I’ve got another essay up on the Emerging Writers’ Festival Blog. This one’s about sleep, sleeplessness and the brain.
It’s 3.37am. My bedroom is dark, the edges of all the things in it are fuzzy. I’ve been woken by the whirring of a forklift driving around inside a chicken wholesaler warehouse two doors down from my place in a semi-industrial part of Melbourne’s Brunswick. It beeps as it reverses. Every now and then, someone throws solid objects into a skip that sits outside the business’ front door. I lay awake for hours, fuming, despairing, turning from side to side. I get up a few times to look, unsuccessfully, for the earplugs I know I own.
It’s not a particularly warm night, but at about 4.15am, my body temperature soars, and I have to throw off all the covers, lie in a starfish shape in the middle of the bed, and consciously slow my breath down. I’m overheating because I’m angry. I’m seriously considering going outside in my pyjamas to yell at the forklift driver about noise rules in mixed-zone areas, but then I start to worry about what, exactly, a business is doing moving stock around at that time of day. What is it? Is it part of their legitimate business? Do I live a few doors down from a ‘business man’ rather than a business man? Might I be risking my safety if I complain? And the paranoid spiral continues until the noise finally stops at 6.30am.
Eventually, some time around 7am, I drag myself out of bed and stumble through the day not entirely sure whether I’m awake or asleep. My limbs are heavy and I can feel my body’s exhaustion like the very beginning of pins and needles. I manage, somehow, to call the council and make enough sense that they understand I’m making a noise complaint.
Every now and then I have a bout of sleeplessness, although I’d not go as far as calling myself an insomniac. Most often my sleeplessness is related to noisy neighbours — jackhammers at 7am on a Sunday, idiotic first-home-away-from-homers exploding aerosol cans in a barrel fire under my window late at night in their tiny inner-city back courtyard. Not sleeping fills me with dread; a long-lasting anxiety that, ironically but unsurprisingly, makes it more difficult for me to sleep. I worry about being as useless as I was the day after the all-night forklift.
After that night, I set out to find out what the relationship between my writing work and my sleep (or lack thereof) might be, and ideally to figure out how to encourage a good night’s shut eye.