By Peggy McKee Barnhill
I can’t sleep.
I’m like the Princess and the Pea, unable to sleep if there’s the slightest thing bothering me. If the mattress is too soft or too hard, too hot or too deep, I can’t sleep. If the air is too hot, too cold, or too dry, I lie awake all night. Sadly, nobody’s going to conclude that I’m a real princess in the morning after my sleepless night. The bags under my eyes hardly even elicit sympathy, let alone provide proof of royalty.
On a recent ferry trip, I planned ahead to get a stateroom, so I could sleep comfortably on my three-day, four-night voyage. Staterooms are pricey on the Matanuska, so I opted to save a few bucks and get one without a window. Note to self: it’s not always about the money. Sometimes the window is worth it. The entire space was no bigger than my bathroom, which has a window, by the way, and is not a place where I sleep. Claustrophobia set in. I felt like I was lying in a tanning bed, staring at the lid inches from my face. Of course, I’ve never experienced a tanning bed in real life, opting instead for my 70 SPF sunscreen needed to keep sunburn at bay. But a girl can imagine. I spent the next three nights sleeping on the floor of the recliner lounge, and the stateroom served as a glorified luggage locker. So much for the comfortable voyage!
While lying in bed not sleeping, my mind is awhirl. I’m an accomplished worrier. You know, the “will I be able to find my way in the dark to my muster station when the ferry hits an iceberg and sinks without a trace” kind of worrying. Worrying is my superpower. As the mother of three grown children, I have ample opportunities to exercise this power. It’s my job to worry about them: what are they doing, are they safe, are they eating their vegetables, are they getting enough sleep? It’s enough to keep any mom awake. My family gave me a Weasley clock for my birthday last year in the midst of the pandemic. You may have seen this clock in the Harry Potter movies. It hangs on the wall in the Weasley’s house with a hand for each member of the family that tracks their whereabouts, from “home” to “work” to “mortal peril.” It helps me with my worrying, mostly when I remind myself that my kids don’t have to contend with He Who Must Not Be Named. There are numerous other things for me to worry about, like will they know where to go in case of an earthquake, tornado, or random fire drill, but I can rest assured that they don’t have to battle Lord Voldemort on a regular basis.
At least I know I’m in good company when I’m not sleeping at night. The classic band Chicago’s iconic song, “25 or 6 to 4” is written about trying to write a song in the middle of the night, twenty-five or twenty-six minutes before 4:00 am. Clearly the most creative time of day! Then there’s my daughter’s favorite band Lawrence, whose song “Probably Up” invites listeners to call them in the middle of the night because they are probably up. Yup, me too. If you listen to it on YouTube, you’ll probably be up all night with their catchy tune stuck in your head. Don’t forget John Lennon’s “I’m So Tired,” written during a bout of insomnia during the Beatles’ time in India. Yeah, John, you and me both.
So, what can I do to get better sleep? I could make sure to always have a window and steer clear of beds with peas slipped underneath the mattress, for starters. Caffeine could be an obvious culprit here, but some lifestyle changes are too much to ask. I could take Benjamin Franklin’s advice and try the “early to bed, early to rise” route, but that would take a barrage of wake-up calls to accomplish. Maybe I should stop reading Harry Potter books at bedtime. Hmm, that’s something to think about. I’ll sleep on it.
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.