Trouble Sleeping? Try Not Sleeping

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

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.