Insomnia (A Short Story)

INSOMNIA

(Dedicated to the “Albatross”)

“Roland, what the hell is this?” Ethan is glowering. “I’ve got that SamCorp account meeting in fifteen minutes, and this is what you give me to work with?” He shakes the blue folder like it’s covered in bugs.

I snatch the folder from him. Inside is the report I’d printed out and slipped into Ethan’s inbox early this morning. My eyes blur as I looked over the numbers, lids as heavy as wood. “Give me a minute. I can fix it,” I say, turning to my computer.

“You’d better not screw this up.” He storms off. I take a huge gulp of double-caff coffee, my second one this morning, and get to work.

At lunchtime, I doze off mid-conversation and wake up to find that my coworkers have returned to their cubicles, and my girlfriend, Haley, has sent half a dozen angry texts, the last one canceling tonight’s dinner plans. Great. I toss my half-eaten meal into the trash and hurry back to my desk before Ethan notices I’m tardy.

Greg, my neighbor from two cubicles down, stops to say hi and catches me mid-yawn. “You’re not coming down with something, are you?” He frowns as I rub my bloodshot eyes.

I shake my head. “Just a little insomnia lately.” Understatement. Lately, I was lucky if I could get four straight hours of sleep in one night. Unisom stopped helping. Herbal remedies were useless. Meditation, white noise, no electronics before sleeping…I’d tried it all. And still, I lay awake in bed, my mind a carousel of thoughts.

Greg holds up a finger. “Say no more. Let me send you a link for this new sleep aid, called Doz-Z. My brother-in-law tried it, and now he sleeps like the dead.”

I snort. Sounds like a gimmick. A few minutes later, the link shows up in my inbox. I ignore it.

By the time I drag myself home that evening, I feel half dead. I heat up a carton of leftover Thai takeout, then wash it down with a glass of cheap pinot. Haley calls, and I’m all apologies and promises, so she agrees to go out with me this Friday night. At least, I think we said Friday. My brain feels so sluggish right now, I can’t really hold anything. We hang up, then I head off to bed.

My room is completely dark except for the dim blue glow of my alarm clock. 10:15. The minutes stretch on as I close my eyes, twisting one way, then another. Somewhere across my room, Alexa pumps out the soft, soothing sounds of rain and wind.

11:15. 12:15. 1:15.

Just after two o’clock, I’m sitting up in bed, laptop powered on. I open my work email and find the link Greg sent me. Click. Posted on the website is a photo of a guy snoozing in his bed, unlike me.

TRY DOZ-Z AND GET THE BEST SLEEP OF YOUR LIFE

Underneath this, there’s a bunch of stuff about the science behind the product, and potential side effects. I skim over this and look for the price.

30-DAY FREE TRIAL. GUARANTEED 8+ HOURS OF SLEEP EACH NIGHT.

It sounds way too good to be true. But I’m sleep-deprived and desperate. Before I can change my mind, I fill out the form and send it.

When I get home from work two nights later, someone rings the doorbell. “Roland Zabinski?” the guy asks. I nod, and he hands me a small package. I close the door and tear open the package. I’m not really sure what I’m expecting – pills, maybe? A powder you mix into a smoothie? Instead, I dig out a pair of button-like wireless earbuds and instructions on how to download and sync them with the Doz-z app. You’ve gotta be kidding me.

I get it all set up, press the earbuds into my ears, and sink into bed. “Activate sleep mode,” I say aloud.

“Welcome to Doz-Z,” a soothing female AI voice says. “Would you like to dream tonight?”

I blink into the dark. “Uh…yeah, sure,” I say.

“Okay,” she says. “Dream will begin in three, two, one…”

*

I’m searching everywhere. Around the car. Next to the house. Behind the big round bush at the edge of the lawn. Nothing. I’m heading back when she suddenly scrambles out from under the front porch. Before I can do anything, she pelts right in the face with a snowball.

“Hey!” I sputter, wiping away cold, wet snow. “Not fair!”

In a moment, her arms are around me. “What’s not fair? The part where I won?” She kisses me, her full lips warm against my frozen mouth. “Poor sport.” Her round eyes twinkle like dark ponds reflecting the moonlight.

I take the snowball I’ve been holding and stuff it down the back of her shirt. She yelps and leaps away. “Oh, that was dirty!” Her eyes are narrowed, but she’s still smiling. “You’re in trouble now, buster.”

“Oh, am I?” She’s giggling as I chase her across the lawn. When I catch her, my arms encircle her waist, and I pull us both to the ground. She’s dusted with snow, like powdered sugar, her face electric with joy. My heart does a backflip.

“Marry me, Marley.” I smooth back her hair with a gloved hand.

She stares at me intensely, trying to see if I mean it. “Yes,” she whispers. Then the world around me fades to gray and dissolves.

*

I bolt upright in bed, gasping. “What the hell was that?” I say aloud.

“Your dream has ended,” says the soothing AI voice. “You have slept for nine hours, thirty-two minutes.”

Nine hours? “Shit.” I dig the earbuds out and drop them on my nightstand. I’m late for work.

“You missed the meeting with marketing.” Ethan’s pissed.

“I know. God, I…had some car trouble.” Still a lame excuse, but sounds better than sleeping in. I work extra hard for the rest of the day to make up for it. I feel more focused than I have for a long time, except for brief moments when Marley’s face would swim across my thoughts. She was just a dream, I remind myself, shaking the thoughts away.

“Would you like to dream tonight?” asks the AI when I’ve settled into bed that night.

“Yeah.” I countdown with the voice. Three, two, one…

*

“I feel like a cow.” Marley pouts and rubs her swollen belly. “A big, fat cow.”

“You’re not fat.” I place my hands on her belly, too.

“I’ve got a name idea.”

“What now?” I cock an eyebrow, waiting. Marley’s ideas to name our first baby have ranged from terrible to atrocious so far.

“If it’s a girl, Leia.”

I groan. “Vetoed.”

“If it’s a boy, Han.”

“Why not Luke? At least Luke sounds normal.”

“Who wants a normal name? This baby is special, and deserves a special name.”

“I still like the name Catherine, after my grandmother.”

Marley gasps, her eyes wide. “Did you feel that?” We both stand very still. Then I feel it. A thump from somewhere inside her belly. The baby – our baby, is kicking.

“See?” I say. “She likes the name, too.”

*

I’m late for work again. This time, Ethan doesn’t notice, but I know I need to figure out how to wake up on time. Maybe the app has an alarm feature.

“Your free trial has ended,” says the AI when I lie in bed two nights later. “If you commit now to the one-year plan, your credit card will be charged. Shall I proceed?”

I think of Marley and our daughter, Catherine, waiting for me at home. Our dream home. My dream family.

“Yes,” I say.

Each night, I hurry home from work, eager to fall into dream mode. And each morning, I reluctantly remove the Doz-Z earbuds and head to work.

“You seem more chipper lately,” Greg remarks one day. “Things going better with your girlfriend?”

Girlfriend? Oh, her. “Haley and I broke up.” I left out the part where she had accused me of cheating and said she never wanted to see me again. I mean, I technically was cheating, since I kind of have a wife and family, so I didn’t bother to correct her. “It’s that Doz-Z app,” I say. “It’s really helping me get some good sleep.”

“Glad to hear it. My brother liked it, too, but he had to quit. Too expensive.”

The truth is, I haven’t even looked to see how much the service is costing me. When I get home, I call the credit card company for recent transactions, and learn that my payment in the amount of $10,000 was declined.

$10,000! My head is spinning. I was expecting maybe a couple hundred. There’s no way I can afford to continue using the app. But Marley, and Catherine…

*

That night, Marley and I take Catherine to the beach. It’s her first time seeing the ocean, and she squeals in delight as the waves wash against her pudgy toes.

“Build a castle, Daddy!” Catherine holds out her pink pail and shovel. I kneel in the damp sand and begin to dig as Catherine dances around me. The sun is warm on my bare shoulders, and the air is fresh and salty. I glance back at Marley, who waves from her beach chair, her free hand resting on her belly. She is pregnant again.

“There!” Catherine places a sand dollar on top of the mushy castle I’ve built. “That’s the princess who lives there.”

“Princess Catherine,” I say.

*

It’s becoming harder to wake up from the dreams. “Ten more minutes,” I murmur to the AI. Ten minutes becomes thirty, then grows to an extra hour of sleep. I creep into work later and later each morning, often unshaven, wearing wrinkled clothes from the day before. It was just a matter of time before Ethan calls me into his office, expression grim.

“I need employees who take their jobs seriously,” he says. Security walks me out of the building. I head home, clutching a cardboard box filled with my belongings.

“Would you like to dream?” asks the AI.

“Yes.”

*

Catherine is growing. She curls in my lap as I read her stories and stroke her soft curls until she falls asleep. Then I join Marley as she places baby Luke in his crib.

“Our almost perfect family,” she says as we gaze down on our son.

“Almost perfect?”

She sighs. “We’re missing one important piece.”

I kiss her forehead. Catherine and Luke. The perfect house. The perfect wife. What could possibly be missing?

The next day, Marley shows up with a squirming bundle in her arms.

“A puppy!” Catherine is ecstatic. She reaches up to pet its silky brown fur.

“I have a few name ideas,” Marley says with a mischievous grin.

I groan. “Oh great.”

*

The Doz-Z bill arrives in the mail. We were unable to charge your credit card. Payment is due immediately.

I toss the bill on the growing pile of unopened mail, wolf down a piece of burnt toast, then return to bed.

*

Catherine plays her first soccer game. She runs up and down the field in her adorable blue uniform, ponytails bouncing.

“Go, Blue Lightning!” Luke and I cheer, though he says it more like B-you Yighting. Aladdin, who is now a fully grown lab, barks and tugs at his leash, eager to join the game.

Marley laughs and pats his head. “Not this time, you scamp.”

*

“I’m sorry, Roland. I am unable to activate sleep mode until your balance has been paid in full.” The AI’s soothing voice only irritates me further. “Would you like to hear your options?”

“Come on,” I beg. “I’m going to miss Luke’s birthday party. We’re taking him to Bounceworld, and Marley baked his favorite cake.”

The AI doesn’t answer.

“Activate sleep mode,” I say again through gritted teeth.

“I’m sorry, Roland,” the AI starts again. I let out a frustrated grunt and pound the bed with my fist. “Would you like to hear your options?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

“You may pay your balance in full right now.” Out of the question. My credit card is maxed, and I haven’t made a payment in over a month.

“If you are unable to pay, but would like to continue using Doz-Z, then you can commit to six months of service as a Doz-Z staff member.”

“Staff member? Is this a job offer?”

“Yes. I can send Doz-Z agents to collect you tonight, and you can begin your service immediately.”

I think of the stack of unpaid bills covering my dining table. I think of the 72-hour warning from the electric company. I think of Catherine, who just lost her front tooth, and Luke, who started Kindergarten last week. I think of holding Marley in my arms, the sweet fragrance of her scented shower gel, her round, chocolate-brown eyes looking back at me with so much love. I can’t abandon them. They are my life.

The Doz-Z agents arrive two hours later. They take me to the corporate building and show me to my desk. “Look over these numbers and have a report ready for me by 10AM sharp,” says the new Ethan, a stern-faced woman with graying hair pulled into a severe bun. I turn to my computer and get to work.

Hours later, they release me, and I take the elevator down to the dormitory, where I share a room with half a dozen other staff members. No one speaks as we change into matching pajamas and climb into our cots. One by one, we all insert a pair of Doz-Z earbuds into our ears and say, “Activate sleep mode.”

“Would you like to dream tonight?” asks the soothing voice of the AI.

“Yes,” I say.

“Dream beginning in three, two, one…”

The Energizer Bunny is My Spirit Animal (aka: Energy!)

Energy!

Energy!

The word itself demands an exclamation point. Caps, bold, and italics, even. ENERGY!!

As it now Friday afternoon, and many of you zombies are slumped over at your desks, waiting for the weekend to kick in, the word energy is more like an expletive. Or a plea. Or a complete unknown. Energy? What on earth is that?

That’s when I pull out my cheerleader megaphone and do a few cartwheels to encourage you all.

I’ve got energy, yes I do! I’ve got energy, how about you?

(Okay, you didn’t have to use your last remaining reserves of energy to throw tomatoes. How rude! )

Energy is one of those things that so many people wish they had way more of. But like free time, like money, like low-calorie meals that fill you up and taste great, it’s one of those things that always seems to be in short supply for many people. That’s a real bummer, since it takes energy to do so many of the things we want to do. To climb out of bed each morning. To focus at work. To shuttle kids around to activities, and clean the house, and cook healthy meals, and get to the gym, and plan social events, and weed the garden, and schedule that dental appointment we keep putting off. Ack! No wonder everyone’s so exhausted.

I wish I could tell you that there is some magical way to acquire more energy. After all, it has always come naturally to me. Ever since I was very young, I’ve had this inner well of mental and physical energy that makes it very, very hard to mesh with you couch potato types. I become very restless if I don’t exercise daily and push my mental and physical limits on a regular basis. I am definitely the get-up-and-go type. Laziness does not come easily to me. The Energizer Bunny is probably my spirit animal.

energizer_bunny_still_going

According to recent scientific studies, my high energy levels are most likely hard-wired in my genetics. Which is funny, because I grew up in a family of TV-loving, exercise-shunning, sleep-in-on-weekends couch potatoes. Clearly, I was born on Jupiter and swapped at birth.

So I’m sorry to say that, if you were not born with lightning in your veins like me, then you probably struggle to find enough energy to do everything that you want to do. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to boost your energy levels, even if your spirit animal is a sloth.

SLEEEEEEP I can’t emphasize this one enough. Way too many Americans don’t get enough good, regular sleep. 7-8 hours per night, peeps. That does not include time spent in bed reading, watching TV, or other…um…nocturnal activities. Improve your sleep by setting a relaxing routine during the hour leading up to bedtime. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Make your bedroom comfy and relaxing. Bottom line: want more energy throughout the day? Go to sleep!

sleepytime

EXERCISE It may sound counterintuitive. I mean, how are you supposed to go for a run, or ride a bike, or hit the gym after work when you don’t have the energy? But exercise itself actually gives you energy. Remember mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cells? Well, they also produce this chemical called ATP, which your body uses as energy. So guess what happens when you work out? Your body produces more mitochondria, which means more ATP, which means more energy! So if you’re facing a sluggish moment in the middle of your work day, go for a walk. Climb some stairs. Hit the gym near your workplace for a midday pick-me-up. It’s more effective than coffee.

CUT THE SUGAR If you have a sweet tooth like me, this one is soooo hard to do! But sugar and simplex carbs (think white bread) are the enemy of lasting energy. They’re fine for an immediate boost of energy, but you’ll crash quickly and feel more tired than you did before. If you want carbs for energy, go for yummy whole grains, fruit, or veggies.

CHOOSE ENERGETIC HOBBIES If you center your free time around couch potato activities, then you’ll be stuck in the same inactive rut. Once you’re engaged in a good TV show or video game, it’s hard to make yourself stop and go for a walk or work in the garden. But if you work active activities into your schedule, and give those first priority, then it’s easier to convince yourself to do them, even if it’s just to “get it over with.” Who knows? You may get so used to being active that the couch seems a lot less appealing!

running going motion energy athletic

THINK ENERGETIC THOUGHTS I believe that the mind, body, and spirit are strongly connected. By focusing on how tired you feel, how difficult it is to exercise, and on the hundreds of little excuses you’ve made up for why you’d rather lie around the house, you are encouraging your own energy levels to drop. When you shift your thoughts in a positive way about your energy levels, you will experience a positive increase.

Well, this post is getting a little long, and my body is already anxious to get up and move. If you try these tips and still find that your energy levels are low, be sure to check in with your doctor. Sometimes, low energy levels can indicate low iron levels, sleep apnea, or other underlying health issues. But if they are effective, then great! We can start a club for Energizer Bunnies, and keep it going and going and going…

Zzzzzzz (aka: You Really Need More Sleep)

sleeping Focus on the light. Relax your mind. You’re getting sleeeeepy…

Oh wait. Hang on. If you fall asleep, then you’ll miss reading the rest of this blog post. And you really don’t want to miss it, because today we are focusing on the most important thing in your life (whether you acknowledge it or not).

You guessed it. The most important thing in your life is sleep. And if you are like many Americans, you’re not getting enough of it. Get Some Sleep

It’s the strangest thing. From a very young age, the importance of getting good, regular sleep is drilled into our brains. Take a nap! Go to bed right now, young lady! What — are you still awake reading books with a flashlight? Ten points from Ravenclaw!

Yawn.

Sleep is such a dreadful bore, isn’t it? Especially when we have work to do, soccer games to watch, and kids to shuttle around town to activities. And then, to top it all off, we have to spend another 7-8 hours in bed, doing absolutely nothing? So unproductive!

Of course, there’s that part we like to forget about. That part in which not getting enough regular good sleep can be hazardous to our health, as well as the health of people around us. Need a reminder? Okay. Not getting enough sleep can lead to:

Weight gain

Memory difficulties

Cognitive Impair

Diminished sex life

Irritability / Mood Swings

Decreased attention span

Inability to adapt to change

Heart disease

Diabetes

Weakened immune system

Depression / apathy

Diminished decision-making ability

Higher risk of auto accidents

sleep deprivationOkay time out. This list sounds just as bad as those side-effect lists on drug commercials. Diseases! Cognitive decline! Depression! Potentially deadly auto accidents! And yet, even knowing this, many of us will push off sleep until we absolutely can’t keep our eyes open. Just one more episode. Just one more chapter. Just one more hour of this exciting video game. Just one more zzzzz….

I’d write some more about sleep, but you know what? I think I’ll just go and get some.

How much sleep do you really need

Sources:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

http://www.apa.org/topics/sleep/why.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/9-reasons-to-sleep-more

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/from/sleep.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/11/natural-sleep-aids_n_3882229.html