Into The Woods: It's late - Don't make me come up there

Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2001

Well, Doc, it's been going on for years, really. Every now and then I get into bouts of wretched sleep behavior. It's not quite insomnia. If it were, I would get up and wash the kitchen floor, read, do the five-year backlog of home filing, whatever. No, this can only be described as a mental rodeo. As soon as I drift into light sleep, there is a whoop and the thunder of hooves and all hell breaks loose. I wake up covered with dust and smelling of ... Doc? Hello?

I have read that one symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder is unusual sleep patterns, but I usually begin having trouble sleeping in August. It's a busy time for anyone in the tourism industry, August being when we have all given far too many directions to the bathroom. I feel exhausted when I come home from work every day, but can't seem to shut my brain down. Like when you close the car door and the dome light won't go off. All night, I busily write poetry, songs, stories (with footnotes) and long letters. Too bad my eyes are closed and no one is writing it all down. It's unnerving. I wake up often through the night wondering why I'm thinking about the four principals of flight or trying to remember something I read 30 years ago. I feel like yelling to my cerebrum, "Nobody cares! Go to sleep! Don't make me come up there!"

My husband has gently suggested I keep a heavy skillet on my nightstand or that I seek professional help, either would be fine. Well, I'm willing to try the skillet treatment, but don't think I can confide my unsupervised nighttime brain activity to a stranger. How can you describe what is basically a toga party going on in your head? Besides, it only lasts a couple weeks. Then I go back to my normal, peaceful, coma-like sleep pattern. By the time I got an appointment, it would be over. I've ruled out dietary cause and have to call it stress. Good stress, bad stress, does it really matter? In mechanical terms, I have a problem with the high idle cam in my carburetor linkage.

I really love the tourist business and have a great time with people. Where I go wrong, I think, is trying to have a real conversation with each one. I can't handle it. That's why the pros use prerecorded responses and recycle the same half-dozen jokes. You'd think I'd have learned that by now. OK, that's August. A reciprocal outbreak occurs along about mid-winter, when there are not enough external stimuli in the cool, dark, sensory deprivation of January. My brain feels compelled to take up the slack and runs amok. In the wee hours I bet I can list 25 words for bathroom, do so, then name all the John Wayne films with Maureen O'Hara AND Ben Johnson. Do I care about these things? Apparently. Everything is funnier at night, too, and I wake up laughing. That's what prompted the skillet solution.

Surely, I'm not the only one who has food fights in the library in their head at night. Just the other night, in fact, I remembered a Dorothy Parker short story I read about 30 years ago called "The Little Hours" about this very thing. I highly recommend it, it'll make you laugh out loud in the middle of the night.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at

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