Writer Ellen Margulies

Writer Ellen Margulies

Infomercial doyenne Cathy Mitchell feels like an old friend. The red-headed grandmotherly food expert has been haunting late-night TV for years, hawking a variety of cooking gadgets, most notably this panini-press type of machine that makes apple pie filling smooshed between two pieces of white bread seem like an admirable life goal.

When you’re up at 2 or 3 in the morning with chronic insomnia, it’s either Pinterest or Cathy Mitchell.

I know there are many famous leaders and geniuses who are said to have gotten by/are getting by on very little sleep: Barack Obama, six hours or less; Martha Stewart, four hours or less; Donald Trump, three or four hours; Margaret Thatcher, four hours or less; Benjamin Franklin, five hours; Thomas Edison, three or four hours.

Those of us who aren’t running multi-million dollar empires or being historic leaders, however, need seven to nine hours of good sleep a night. I rarely, if ever, get that. I compensate by falling asleep at inappropriate times, like boring business meetings or driving on long road trips. Ok, I’m exaggerating slightly, but I can generally fall asleep almost instantaneously during the day, even if there are lawnmowers going and televisions blaring. Those sounds, plus the sun shining in my eyes, are apparently like white noise to me.Sleep_woman

But Mr. Sandman is definitely avoiding me at night. Even if I do feel tired at bedtime, somehow crawling into bed and turning off the lights has an awakening effect. I start tossing and turning, flinging cats this way and that. The hamster wheel in my head starts churning, and nothing can stop it. When it becomes apparent I won’t be getting sleep anytime soon, I give it up, get up and hit the Internet or watch TV. Thus my burgeoning friendship with Cathy Mitchell.

I’ve tried the usual remedies, by the way — sleep aids, both over-the-counter and prescription; reserving the bedroom/bed for sleep and mutually-consenting adult activities only, keeping computers and televisions out of the room entirely; avoiding caffeine [for 17 years, although I’m back on it now]; getting more exercise during the day.

Truthfully, exercise is probably what helps the most. It is frustrating, though, when even that doesn’t work. I know I’m in the minority in terms of my chronic insomnia. An estimated 10% of the population has to deal with that, likely the same 10% who are EXTREMELY TEMPTED to buy that bifurcated sandwich press that Cathy M. so expertly hawks [I’m resisting; not enough counter space]. But nearly 70% of us get insomnia at least sometimes, and that’s still a problem.

Sleep deprivation can cause a lot of problems, from depression and obesity to permanent cognitive impairment and automobile accidents. Pretty scary stuff. I don’t think napping is generally recommended, but until I can figure out a way to get in my full seven to nine hours every night — too much sleep, by the way, can also cause a lot of similar problems — I figure split-up blocks of sleep must be better than less cumulative sleep overall. And as long as Cathy Mitchell is there for me and millions like me, turning out deceptively-delicious looking panini creations with her awesome ’70s-style candy-apple red fingernails, I won’t feel so alone.