Dream on

Sleep deprivation is a serious societal ill, and I'd like to write an informed, persuasive column about it, but frankly I'm too tired to do the research.

I know I've read articles about sleep deprivation, how it causes traffic accidents and irritability and low productivity. The articles are here somewhere, in this landfill I call my office, but I'm too drowsy to hunt for them.

Let's just say it's a given: Most of us get too little sleep.

We work long hours. We have many worries. Our kids get sick (always, always in the middle of the night). We cut back on sleep to squeeze in leisure activities or visit the gym or start a second career. And we shuffle around all day like zombies, our eyelids heavy, our bodies weary, our brains filled with pudding.

It's become a point of pride in our culture to keep going on little sleep. People brag about giving up sleep so they can be more successful. They're getting ahead because they're busily toiling while their competitors snooze.

Profiles of business and political leaders always mention how the dynamos work 18 hours a day and sleep only three hours a night. (Which explains a lot about the bad decisions those business and political leaders make.)

The message is: They're too busy pursuing their dreams to waste time on actual dreaming.

For those of us with home offices, the temptation to work instead of sleep is particularly keen. The work's right there, handy, calling to us. We lie in bed, our thoughts unreeling toward sleep, and we get an idea. Or, at least, an inkling that might be a good idea in the light of day. We drag ourselves out of bed and tiptoe to the computer, just to write it down, so we'll remember to pursue it later. Next thing you know, it's sunrise.

I've been a lousy sleeper my whole life. I was one of those kids who read with the flashlight under the covers. For years, through my teens and twenties, I had trouble nodding off at night, so I filled those sleepless hours with more productive activities, such as partying.

Now that I'm middle-aged, I don't have any trouble falling asleep. In fact, I often have trouble staying awake. Most nights, the 10 p.m. newscasters are wasting their breaths. By then, I'm slumped on the sofa with my mouth hanging open.

My problem is that I can't STAY asleep. I'll saw those logs for a few hours, but then something -- the dog, a dreaming child, a distant siren, my own insanity -- will awaken me.
It'll be, say, 3 a.m., the most absolutely wrong time a person can be awake, coming at it from either direction. And I'm lying there, feeling like the only guy in America who's wide awake. I burrow back into the covers, desperate to squeeze in a few more hours. I toss, I turn. I'm too hot, but my feet are cold. I can't stop thinking about that stupid thing I said the other day. Toss, turn. I've got to get busy tomorrow and make that deadline. And the kids are going to the dentist. Can't forget that. Toss, turn. Is the furnace making a funny noise?

My brain has started its day, whether my body likes it or not. And there's always work I could be doing. I might as well get up.

So I arise and get busy. And I go around sleepy and grumpy and dopey all day, making mistakes and bumping into furniture and saying something stupid that can become my new obsession the next time I'm lying awake.

So far, this pattern hasn't made me a dynamo.

If anything, I'm so sleepy all the time that my waking and dream worlds collide. I dream about work. I fall asleep at my desk. I get mixed up about whether somebody actually told me something or I just dreamed it. Whole days seem like nightmares.

I fully expect to wake up someday and find myself faced with the final exam in a college course I've never attended. Naked.

Then all my dreams will have come true. And maybe I can get some sleep.

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