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.