Ezy Reading: The Worry Hours

Evan Kanarakis

It’s tough, this sleeplessness.

I attempted to go to bed about four hours ago, but on a last glance at the clock it’s now 4.37am, and so, having had enough, I decided to write… It has never helped the situation that for years now I’ve naturally leaned towards being a night owl. I generally always preferred to work late rather than early since going back to my college years, originally because I’d often find more peace and quiet away from friends and open bars in the small hours of the morning instead of earlier in the day (plus, going to bed at 2 or 3am often matched well with what time a boozy evening the night before would have ended). That, and let’s face it, there’s nothing exciting that happens in the morning hours other than the majesty of a breaking dawn, and I can assure you it doesn’t look much better than when you’re rolling out of the Alfred Bar in Camperdown, Sydney at 5am.

Thing is, at least in my current circumstances living here in Bangor, Maine, there are good reasons for me to hit the ol’ sack a hell of a lot earlier, and the biggest one would be that with the current daylight savings conditions of a New England winter it’s often dark by 4pm. If I pull a late one on the computer and sleep until 11am or later, then I’m lucky to get in two or three hours of daylight before the sun starts setting on me. Two weeks of that and I can see the pale shine of a moon-tan setting in. It just isn’t healthy, and I can feel it.

So for at least the last month or so I’ve been trying –damn, I’ve been trying- to slowly get my body clock back on track, gradually getting into bed a little earlier night by night. The problem in all this, however, is that regardless of whether I’ve been going to bed late or early in my life, for years now it has always taken me a cursed eternity to actually fall asleep. Even if I’m at my most exhausted, drooling on the book I’m reading and nodding off, there’s something amazing about that bed-side lamp and the way in which as soon as I turn it off my mind seems to light up and keep me occupied with a million thoughts for at least an hour in each night. Without fail, upon a single flick of that switch, as it was this very evening, every single worry and anxiety in my life comes rushing forward, from the small things like ‘remember to pick up the dry cleaning tomorrow’ to the larger end-game stresses of ‘what if in ten years the only place writing has led me is to a park bench?’

Cheerful stuff, no?

Don’t fret, I’m completely aware that my feeble worries mean very little in the greater scheme of things compared to so many others, and I’m fairly sure I’m not that self-centred and self-obsessed, but I simply can’t help it. From the mundane to the greatest of life’s questions, I tend to field every single one of the bastards in a night. Often, by the time four or five is approaching on the clock it’s so late, and I’ve fired myself up so much about what aspect of my life I’m going to attack the following day that sleep becomes a complete afterthought, and I actually become almost bored or impatient with the notion when there’s so many things I must get started on. Of course by 4 or 5am I’m nearing such a state of utter exhaustion that I’m not due to get started on anything with competence, and such a late finish to matters means the next day I don’t have a very productive outing, and so the cycle repeats, and the following night at 4am I’m yet again loaded myself with worry and expectation and am vowing to seize the next day… if I could just fucking get to sleep.

I’ve attempted so many options short of medication –something I’m not interested in- to help this restlessness but few have worked. I’ve tried over-exerting myself at the gym, reading until I drop, eating dinner early, staying up an entire night and collapsing in bed early the following night, relaxation exercises, listening to my iPod in bed to get my mind off things… It doesn’t matter. As soon as the room goes dark, no matter how ready I was for sleep, my cursed mind starts wandering. And pity the poor girl who gets up at 5am most mornings for work that has had to sleep next to this rumbling oaf… She thinks a visit to a sleep clinic is in order.

Who knows? Genetics plays a part, I’m sure. From my Greek grandmother and American mother I’ve certainly inherited the trait toward a tendency to over-worry about things, but thankfully it falls short from making us total neurotics. At the moment it’s just keeping me from making a good night’s sleep… It doesn’t help matters that even though I don’t like to admit it, I’ve probably never been all that well equipped for as uncertain a field as writing, and am probably someone who inherently favours notions of stability in life, so it’s slightly skewed that my most natural tendency of all –to write- happens to come hand in hand with an uncertain career path. But that’s a decision I voluntarily made long ago, so my sleepy head better just deal with that sooner or later, because I’m not giving up on the writing anytime soon, and I’m not planning on tossing at turning over this for the next several decades, that I can assure you. Or maybe it’s something more fanciful, and just that I’ve spent far too many years at three and four in the morning sitting on bar stools, laughing with friends, smoking cigarettes and ordering another round of vodkas. Maybe there’s some sort of fixed inner spirit inside that’s telling me I was never meant for going to bed at 11pm and earlier, like all those ‘normal’ people, and that I should just embrace the night and kiss farewell crisp, fresh mornings forever. Not sure how that’ll serve me if I ever have kids though, or if at 60 it would be all that sensible (or pretty) to still be climbing bar stools just because I’m trying to serve an ‘innate inner spirit’. Bollocks.

Who knows?

But it’s almost 5am now, so this column is coming to an abrupt end. I’m done musing about my struggles with slumber.

 It’s time for bed.

Ezy Reading is out every Monday.