I leapt from depths of desperate sleep,
Some sound had dragged me from my rest
And tied me to the stake
Of sleeplessness till morning came.
I watched clouds scud across the sky,
Saw stars and swaying trees,
I tossed and turned and sighed and groaned,
Heard church clocks laugh at me –
And still sweet sleep eluded me.
I listened to my love asleep,
His breathing gentle, calm;
I envied him his peaceful dreams,
Then, just before the dawn,
Sleep took me by surprise once more.
JC 8th March 2002
I have always been a light sleeper, the slightest noise bringing me to full wakefulness until it's actually time to get up when I can sleep extremely soundly. My explanation for this is that once awake I can only go back to sleep when day has dawned and Barry is alert and able to take over. Quite what there is to take over I'm not really sure!
Years of listening for babies and children and animals calling for attention have affected my sleep patterns. I have reached the age and stage in life when I can and do fall asleep in a chair – something I promised myself I would never do! - but when I rouse myself and stumble upstairs it's a different story. By the time I've had a shower and clambered into bed I need to read for a while before my eyelids grow heavy enough to close. Sometimes the book proves to be a 'page-turner' and I find myself reading on into the small hours which is significant for then my eyes are sore, my head aches and although I'm really tired I cannot sleep. Usually, though, I drift off easily enough. I sleep, I dream and I wake! Someone's snoring – occasionally, it's two or three someones, rarely all seven (or eight – I have woken myself up with my unladylike snorting!) A dog is having a bad dream. Frodo is having a seizure. Barry is sleep-talking. Foxes or owls are calling. The wind has risen and a door somewhere is clattering. I've got cramp! Whatever has woken me has done a thorough job for I am wide awake, mind racing. I toss and turn, play mind games, do breathing exercises, ignore the urge to go to the bathroom. Eventually I have to get up – I don't really need to but think I'd better for then maybe I shall be able to sleep again. Toss, turn, sigh repeatedly, fling off the duvet, chill too much and drag it back over myself. Everyone else sleeps – I need to. At least I no longer have to rise and prepare for a day's work though that's small compensation. In the morning I'm more than usually short-tempered and those who know me best avoid trying to engage me in any meaningful conversation – or even eye contact - for my mood is pessimistic, my observations curt, my tongue sharp.
People ask, sometimes incredulously, why our animals sleep in our bedroom with us. Simply, when young, dogs need to go out frequently as their immature bodies cannot cope with large quantities of 'waste'. The cats can and do look after themselves but we've never yet managed to train our pups to use a litter tray! Elderly dogs, like elderly people, often need to relieve themselves during the night. Also, if an animal is going to be ill in the night we'd rather know about it and deal with it immediately, particularly if it's something life-threatening like gastric torsion or status epilepticus. Generally, it's much more mundane, perhaps requiring carpet shampooing and dog bathing in the dead of night – oh, let joy be unconfined!
Finally, after years of living with me and having to deal with my less than attractive early day persona – hard for Barry, as he's definitely a chirpy, cheery, energetic morning person (actually, he's as dynamic and lively all day long as he ever was and now he's retired I bear the full brunt force impact effect of his vigour) - he decided to embark on convincing me of the effectiveness of an iPod. He has had one for several years and finds it an invaluable source of information and entertainment. He also believes it stops his mind racing if he wakes in the night (which does happen from time to time with me stamping round the room crying with cramp or marching up and down the stairs with one dog after another since they rarely coordinate their outings!) I must say I've rarely known him to have difficulty sleeping. As far as I have been able to observe he's able to sleep anywhere, in any position. Nonetheless, on the odd occasions when he cannot nod off again, his iPod has been useful. So, after a long age of me saying I didn't want one, it was pointless, a waste of time and money, I caved in and yesterday my iPod arrived. (Strictly speaking, it's Barry's new iPod and I have inherited his old one – a concession I forced on him!)
Last night was the occasion of the first iPod experience. I tried three different books – 'Alias Grace' by Margaret Atwood, which I had read some time ago, 'The Adventure of English' by Melvyn Bragg, parts of which I had heard and enjoyed on the radio, and 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood which I haven't read but I really like her work. Sadly, they were quite the wrong things to send me to sleep so my response to Barry's questions this morning was less than the enthusiastic yelp of the convert for which he had been hoping. He has also spent much time researching suitable earphones. I don't like 'things in my ears' so an external source of transmission must be found since if I sleep on my back, which I have to if I'm using standard earphones, I snore, wake myself up and the whole sorry sequence is repeated. No, I'm not difficult . . .
Tonight I shall try one of Richmal Crompton's 'Just William' stories, read by Martin Jarvis, and I think that might just be the ticket, that or one of P G Wodehouse's merry tales. I know I shall probably not have an undisturbed night but at least, hopefully, sleep will embrace me more easily once I am back in bed.
I definitely do not suffer from insomnia – just acute hearing and an excess of mammals for which I care – but I can't remember the last time I slept through the night.
Ah me, worse things happen at sea!