By Katie Mehas

587 days.

It’s an estimate, and probably on the low side. But that’s roughly how long I’ve waited for sleep.
At this writing, I am 11,223 days old. For the sake of argument, let’s say I spent the first five years of my life able to fall asleep on command. I have a feeling my mother might contest this, but we’ll leave it. That leaves me with 9,398 days. I would guess, on a normal night, I stare at the ceiling for about two hours. We’ll call it an hour and a half, to account for those rare nights I, let’s be honest, wash down a Benadryl with a glass of wine (it’s so very Valley of the Dolls, isn’t it?) and find sleep on a more reasonable schedule. We’ll ignore the nights I realize that sleep isn’t coming and just stay up doing things until I can’t be awake anymore. That leaves me with 14,097 hours — just over 587 days — of waiting. And my friends, the night is still young.


I’m not really tired yet. I should check Twitter. I wonder if anyone’s up. Maybe I’ll read something short. Just 15 minutes. Ooh, webcomics! Man, I’m months behind on this one…


I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have insomnia. When I was eight, my dad started teaching me yoga relaxation exercises, focusing on each muscle one by one, tensing and relaxing… My dad, being a bit of a perpetual eight-year-old himself, understood that telling me to “focus my prana” would have me bored and bouncing off the walls before he could say “Savasana,” so we pretended I was turning into the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, one puffy toe at a time. It worked, some nights. Other nights, I imagined that Egon Spengler (the version from the cartoon) was coming to save me from my monstrous transfiguration, and we’d run away together and bust some ghosts.


What a great business idea! I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before. I should do it tomorrow. Maybe I should do it now. Can I get out of bed, or is that conceding defeat? Wait! I should research it first. Where’s my phone?


At ten, I got a relaxation tape designed for kids as a gift from my stepmom. I would fly around on my magic carpet, visiting the racetrack, then the farm, then a peaceful stream…and then wake up an hour later when I rolled over on top of my Walkman. I tried playing it on my stereo a few times, but even at that age I was too embarrassed to sleep knowing that everyone within earshot was hearing the magic carpet song.


I should be working on my novel. What’s the next scene? Oh wait, I already did that one. But what if she’s evil? No, she can’t be, that would throw everything off. What about him? Hmm. Too obvious. Or him? Maybe. Maybe not evil. Maybe he doesn’t really understand something. Maybe that’s the whole point. Hah! Oh, that helps. I should write out his backstory.


When I was in college, I actually managed to conquer my insomnia for a little while, though it probably looked like the opposite from the outside. It wasn’t so much that I fell asleep easier, I just decided not to bother. The way I sleep is really well-suited to a polyphasic schedule, where sleeping is done in short bursts throughout the day. So I’d sleep for about two hours at night, two hours around lunchtime, and two or three hours in the early evening. I’m not sure if it was particularly healthy, but when I knew I only had two hours for a nap, I did pretty well with falling asleep quickly. My advisor – god bless her – seemed to understand that I wasn’t really master of my sleep schedule and only let me sign up for classes before 10 a.m. if I had a really good reason for it. And there weren’t many good reasons.

Of course, this sleep schedule doesn’t always work so well with friends and meals and a roommate. I also talk in my sleep in a way that convinces people who call or drop by that I’m actually present for the conversation, which got me in a lot of trouble a few times. It’s hard to avoid people in college. Sleeping Katie would agree to go to a cappella concerts (oh god no), would have long conversations about deep, philosophical topics with new people (he was too freaked out to ever tell me what we talked about), would chat on the phone with boys I wasn’t interested in (sorry, man). Still, it was a good system at a time when my days were too packed to afford hours of ceiling gazing. Sadly, it wasn’t one that could last.


It’s really hot in here. 4:30. I’d better fall asleep soon. Only an hour until Nick’s first alarm. Or is it 6? Maybe he changed it. I could check. I’d probably wake him up. Better not. Where’s the dog? I should make a to-do list for tomorrow. Dishes. Job hunt. Edit. Laundry? No, we’re good. Water bill’s due. Better set a reminder.


I’m not really sure what causes my insomnia. Pretty much everyone on my dad’s side of the family has it. Maybe we perpetuate it, doing interesting things at 2 a.m. because we can’t sleep and enticing the would-be normals from getting rest so they don’t miss out. Sometimes there’s just too much going on in my brain to shut it off. I get the best ideas when I’m in bed at night: entire chapters of my novel-in-progress, word for word; business ventures; new recipes to try; ways to redecorate our underused dining room to make better use of the space; this essay.
Sometimes, it’s just ideas that don’t connect to anything. I enjoy (and yes, usually I do enjoy) a type of synesthesia in which letters, numbers, days of the week, months, seasons, and some objects take on personalities. It made for some really enjoyable standardized tests — four A’s in a row! His storyline sure is progressing quickly. — but there are times when, at the risk of sounding a little nuts, it gets kind of crowded in here. The later it gets, the more tired I am, the more crazy I start to feel. Useful thoughts devolve into a mess of letters chattering away, fighting, laughing, keeping me awake as I follow along.


The fan’s really loud. Maybe it needs to be leveled. The fan. Fan. F-a-n. Funny, it’s not particularly manly. Weird that all the letters are men. I guess it’s F – he’s sort of effeminate. Really ought to stick up for himself more. I wonder if feminine words are more girly. O’s the only female vowel, though, so not too many options. Hmm. Prosser…almost all female. E’s pretty quiet. Never thought of Prosser as particularly girly, even with that broken digital watch he wears.
>Enjoy bed.
Nothing happens.


My mom thinks my sleep schedule is just my way of acting like a teenager. That I’ll grow up someday and be a responsible adult who gets a good night’s sleep and can schedule meetings in the morning. It would be nice, I’ll give her that. To have one of my millions of “cures” finally work. To have some warm milk and sleep like a baby. To pop a melatonin and wake up in the morning refreshed. To do my yoga breathing, the chakra-clearing exercises I was taught by an energy healer, to say the rosary until I fall asleep and angels finish my prayers for me. (My insomnia is polytheistic.)

I know that I probably seem irresponsible to anyone who sees me stumbling out of the house to take the dog out to pee at noon. The neighbors probably think I’m up partying all night when the lights are on until almost dawn. And I know my husband would love to make it to the farmer’s market some Saturday morning without me needing a nap in the afternoon. I also know that it’s 4:23 as I write this, his alarm is set for 5, and I am wired.


Image by Flickr user ”femme run,” used under a Creative Commons license.

Katie Mehas is a writer, editor, and left-brain artist (rarely spotted in the wild). She’s worked in magazine publishing and radio, had an R-rating slapped on her senior thesis art show, and was once laid off from her job via Facebook while on her honeymoon in Croatia. She and her husband live in Florida with their hermaphroditic chihuahua and three cats. Follow Katie on Twitter (@KTMehas) and find out more here.

2 Responses to “Waiting”

  1. Laura says:

    I’m not an insomniac, but have been curious about what you all do while the rest of the world is quiet. Great essay. I enjoyed the insight into your racing brain!

  2. Martin says:

    I dream I am awake. If that happens and I am in bed, then I am awake and thinking of what sleep would feel like. For years I waited. Read. Watched cable. Made lists to try and empty my brain. That went on for years. I realised after a decade of struggling with insomnia that I actually did not like the dark. A night light? No. An embrace of the silence. The darkness. The night sky. The distant sirens. The voices that break the trail to dawn. I learned to breathe properly. The key? I listened. I did not move. I slept then. I sleep now. Despite conflicts and broken relationships I sleep and get the energy to face them.

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