Winkless at 35,000 feet

Right now it’s 104 degrees at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, which seems appropriate considering the facility’s infernal namesake. I have arrived from the East Coast, where it was 74 at 10 a.m. — it will hit 94 — and I am connecting to a flight that will take me to the land of 54 degrees, for it is winter in Buenos Aires, my latest destination on my quest to see as much of the world as I can before it blows up.

Hours later, I write this in the dark on a punishing nine-hour redeye during that weird interval when the pilot douses the cabin lights so his human cargo can go sleepy time. I’m a jet-plane insomniac so that trick ain’t working. Instead I atrophy in my seat, reading a bit, maybe watching a few minutes of a movie (or eavesdropping on what others are watching — almost uniform tripe), but mostly fiddling my brain’s thumbs and sneaking the occasional mini bottle of scotch that I smuggled aboard. (Contraband. I rule.)

Of course, as always, the guy next to me is comatose, swaddled in a blue airline blankie, a rivulet of drool squiggling down his chin — paradise. And there I’ll be when we disembark, sleep-deprived, pissed-off, testy, tetchy, impatient — and singing glory hallelujah I’m in South America, my first time on the continent! Bloodshot eyeballs, bewhiskered, frowzy hair — who cares. The miracle of modern aeronautics has delivered me someplace new and far, uncharted and exciting. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.

And that’s the gist of it. No matter how physically miserable I am right now — there’s six hours left on the flight and I’ll be burning untold calories fidgeting, not to mention enduring fearsome temblors of turbulence — I still have much to look forward to, lots of which I’ll probably share here. 

Meanwhile, I have a funny novel to finish, some hooch to furtively sip and a few episodes of “Rick and Morty” to watch. Things could be a hell of a lot worse.

You are getting sleepy. Not.

The other night I couldn’t sleep, so I took a dog sedative. 

That will do it, I thought. That will put me down like a tranquilized caribou. The Benadryl isn’t working, the Xanax has flopped. It’s 3 a.m. and time for the big guns, even though the dog, Cubby, weighs about as much as a couple of gallons of milk.

So how much doggie dope to take? I haven’t the foggiest. I don’t want a measly Cubby dose. Well, this chunky pill looks about right for an adult human. Gulp.

And it worked. A little before 4 a.m., the tossing, turning and cursing ceased. I was out, and it was good. I woke up with paws and a tail, but it was worth it.

My accursed insomnia comes in waves. I’ll have a few months of it, then it clears up and I sleep like a normal person, six to eight hours if I’m lucky. But those sleepless stretches are agony. So I medicate, with reckless abandon. 

And it rarely works. I’ve tried Ambien, melatonin, Benadryl, booze, Xanax and Clonazepam, sometimes all at once. Maybe they’re cancelling each other out.

Everyone sings the drowsy praises of Benadryl, a common over the counter antihistamine. I know people who can’t even wake up the next day if they take one and a half pills. That’s insane. I’ve taken up to eight Benadryl in one night and got zero winks. I think I need a shot of sodium Pentothal.

I don’t like how many drugs I ingest, everything from Pristiq and Benadryl, to Zyrtec and Xanax, to Clonazepam and Advil. My blood must be a sludgy brown, or a nuclear green. It can’t be good.

In college, the pharmacist at the student health center told me he puts nothing in his body medicinally, not even aspirin. I mulled if that was even humanly possible. I wonder where he is now. Probably a heroin addict. 

Last summer was especially slumber-free. When insomnia strikes, the mind reeling in futile spin cycles, I typically get up and try to make myself tired by doing stuff. I write, read, plan trips, watch videos, get a head start on the day’s online news. Once I went ahead and shaved in the middle of the night, an existential triumph of baby-soft smoothosity. And I rarely neglect my journal, like this bit from August:

“2:40 a.m. I cannot sleep and I’ve taken two Clonazepam, a Xanax, three Benadryl and three more just now, making that six Benadryl. I am tense and restless, bored. Went downstairs at 1 a.m. to read and sip a splash of rosé and still nothing. I’m so damn antsy. … 5 a.m. Cannot get to sleep. Two more Benadryl and whole body cramping and restless. No sleep whatsoever. Zonked in the head yet my body wants to run a 5K.”

Those are the tedious musings of a fatally bored, somewhat drugged individual. Where’s the dog pill when I need it?

About that pill: Turns out the sedative given Cubby to calm him before vet visits is an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication for humans, so it’s not like I was eating dog food or committing a creepy interspecies caper. The pill is Trazodone, which in 2017 was the 30th most commonly prescribed medication in America. So I’m in good company.

Sleep shouldn’t be so elusive. While it’s a precious and pleasant commodity — cuddling, dreaming, flipping the pillow over to the cold side, snoring with roof-rattling gusto — snoozing is also mandatory. I for one become a deep-fried ogre without sleep. Just as scary: some reports say up to 50 percent of adults suffer chronic insomnia.

That’s a rotten figure, yet one that makes you think. Those hours swiped of sleep, when you’re desperately, hopelessly awake, can be surprisingly fertile. I can’t tell you how much world-travel mapping I’ve accomplished in the wee morning gloom of sleep deprivation.

Sure, I’d rather be unconscious and under the covers, but maybe some good can be wrung from the midnight malady. Maybe in the restless hush books can be read, letters written and Tokyo hotels booked. Maybe we can commune with ourselves with a kind of meditative calm and aloneness. Maybe, after all, sleep is for suckers.