Dreaming You Are Asleep

Reframing one’s understanding of experience.

In my early twenties, I used to suffer from occasional insomnia. Normally I slept very well, but once in a while I would find myself unable to sleep at all.  Like most people who are unable to sleep, I went through stages of effort (as if <em>that</em> could ever put one to sleep), anxiety about not getting to sleep (I’m going to be a wreck tomorrow!), indecision (Should I read? Or will the light make me wake up even more?), resignation.

One such night, I tossed and turned, counted sheep, meditated, agonized. I even got up at one point and riffled through my travel case looking for melatonin, of which I found none. Finally I got back in bed, fluffed and arranged my pillows and watched my fiance sleeping. He was sound asleep through all my tossing and turning and frustrated, loud exhales. Such an angel. I gave up on sleep (as it had clearly abandoned me) and watched him in the half light of filtered moon and stars and street lights.

Finally, morning came. And why not? Who needs the night to stretch on and one when there isn’t a moment of sleep in it? My sweetie awoke, ran his fingers through my hair and said good morning. Finally, having someone to share my sorry sleeplessness with, I exclaimed that it was not a good morning, and that I was positively wrecked from not sleeping a wink the whole night through.

“Seriously? You think you didn’t sleep last night?”

He was a programmer, and had woken up in the middle of the night, restless with an idea for a project he was working on. He got up to code, and he said I was <em>fast asleep</em>. He worked for a few hours, and when he came back to slip into bed, I was still fast asleep, in the same unmoving position in which he had left me.

As it turned out, I was having the occasional vivid <em>nightmare</em> in which I experienced insomnia. As I slept deeply, I dreamed of not sleeping, tossed and turned in that dream, agonized over not sleeping, tried my best to sleep. I was quite shocked at this.

I put a notepad next to my bed with the plan that every time I experienced one of these terrible sleepless nights, I would make a notation in it. I wanted to see if this was always the case, if I ever, in fact, experienced a single night of insomnia. While I had a few more of these experiences, my notepad was always pristine in the morning.

The dream was so convincing, so vivid. I was asleep, dreaming that I could not get to sleep, no matter how I tried.