My alarm went off this morning at 5 a.m. I got up and dragged a coat over my nightgown to go get the trash, which my renter and I had both forgotten to put out. This isn’t a terrible task, in the greater scheme of things, nor is 5:00 a.m. a terrible hour. Several people I know get up at 3:30 a.m. to work in bakeries and regale me with descriptions of their grogginess.
But for me, someone who’s had very little sleep over the past four years, it was a miracle. First of all, I was dead to the world and needed an alarm. Secondly, I’d planned this caper the night before, when I realized around 11:00 p.m. that the trash wasn’t out, and chose not to do it then, in the rain. Extended sleep deprivation knocks out almost all your ability to strategize and make decisions, as you’ll recall if you were ever a parent. Lastly, there wasn’t an ounce of resentment in my body — not the night before when I remembered it was trash night, not at 5:00 a.m.when the alarm went off, not as I was trying to be quiet dragging the bin’s wheels across my gravel driveway.
I used to be a person who’d kiss you goodnight and be fast asleep in ten minutes, waking up eight hours later annoyingly cheerful. Menopause put the kibosh on that, and for about a year I discovered what life was like between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning. Which is a misnomer: the hours between 2:00 and 4:00 are deepest, darkest night-time, there’s no morning involved.
Then, without noticing, I segued into a pattern of waking up every two hours. I could go back to sleep each time, but somehow I never went deep enough to stay there. I blamed this also on menopause — which is very handy for blaming, if nothing else. It was annoying, but I didn’t recognize how dangerous it was until I began getting drowsy when I drove for longer than an hour. That, please pardon the phrase, woke me up. Road trips are some of my favorite pastimes, plus driving, in California anyway, is our primary symbol of independence.
After some research, in-home sleep-testing, and persistent nagging by friends, we found out I have dreadful sleep apnea. I can’t remember the numbers involved, but apparently I stop breathing in my sleep often enough to terrify everyone.
I did not want sleep apnea. I still don’t want it, but I’ve got it. After another year of adjustments, trials, errors, and bitter complaining, I now I wear a Darth Vader-like helmet contraption to bed, which is the opposite of sexy. But, hey, would you rather be sexy and dead, or absurd-looking and alive? A timeless American question. I chose alive.
It turns out all that lost sleep had sort of ruined my life, though it happened so slowly I didn’t notice. Regaining things is the revelation. The more sleep I get, the smarter I am, the more cheerful, the calmer, the kinder. 5 a.m. trash bins? No problem.
It’s incredibly sweet. I’m incredibly grateful.