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Trouble Sleeping? Try Not Sleeping

Sam Langford’s worst nightmare is being forced to stay awake.

Doctors apparently avoid prescribing sleeping pills to minors where possible, on account of a risk of dependence or something. I learned this when I was seventeen and sleeping about three hours a night, and had hauled my under-eye bags and permanently hungover self to my local GP. She told me to try “sleep restriction”, and that I should “think of it as a cleanse.”

“Cleanse” is an apt word for it, seeing as sleep restriction is to sleep as all-kale smoothies are to a balanced diet. Sleep restriction, which according to its website “may” be a new, effective method for combatting insomnia, means sleeping only between midnight and five a.m., for two months. On the website, it cheerfully offers the “good news”: “you’ve probably suffered worse.”

Sleep restriction cleansed me of pretty much everything except, y’know, the debilitating need for sleep. Like an enema for your psyche, it prompted a rapid expulsion of my entire personality, all positive emotion, and coherent thought. I was optimistic for the first two days. On the third, I was so tired that I nearly walked into traffic trying to cross the road. By a week in, I’d taken up five a.m. knitting. Two days later, I had to set aside the knitting needles lest I accidentally impale myself passing out on them. Avoiding caffeine was part of the bargain, and naps were expressly disallowed. I did a lot of aimless wandering. The school counsellor made me complete a worksheet on depression, which featured Comic Sans, a crossword, and hot tips like “get plenty of sleep”

At the beginning of the third week I gave up, and went to bed at 9 p.m. I slept the whole night through, and missed my alarm the next morning.