Problems sleeping?

— by Alyson Walsh

Photo: BBC

I have problems sleeping. Do you? Asks Elaine Kingett. These days it seems we all have problems sleeping. These days, they even offer ‘satisfaction guaranteed or your money back’ 100-day trials on new-gen mattresses, (but who on earth could be bothered to send one back?). When my children were babies, I would shoot daggers at normal folk, unencumbered by buggies. Did they not realise how lucky they were to sleep all night? How dare they look so damn clean and AWAKE?

Now my three kids are all adults but I still don’t sleep. Now my bedtime ritual is a toss-up between treating myself to half a hardcore Zoplicone, downing an extra couple of glasses of red with dinner, necking melatonin that I brought back from Spain where it’s legal, drinking ineffective but delicious Sleepytime tea or (the new kid on the block that my doctor recommended) Phenergan – a drug I only previously knew as the 80s alternative to Dickensian gin for mothers of fractious children.

Come the time for sleepy bye-byes and I cannot relax. It’s six years since my last long-term relationship and I’m still suffering ‘Empty Bed Syndrome’. That dozy moment when you reach out across the Egyptian cotton and they are not there. Dog used to fill that gap but dog has gone. Many’s the time I have squeezed between my super king and the fitted wardrobe and thought, ‘I would have SO much more space if I got a single bed.’ But that would be admitting defeat. And I’d probably fall out.

At the start of Kent Haruf’s novel, Our Souls At Night (recently made into a film starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford), the widowed protagonist goes round to her widower neighbour early one evening and asks if she can sleep with him. Not for sex but so she can fall asleep next to him in bed, holding his hand. That’s what I’m talking about.

A dear friend gave me a homemade, heart-shaped pillow covered in crazy African-print cotton, to cuddle after my breast cancer surgery; that helps. And the knowledge that in earlier times, before the advent of electricity, it was standard practice to sleep in short cycles, get up, have a chat, read a bit and go back to bed. That helps, too. My newly acquired Fitbit might encourage me to move around during the day but it’s a harridan when it announces my previous night’s sleep pattern, ‘Oh dear, dear, dear…didn’t do very well again last night, did we? Just look at those ups and downs.’ Shut it, techno.

So yes, I’ve gone back to Internet dating to search for a soulmate but, in the meantime, bring back candy-striped flannelette sheets, pure wool blankets edged in satin and Paisley patterned eiderdowns – there’s something so wonderfully comforting about being tucked up tight, with that warm weight on top on top of me!

Elaine Kingett runs creative writing holidays in Spain and Wales and workshops in London; for more information check out Write It Down.

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I have problems sleeping. Do you?