsubmitted bills, shrug, and think why not. I use the restroom, get a glass of water, turn on a podcast, and get to work, cold toes and all.