4 May, 2021


On a crowd-sourcing question/answer site in which I participate, someone recently posted this:

I put my 11-year-old child strictly to bed at 6:30 PM. Is this a good time to put your kids to bed?

This really hit a nerve, and a raw one; my parents used to put me to bed very early, and their reasoning was this: if they put me to bed at 8pm, and I did not fall asleep until 9, then I needed to go to bed at 7pm in order to be asleep be 8pm. Of course, I still didn’t fall asleep until 9. I lay awake, getting to know the callous dark that would become my longtime companion. My parents would check on me when they went to bed, and so I feigned sleep, lest they put me to bed even earlier. This began when I was about 7.

It’s pure speculation that my parents’ unrealistic ideas about bedtimes directly contributed to my insomnia. After all, I have EEGs that show abnormal wave patterns during sleep. But I also have no memories of falling asleep effortlessly. I know the really awful night of fits and starts, of sleeping just 3 or 4 hours, began when I was a teenager. But I really have no nights of pure innocence, unless they were when I was so young I have no ability to remember them.

I got a response from someone who read my answer:

That’s a very interesting idea on insomnia being caused by that. I remember my mom wanting me to be in bed by 7 when I was 9. I too read under the covers for multiple hours, since I wasn’t even close to being tired. And now…bad insomnia.

Two anecdotes are not data, of course, but the amassing of anecdotes is often what precedes the systematic collection of data.

I discovered how to read surreptitiously, and other ways of prevaricating, including tricking my parents into no longer checking on me. When my parents cracked my door, I pretended that I had been asleep, but they had awakened me. After about four nights of that, they stopped checking.

In order not to be caught reading, I stuffed a towel over the crack under my door, then turned on my bedside lamp with a low wattage bulb I’d swiped— the lamp was designed for a 100W, but I put in a 40W, and read for about 2 hours. Every night.

Insomnia may also be responsible for the 720 I scored on the verbal portion of the SAT.

Reading in secret began in the 3rd grade, though. Before that, for probably close to a year, I lay in bed each night worrying that if I didn’t fall asleep, I’d get an even earlier bedtime, and the worry actually KEPT ME AWAKE. It’s a horrible circle to be trapped in.

Sometimes it seems like that—a circle, I go round and round, and get nowhere. Other times, it’s even more frightening. It goes round and round, but it’s a spiral going downward. I don’t know what is at the bottom, or even if it has a bottom, but with each loop, my anxiety increases.

Staring wide-eyed into the darkness is frightening and lonely, and makes me feel very small, but when I close my eyes, I see the spiral going round and round. That’s when, in spite of all advice to the contrary, I decide to fall asleep with the TV on.

Published by Chava Freya

Insomnia is a brain-based disorder I’ve had since I was at least 16 years old. Anti-anxiety medicine doesn’t help, except when there’s external anxiety exacerbating the problem. Sleep hygiene is irrelevant, because it’s not the problem, although I have submitted to it five different times, including having sleep specialists actually come to my home and advise me on rearranging furniture, buying special pillows, forbidding TVs in the bedroom, telling me the bed was for nothing but sleep, sex and reading, and when that didn’t work, then nothing but sleep. Period. That was the biggest failure of all.

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