Insomnia // Lost in Translation

I first saw Lost in Translation when I was fifteen. I didn’t like it at the time. I didn’t understand why a young woman would find a much older man attractive, and I don’t think I liked that these grown-ups still didn’t know what they wanted and were still struggling through life. As time has gone on, I’ve come to relate to it more and more. It’s now a film I watch over and over again (and, I now completely get why Scarlett Johansson fancies Bill Murray).

I relate to Charlotte, Scarlet Johansson’s character, more than most other characters I’ve seen in film. So many of her lines feel like they’re from my own life:

‘What do you do?’ ‘I’m not sure yet, actually.’

‘I’m stuck.’

‘I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.’

‘I’m so mean.’

But the bit that gets me more than any other is when she can’t sleep. I’ve struggled with insomnia on and off since I was a child. I remember having a particularly bad few weeks when I never wanted to go to bed, because I was so frightened of not sleeping, and then lying there awake for one hour, two hours, before getting up and telling my parents tearfully that yes, I was still awake. My dad would take me back to bed, and try and persuade me that even just lying there and resting would help, even if I didn’t get to sleep. It worked a little, but I would still get that panicky feeling when no matter what, I just couldn’t go to sleep.

Sleepovers were not aptly named for me. I didn’t sleep a single wink at friend’s houses or when people stayed over at my house. You might think I’m being silly, and I must have slept a little, but I can promise you I didn’t. The next day I would fall asleep in the afternoon, no matter what was going on. Once a friend was round and I just fell asleep anyway (Sorry, Kirsty!).

More than anything else, I hate the desperate loneliness of being awake surrounded by people who are asleep. It’s an awful feeling, and you can see that Charlotte has that too, lying next to her husband for hours, waiting for sleep that never comes, eventually prodding him awake in hope of solace. But then he’s asleep again within seconds, and the frustration is palpable. I know that frustration. Insomnia is all made up of frustration, and that desperate panic you get when you realise how little time is left until morning and that you’ll have to spend another day on half-power.

Sometimes I can fall asleep quite easily – nowhere near as fast as other people, I think if I fall asleep within half an hour I’ve done well – but then I wake up in the early hours. It’s very, very rare for me to sleep all the way through the night. A bit like a newborn baby. I write down most days how I slept and it would make very odd reading to anyone with a normal sleeping pattern: ‘Okayish sleep. Woke up around 4 or 5, and at 6.30.’ ‘Good sleep – woke up at half 5, 8, 9.’ What that means is I’ve woken up feeling fairly rested. Other times it’s not so good: ‘Crap sleep. Took over two hours to drop off, woke up at 5, woke up at 7.30.’ ‘Woke up at 3.30, couldn’t sleep for ages for no reason.’ The worst of this is that I’m a naturally early riser. Yes, I know, I’m a freak of nature. It is not cool to be a lark instead of an owl. It doesn’t mean I don’t like lie-ins – I do. I just function a lot better if I get up early. It does mean though that if I’ve been waking up half the night, I can only occasionally sleep in to catch up (apart from the days when I have to be up for work, when obviously I can’t sleep in anyway). The latest I’ve slept to in years is 10am. People gape at me when I tell them I like getting up early. One of these days I’ll find someone else who likes it too. So far the only other early risers I know are my dad and my brother, so maybe it’s genetic.

I don’t know exactly what causes the awful sleeping. I tried giving up alcohol to see if it helped but it made no difference. It may well be some kind of stress but it doesn’t matter what’s going on, sometimes I’ll sleep and sometimes I won’t. I do have a habit of rehearsing angry arguments in my head before I go to bed, and obviously that isn’t going to help. When that happens, I listen to ‘Stay Awake’ from Mary Poppins, the song when she’s trying to get the children to go to bed with reverse psychology. Just thinking about it makes me yawn.

I still struggle enormously sleeping at other people’s houses, not least because the years of bad sleeping mean I am now a fussy sleeper. I have a before bed routine, and I don’t feel right if I haven’t done it. It’s nothing weird, just doing everything in roughly the same order and making sure I have water and so on and so forth, but sometimes staying away from home means there are things missing and I hate that. I put on bed socks when I get into bed even if my feet are already hot, just so I can push them off. So if I don’t have the bed socks, it’s annoying.

I also still find it difficult being around other people when I sleep, mainly because of sleep envy when they fall asleep so damn quickly. A friend stayed over recently and I could have smothered her – she fell asleep in seconds! Seconds! How do people do it?! It works the other way too, though: I was in a relationship for a long time, and then I couldn’t sleep when he wasn’t there.

I’m hopeful that as I get older I’ll come up with better methods of sleeping. I don’t want to be like Bill Murray, awake all night even in middle age. (Although if I get to talk to Scarlett Johansson instead, I might stay awake on purpose.) I haven’t tried getting up and doing other stuff when I can’t sleep, because it feels like giving in and I know I won’t sleep if I’m in the kitchen reading a book. It’s such a shame that I’m so bad at something I love so very much. Perhaps one day I’ll learn the secret, and sleep through to some really wild time – maybe even as late as half-past ten.

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