Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Not sleepy in Switzerland

Commentary by JoEllen Collins


JoEllen Collins

Just when I am entering the phase of my life where I should want to be wide awake for every possible minute, I find myself enjoying to a degree I never imagined the simple pleasure of sleeping. Shakespeare was right: sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care.

I thought that I would be writing from Switzerland about its spectacular beauty, the people I've met, and the wonders that I have observed. I even thought I'd extol the virtues of the fabulous red trains taking one everywhere or the bus system in the city of Davos, nestled for a long stretch beneath the Alps. I marvel at its efficiency and most especially that it welcomes dogs, sleds, skis, baby carriages, in short, anything that needs to get from one place to another speedily. I wish I could board public transit in the Wood River Valley with such ease—and with my doggies. I even thought I might do a piece on Davos as the location for what is considered the best avalanche training, monitoring and research center in Europe.

Instead, I find myself amazed at a simple change in my life, one which I'm sure many people all over the world would envy: I am no longer a fitful sleeper, a morning person who unfailingly irritates roommates and family by bounding cheerily out of bed shortly after dawn. For many years I was considered a light sleeper: once I woke up at any hour of the night I had great difficulty returning to a sleepy state. Even as recently as two years ago I got up at 3:30 to iron clothes rather than toss and turn.

I have seldom needed an alarm clock; my inner clock tells me what time it is during almost any activity. Needing to be at work by 7:30 a.m. fit in perfectly with my morning nature. In short, I was used to falling asleep early in the evening, awakening a few times, letting the dogs out for an early morning pee, and never really feeling I had slept fully.

Recent statistics show that sleeplessness afflicts too many Americans, so I hope that someone will benefit from my sharing this wee bit of positive news. It has only taken three weeks for me to be converted from a nervous sleeper into one who keeps blissfully sleeping even after the alarm goes off. I, who feel guilty if I sleep past 7:30 a.m., have been lolling under the down comforters of Switzerland until 9:00 or so.

I actually think I am engaging in a new sport. Just as any athlete does, I first prepare for the event, taking a hot bath or long shower to relax, then concentrate on the moment, reading, for a change, as I now have time, until my eyes get tired. No telephones or raucous TV intrude. The crowd is hushed. I also have just the right equipment (inserting earplugs, learned while trying to sleep in Thailand's late night noise, is not particularly attractive but works). Then I enter the main part of my sport, going the distance until I finally get my second wind. After awakening at the first crack of dawn from some vivid dream, I might have quit the sport of sleep earlier when I had to work, but now I go back into an even more rhythmical pattern of this activity, falling into a great deep morning sleep. A champion sleeper!

I know that I may just be recuperating from months of exhaustion as I faced my final weeks of full-time work and many other activities, working on a novel and another project with a co-writer, the holidays, preparing for this trip, then arriving quite ill for my first week here. But now that three weeks have passed since I started feeling better, I can only marvel at either this new pattern or my state of exhaustion when I first arrived. A bonus is walking everywhere and exercising more than when I sat at work all day.

So, all you (former) fellow insomniacs, cheer up. All you need to do is relax, quit work, enjoy the moment, get as old as I am, perhaps add a therapeutic sleeping partner, and embark on yet another adventure, and who knows? It could happen to you as well. So, armed with my silk robe, used to help ease my "'Princess and the Pea' complaints" about scratchy rental sheets, my trusty book, and earplugs, I'm off to dreamland again.

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