Wednesday, February 15, 2006

From an insomniac’s diary

Picturing the fence is the easy part and the first few sheep are relatively obliging too. Of course, it’s never as smooth as in the comic strips – they don’t leap lithely over the fence, they clamber over it awkwardly, sometimes emitting Maria Sharapova grunts, and it’s always disturbing when the underside of their bellies scrapes the top of the partition. But at least they do what they're supposed to; they make it to the other side and then disappear from view at the left of the screen. The trouble begins with the next lot, which plain refuse to jump or climb. One of them makes a half-hearted attempt, falls back on the side whence it came, and gives up immediately and fatalistically. This becomes the cue for the rest to give up as well, and then they just linger about looking stupid, like sheep will. It upsets my sense of equilibrium to see so many sheep on one side of the fence (and because more keep entering the frame, they eventually pile up one on top of the other) and none at all on the other.

Because the fence-jumping is clearly not working out, I home in on the sheep in the crowded part of the picture and study their individual features. Naturally most of them are versions of the sheep I have personally known or known of. The solicitous matron sheep in Babe. The dumb things I saw up close at a sheepdog-training demonstration in Scotland a couple of years ago. A neighbour’s pet ewe, which she kept in her garden, and which appeared on that TV show hosted by Maneka Gandhi. Sheep are not creatures with great personality, you can dwell on their faces only so long, and so my thoughts soon drift to include other manifestations like sikandari raan at Karim’s and those delicious haggis balls you get in Edinburgh.

Somewhere in my mind is the dim awareness that dwelling this hard on the sheep defeats the purpose; that the correct way to lull myself to sleep is to think abstract-sheep thoughts, not specific-sheep thoughts. But by now I’m too far gone. Other references, fragments of sentences crowd my mind. The lambs were screaming, intones a hollow-voiced Clarice Starling. Meek and obedient you follow the leader/down well-trodden corridors into the valley of steel, sings David Gilmour. Who fleeced Mary’s little lamb? One morning I awoke and the sheep was gone, blubbers the Sheep Professor in Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. It was then that I understood what it means to be ‘sheepless’. The sheep goes away leaving only an idea.

And next thing I know it’s 3 AM, and it’s like Chandler says in that Friends episode, “I can’t sleep because I’m thinking there are only four hours left before I have to get up. And then I can’t sleep because I’m thinking there are only three hours left. And then…”

Does the sheep-counting technique work for anyone else? Or am I trying too hard? If there are better ways (apart from drinking yourself silly every night), please do let me know.


  1. Hilarious post! But you missed the sheep in Alice, that's my favorite. Feather, feather, are you a little goose, etc.

    And that was in a dream, hmmm...

  2. Excessive caffeine during the day is usually a big culprit. I've almost stopped drinking coffee and stick to tea for this very reason.

    Another big culprit is an imbalance in ambient temperature. I don't know if this affects only me or others as well, but if the room is too hot or too cold, I can't sleep.

    So if the heater is turned on too high, turn it down a bit, let the room be cooler and see if it makes any difference.

    If you exercise, try not to do it too close to bed time. Your system needs a few hours to cool down before you become sleepy enough.

  3. From ME??! you've got to be kidding!! :P

  4. Since I'm writing this at 4 in the morn, i obviously do not have any suggestions to make.
    But, I thought your visualisation of those sheep was real good. Felt like an animation film, done in a clumsy, eccentric manner with loads of boiling.

  5. Nothing like a good shag!

  6. A clear conscience is the best aid to sleep, I find. (I'm a nine-hour-a-night man myself.) Failing that: pills?

  7. Speaking as a fellow sufferer, I find that a hot bath before bedtime usually does the trick. After you bathe, don't read/watch TV or even listen to music; just lie down and close your eyes and try not to think of anything.

  8. Here's a suggestion: Don't sleep. Instead, write a bunch of connected stories about sleep and sleeplessness, call it The Maroon Mattress or The Yellow Pillow or something, send it to David Godwin or Peter Straus and become a millionare.

  9. sheepless is saket?
    read "war and peace". according to segrio aragones' marginal thinking, its a cure for insomnia.

    ive tried brothers karamazov, worked brilliantly.

  10. It never works...
    Yet to find something that does!

  11. Hilarious as some of the suggestions here are (and I second the one about writing a book, Maroon Mattress sounds yummily avante garde), as a fellow sufferer I must offer some proper sympathy. It's just a phase, really (heaven help you if it isn't, it is usually with me) -- so just clamp down on those fears of turning into somebody from Valley of the Dolls, and pop a pill just one night to break the insomnia cycle. It usually works.

    P.S. What is it with our generation? Didn't know there were so many intermittent insomniacs around!

  12. The best cure for sleeplessness I've ever known is to have exams round the corner, and at least four books open on your table...
    Our heads begin to nod at nine o'clock, and by nine-thirty the pen drops from our nerveless grasp.
    Bit extreme, though. See if shavasana won't work first.

  13. Hilarious post!!

    My suggestion is try reading one of those "great" books. Pick up Proust, if he doesn't lull you to sleep, at least you will sympathise with the narrator whose experience with sleeping is not completely dissimilar to yours :)

    My favourite sleeping book is The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I don't know how many times I have slept in the last two years reading the first 10-20 pages. I once even slept sitting in a chair!

    I like Anonymous (DD)'s suggestion too but that might not be feasible for single people. (I am guessing you are single) :)

  14. I've tagged you! (Apparently if you get tagged twice, you can wiggle out of it). So if you want to be relieve of the agony, your regular readers should take the hint :)

  15. Jabberwock, have you tried counting sheep in hexadecimal? By the time you reach 1E, you will be sleeping like a baby - albeit a baby that counts in hexadecimal.


  16. The sheep-counting thing was working for me until I read a Joel Achenbach piece (in the National Geographic, I think) that sheep have unique facial features and that every sheep can remember and differentiate between about 15 of its herd mates.

    So that strategy went out the window.

    Have you tried a glass of warm milk before going to bed?

  17. Oh! you funny man, I don't see why they should clamber over a (barbed wire?) fence, why can't they just pass through a gate? You could be the sheep dog, maybe... it has worked for me on occasion when i've run dry of thrilling adventures and soppy romances to embellish.

  18. Sit down with your school or college Physics text book---you'll be catching the zzzz's in no time!

  19. Very, very funny and familiar, but talking of famous sheep, how can you leave out the most famous literary sheep of them all? I mean Exupery's one of course.

    Speaking of which, you could try drawing one mentally.

    Personally I find counting works, not sheep or anything in particular, just numbers.

    A friend of mine recommends the solo variant of anonymous's suggestion.

    If all else fails, schedule an early appointment (say 9) and a beauteous sleep is guaranteed to ensue around 7 am