One of those facts that makes the drinking man doubt the observant side of the human animal is the strange lag in the discovery that every healthy male sports an erection about every 90 minutes during the sleep cycle. And for y’all ladies out there, well, the vagina goes through a 90 minute cycle as well, tied to REM sleep, of dilation and moistening. Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care! While there are cave paintings of sleeping men with erections and there’s an Egyptian tomb painting of the same fascinating subject, science with a capital S only stumbled onto it in 1944, when it was reported by German doctors. This is all according to Paul Martin’s book on Sleep. That scientists were so late to the game is depressing news – where were the giants of Natural Philosophy back in the 17th century? Martin, hating Freud, hastens to say that the erections and vaginal dilation aren’t sexual in nature. He also says he’d like to buy a bridge in Brooklyn, if any of his readers happen to own one.
That the Nazis were studying sleepers in 1944 seems to surprise Martin, but those of us who’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow realize that WWII was more than a war, it was the world we come from, it was the egg opening, it was the hatching of our common psychotic global humanity, a synergy of endorphins. Our erections were wagging as the bombs were dropping. So of course, humans were guinea pigged on all levels, for all purposes, because this is how control happens, honey. Now, let me strap you back into your cot...
However, I am starting up this subject to link to the review of a book, Insomniac, by Gayle Greene that I received and didn’t review. I feel guilty about that. But when I told my editor I wanted to review two books on sleep problems, he looked at me as if I were nuts. And when I told him Sleepers Civil Rights were the next big next big thing (I get carried away, I foam at the mouth, I start sounding like Maldoror off his meds!), he changed the topic. I obviously had briefly lost that contact with reality. The synaptic distance had lengthened.
Well, the sleepless are truly in a different world from the slugabeds, the ones without the wired brain tap tap tapping Nevermore at the vital center somewhere back there in the brain. I have always loved IT for owning up to the insomnia that keeps her up (If your tired unblinking head/rivet the dark with linear sight...) especially as insomnia is one of those things it is difficult to be in solidarity with – for what does insomnia do but make you cranky, and what makes you crankier than somebody bitching about insomnia? Which is why the sleepless do not form a class. Oh, they might compare remedies, but only to diss each other’s favorites. Sleepless anonymous would be a (waking) nightmare.
Myself, as middle age has crept upon, I’ve encountered the old restless legs/cramped muscles problem that so many have solved simply by putting a bullet in their heads. Actually, it is the cramps that is the worst. The pain scares me – I’ve never been a fan of pain. Especially when my foot will suddenly cramp up. It will happen and then, for nights afterwards, the ghost of that cramp will hover over my foot. I’ll stare at the ghost. The ghost will stare at me. It is a hard thing in life when a man is afraid of his own foot.
I’ve been advised that the best thing is calcium (hence, got some calcium horsepills) and phosphorus (hence, I’m eating ever more bananas). So the nightly routine is sleeping pill, aspirin (on principle) horsepill of calcium. Last week I ran out of sleeping pills, and insouciantly decided to show the world and my foot that I could do without. So for four days I knew four a.m. intimately. And I developed a new syndrome, which I am sure is related to kanashibari, except that instead of feeling a being sitting on my chest, I would get this ghostly feeling. The hairs would rise on my body, like I was scared. And I would feel scared, briefly. Perhaps it was the ghost of my sleep that was visiting me, but really, that’s double dipping and no fair. So I went back to the pills.
This is from D.T. Max’s review of Insomniac:
Insomniac is, along the way, an alarming, uncomfortable portrayal of how researchers in the field fail the sufferers they are supposed to treat. Desperate for funds, bent over by insurance companies, whiplashed by the National Institutes of Health, researchers do not treat insomnia as it is actually experienced. If you cannot cure me, Greene seems to be saying, at least hear me. Don’t tell me how insomnia ought to be, but let me tell you how it really is. “What is missing from everything I read about insomnia is—the insomniacs,” she writes. And earlier she confides, “No doctor I ever saw showed the slightest curiosity about the cocktail of hormones, estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, that I ingest daily.” “This is a somewhat cranky book,” she writes. Indeed it is.
And with reason, as Greene makes clear. Certainly insomnia came early to her and has stayed for a long time. Greene was born wide awake. “There is no sleep in that baby,” her mother wrote to her father in 1944, in a I’ve tried (nearly) everything anyone has ever told me worked for them,” she writes, “and it’s taken me some strange ways: lathering myself in sesame oil, brewing a Chinese herbal tea so foul that my dog fled the kitchen when it steeped, concocting a magnesium supplement that hissed and spat like something out of Harry Potter.” On the pharmaceutical front she’s been equally active, sampling “valerian, kava kava, chamomile, skullcap, passionflower, homeopathic concoctions, L-tryptophan, 5-HTP, GABA, melatonin, Elavil, Zoloft, trazodone, tricyclics.” Add to this the benzodiazepines, “Librium, Valium, Xanax, Dalmane, Klonopin, Restoril, Halcion, and more Ativan than I care to remember or probably can remember, since the drug erodes memory.” Throw in Ambien and Sonata, and “in the bad old days” sedatives such as Nembutal, Seconal, and Miltown. Plus the over-the-counter remedies: Sominex, Nytol, Sleep-Eze. Not to mention other treatments, including meditation, acupuncture, and biofeedback. And on and on, poor soul. Nothing ever quieted her chattering brain.”
Bad old days? What the fuck? Oh please, what I’d not do for a Seconal. I have my own theory about the chattering brain, which is that if you wire it to chatter, it won’t turn off. If I had learned not to read in bed, if I could avoid the computer screen, if I wasn’t continually scribble scribble scribble, if at some point these had been my choices, I believe I’d sleep like my brothers tell me they do. But I took the road less traveled by – because I’m a complete idiot. Although, in fact, I’m not as cranky as Gayle Greene, who has a much deeper condition than I do. The pills work for me. By two, usually, I’m out like a baby.