I first learned of the classic children’s bedtime story Goodnight Moon from a New York Times series on writing, by writers, for writers, called ‘Draft’. Aimee Bender wrote an essay entitled, ‘What Writers Can Learn From Goodnight Moon’. Having appropriated her title, I’ll try to put into practice one or two of her recommended lessons. After reading Bender’s very clever take on Goodnight Moon I tried to buy a copy at a big box bookstore. They were sold out but they could order it for me. So I scouted several used bookshops only to learn that it rarely came in and when it did, it was snatched up and went right out again. Next I went to the public library where I had to place a hold on a copy, as none were on the shelf, and then I waited a week to finally get my hands on it. I started to think, wait a minute, what the heck is going on here? It’s a children’s book for Pete’s sake. How naïve I was.
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, first published in 1947, has never been out of print. Its words have been put to music (Hila Pitmann & Eric Whitacre); it has been turned into a play; given rise to several parodies (see, ‘Goodnight i-pad’); and is widely quoted. Not only is it a children’s classic, it has become part of the canon of books that you must know about. Many of you had it read to you or are reading it to your children.
I first read it to better understand Aimee Bender’s thesis. Then I read it again, and then again, usually just before tuning out the light, and I started to see it as a bridge, a transition from wakefulness, to sleep. The story is deceptively simple. It says goodnight to everything in the room and then some. Using the power of suggestion, reinforced with rhyme and repetition, it coaxes the child to relax, to just let go and ever so softly, slip into sleep.
Normally this is not what I do. I play games on the i-pad, watch the news (a real sleep bummer) and generally let that blue light splash my nerves all over the ceiling. What I should be doing is transitioning into sleep mode with a gentle stretch, a gentle letting go; slow, deep belly breathing. But not watching, ‘The Killing,’ which is just more bathing
in the blue light.
The idea for this piece on sleeplessness was to pick up on the theme of Goodnight Moon. One that would be constructive, directive, kind of bossy and mom-like that would say: “this is what you gotta do.” But right from the outset I learned that sleeplessness is a huge problem, a million-mattress mountain and that I was so far out of my depth that I felt ridiculous approaching this subject. But then I thought: let’s simplify.
My problems with getting to sleep, or waking up and then not being able to get back to sleep, are based on silly behavioral problems – my behavioural problems – like drinking coffee after four in the afternoon, eating chocolate too late in the day, drinking too much wine over supper and then having to get up and pee every other hour, or skipping my daily exercise routine. In other words, if I control my actions, I can manage my sleep pattern. For those of you who suffer from and struggle with chronic sleeplessness, this is common sense and somewhat fatuous. You are already working with your doctor(s) and you sure don’t need my two cents. But for those of us with occasional sleeplessness, there are solutions.