Why Insomniacs Will Buy Anything from Anybody, Etc.

Besides sleeplessness, insomniacs share another alarming trait. Individually and collectively, we are dauntless in our determination to find a “cure.” We trust in “remedies.” We believe in “solutions.” We put enormous stock in “fixes,” quick and long term. No room in the medicine cabinet, every storage closet packed to capacity, no matter. We’ll always shell out for the latest, greatest sleep aid, and we won’t count off ten sheep before rushing to do so.

Sleep-deprived zombies with credit cards.

I ask you: where’s the marketing challenge? Exactly where?

Among the many duds foisted upon us: sound conditioners. Sound conditioners are supposed to be vast improvements over what came before, the prosaic sound machine. Regardless, as were sound machines, sound conditioners are meant to overlay "irritating noise" (e.g., partying neighbors, spousal snoring) with more “harmonic” (i.e., soothing) noise at a cost of $130 per unit, plus tax and shipping.

Now: I personally know at least twenty insomniacs who would pay twice that inflated amount without flinching. The desperate are patsies, and in this case, they/we are also disappointed patsies because sound conditioners are no better than their predecessors in lulling to sleep anyone who has ever snoozed within earshot of actual breaking waves. Call it a triumph of nature or a failure of manufacturing. Listening to a sound machine/conditioner’s version of surf, I become the polar opposite of drowsy. I select the “ocean” option; I lie back; I force shut my fluttering eyelids, and this is what I hear: a swell and crash that sounds shallow and tinny, a rhythm just enough out of sync to aggravate. Eventually, inevitably, I can hear and think of nothing else but that not quite right rhythm. Eventually, inevitably, I begin trying to force recorded waves to crash on a different schedule. I’m agitated; I’m fixated. What I’m not is soothed, relaxed or headed for slumber, superficial or deep.

Moving along.

White noise CDs.

Purported advantages: they’re flat; they’re slim; they’re easily transportable (as opposed to clunky sound conditioners). Despite all those perks, I come closest to the nirvana of nodding off (come close but don’t quite convert on that fervent dream) only while scanning the catalog titles: "Restful Rain," "Wonderful Waves," "Winds of White Noise."

Who’d have thought relentless alliteration acted as a mild soporific?

Snacking to help one sleep: pros and cons.

The sleep canon advises against chowing down before bedtime, a digestion interference, but some marketing whiz somewhere noticed that the sleepless are diehard munchers and decided to cash in. These days/nights, insomniacs who happen also to be chocoholics can order a year’s supply of a hybrid called a "malted chocolate food drink.” Addictive, I’m guessing, but sleep friendly? Be serious.

Sleep masks. Functional, stylish, antisocial in the don’t-bother-me-I’m-sleeping sort of way. Available for purchase in cotton, sateen, silk, and/or any of the former filled with aromatics the likes of lavender. The "traveler's best friend" version, in black spandex, was purportedly designed to block out cabin light and simultaneously stabilize a lolling head. To demonstrate those twin virtues, in the illustration, a young male traveler has been drawn in a double-bind posture, seatbelt snug, the elastic band of his TBF looped around 12B’s headrest. Judging by the visuals of the advertisement, in the event of emergency, the TBF user would be hard pressed to extricate in a hurry even before panic turned his fingers inept. So I’d advise the paranoiac as well as the claustrophobic to steer clear of TBFs and stick with drinking themselves into a stupor while flying high.

Just a suggestion, of course.

Late-night TV. What better venue for hawking to the wide-eyed? Or would be, if someone in the production booth were editing out the comedy. Sniggering and/or guffawing tends to keep people awake and lively. My favorite laughing when I’d rather have been sleeping moment: watching TV's former Bionic Woman shill for a mattress that ensures a good night’s rest by "reshaping to the sleeper's form." I can’t speak for my entire tribe, but I’ll wager that in the majority of beds inhabited by insomniacs the atmosphere falls shy of calm and peaceful. My bed, for example, is a combat zone. Sheet wars. Pillow skirmishes. Lots and lots of kicking, shimmying, flailing and pummeling. In the commercial that stars the former Bionic Woman, the model atop the miracle mattress lies stiff and still as a corpse.

Ah, that’s the trick. Play dead and let the reshaping begin!

For night owls who roost in the vicinity of a university with a well-funded department of psychiatry or neurology, there’s an outside chance of being accepted as a sleep study volunteer. One can't, however, just show up with toothbrush and jammies. There are forms to fill out. Primary physician referrals to collect. Face to face interviews to “pass.”

It’s a stressful process, even for the chosen.

Suppose you do make the final cut. What then? First, the packing conundrum. What to take along/leave behind? Socks? Bedroom shoes? The stuffed bunny? Since you’ll be on medical display, should you plan on draping yourself in your very best nighttime wardrobe or go with something warmer, tattier and more comfortable? After surmounting traffic gridlock to arrive on campus, there’s the parking obstacle. Who’s to predict when or whether the circling will ever end? Realistically what are the odds of spotting a legal space, much less an overnight legal space, where your car won't be a) vandalized, b) ticketed, or c) towed? Next up: the challenge of decoding a campus map. Without taking forever to do it, you must somehow locate and get yourself to the correct building, floor, hallway and sign-in station. All that before the onset of a long strange night in strange quarters, stretched out on a strange bed, hooked up to tracking wires and contractually obligated to remain docile during experimental procedures conducted by white coats in a late-night laboratory.

Anyone capable of submitting to that scenario is not a late-night reader of sci-fi invasion novels.

Is not.

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