Thursday, October 22, 2009


Both Moon and Pleiades are gone,
The mid-night hours crawl on and on,
And I lie down to sleep, alone.

These are not my words, but a rather rough and ready translation of a poem that speaks across two and a half millennia by the "divine" Sappho. It talks of quiet solitude, loneliness and above all of insomnia. O.K. I'm inferring the loneliness, but the rest is there, and the sentiment is a raw and immediate now as it was then. She was writing in a time when being awake in the middle of the night meant lying hour after hour in engulfing darkness, waiting out the turn of the earth, longing for either the light of dawn or the relief of sleep.

Anyone who has ever had problems sleeping will sympathize. At least now we have it a little easier. We can have light at the flick of a switch, we can divert our ears from the slow sure thump of our pulse beat with tunes on our ipod, or all night poker / roulette / bingo on the telly. We might even get back up, rifle the fridge for tit-bits, or boot up the "machine" and surf away the hours to daylight.

And for a night or two any or all of the above can be a comfort. But after longer than this, the latter day insomniac will end up feeling every bit as wretched as the poet of antiquity and the myriad fellow sufferers down the years inbetween. Small wonder then that some of our oldest remedies have been hypnotics in one form or another, or that they remain among the most commonly prescribed items even now. Yet the real remedy for our shared affliction comes more often from within. If we're not sleeping then something is preventing us, and unlocking what that is, and processing it holds the key to restoring calm and rest. That and switching to De-caff.

Easy, eh?


hypotemuse said...

Having Sappho read to me would certainly keep me awake. Well it did, once. :)

I've never struggled with insomnia over any great length of time but can empathise. I usually find that two consecutive sleepless nights are enough to make me so exhausted that my sleep pattern self regulates. Perhaps I've been lucky.

Doctor Jest said...

hypotemuse-- from which we deduce either that you are a very youthful 2,500 year old or have been regressed by an hypnotist?

Sounds like you have a good "sleep thermostat" though. Hypnostat?

ageing student said...

Who needs de-caff? Not me (although I can admit to the occasional sleepless night, usually before an exam). I'm generally so tired at the end of the day that I frequently fall asllep with a mug of coffee in my hand and have even been known to wake up choking having actually nodded off with a mouthful of the stuff.

Oliver Smith said...

insomina is horrible. I go through really bad periods of insomnia. GP was very quick to prescribe Zopiclone, which I only use at desperation point (i.e.e night 7 or 8 of no sleep!)