Mayfield: What keeps me awake at night |

Mayfield: What keeps me awake at night

Rich Mayfield
Vail CO, Colorado

Oops. I must have fallen asleep on my keyboard again.

According to the statistics I have seen, a good many of you join me in spending nights staring at the ceiling. I’m not sure what keeps your eyes from closing but as for me, I can count on a host of familiar visitors whose presence bumps into my night.

PHONE CALLS I FORGOT TO MAKE followed closely by DID I LEAVE THE CAT OUTSIDE AGAIN? both join me in my room along with BILLS THAT MUST BE PAID and the ever increasing and omnipresent HOW CAN I BE 61 YEARS OLD ALREADY? And if that isn’t enough to have me turning on the light, GUILT AND SHAME will make their joint appearance to remind me of current and even not so recent failings. Sometimes it’s downright difficult to fit them all in bed with me along with my petite-sized wife.

And it doesn’t stop there. Once the existential dilemmas and moral recriminations end, the physical symptoms inevitably begin. Everything from terminally ingrown toenails to tumors on the brain conspire to keep this sleep-deprived supplicant from his desperately desired departure. I suspect the same may be said for you.

According to every medical report ever released, seven to eight hours sleep is a vital component of a long and healthy life. According to every insomniac ever asked, those reports are precisely what keep us from sleep. Such troublesome data is designed, I suppose, to encourage us all to attain the recommended nightly regimen but what it really does is contribute to our sleepless misery. The statistics serve only to hold us in consciousness as we worry whether the past hour of wakefulness means one less day of lifefulness.

It being an election year and all, insomniacs like me are banking on 2008 providing more opportunities for catching up during the day on the sleep we lost during the night. Such hopefulness is predicated on the assumption that our presidential candidates will continue to present the inanities that pass for insight over the next 11 months. Then again, the thought of who might actually be victorious in the coming vote may have most of us back to staring at the ceiling.

I’m told Bill Clinton only needed 2-3 hours of sleep each night when he was the designated leader of the entire free world. Two to 3 hours for the rest of us usually means one more morning when we put our pants on backwards. And speaking of sleep deprivation and presidents, this past week showed what can happen when presidential candidates choose campaigning over a convalescing siesta. There wasn’t a one of the White House wannabes who looked his or her best by Wednesday night. Earlier this year and out of his unaccustomed scarcity of sleep, Sen. Barack Obama announced that 10,000 Kansans had recently perished in tornadoes, which astounded the Jayhawks back home who understood the actual number to be 13. And Ms. Hillary Clinton reported to a gathering in Iowa City on Tuesday that “We had 300 people outside literally freezing to death!” when, in fact, no one passed away either literally or figuratively. While overstatements like these are completely understandable to the insomniacal faithful, the press is significantly less forgiving, all the more reason to get that beauty rest.

That’s a real oxymoron for those of us who find neither rest nor beauty in our nightly battles. How we envy those blessed with the ability to glide effortlessly into oblivion. Actually, envy isn’t exactly accurate … at least not in the wee hours of our sleepless mornings. Homicidal rage is probably more precisely to the point.

Then again, insomnia can have its benefits. There’s lots of time for shopping lists to be scrutinized, building projects carefully pondered, world problems successfully solved and, occasionally, a newspaper column written.

Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to

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