These are the ranks of the obsessive, the dissatisfied, the distorted, the strange: drug addicts, fetichists, compulsive cleaners, collectors of cats or snow globes or Caravaggios. Maybe everyone has something like this, large or small, pathological or merely unusual: something that serves, in the pattern of its acquisition or loss, as the measure of how well we’re doing. Money, lovers, calories, applause, miles run, roses grown, volumes of Trollope read and reshelved: something to think about, so we don’t have to think about anything else. I have mine: I think about sleep.
I think about sleep all the time-more often than I think about love or work, more often than I think about money or death. I’m a conoisseur of sleep, it’s my only area of expertise. I think about it the way a river-boat captain thinks about the river; I know all its swells and shallows, where it forks, where it rushes, where the bottom is high.
I cover sleep. I collect it, husband it, save and spend it, count it, sort it, weight it, and count it again. I can’t tell you how much I earned last year, or how many words I have wrote, but I know how many hours I spent in bed and how well I slumbered. I have measured out my life with coffe and sleeping pills. I feel guilty if I’ve slept too much, and when I’ve slept too little I can’t wait to make up the difference. I live my days by how much I’ve slept the night before, by when I’ll nap, by the quality of my exhaustion or alertness.
I am an insomniac. According to one study, the are forty million Americans like me. According to another there are sixty million. Sixty million! Eighty million! Why not more? Why not all of us? No one would know; there isn’t fellowship here. You can drink in a bar and sober up in the basement of a chuch, but everyone sleeps (or lies awake) in solitude. To paraphrase Conrad: we dream as we die-alone.
Jim Lewis, Notes from The Land of Nod. GRANTA 88.