27 April 2023

An Exile in the Realm of Morpheus

"A tired mind become a shape-shifter."
— Rush, "Vital Signs" from the 1981 album Moving Pictures
Morpheus, the troublesome god of sleep

I am in awe of people who can write the opposite of their experiences. Women who convincingly write male Point-of-View characters. Men who do the opposite. People without disabilities writing characters with them. Stephen King inhabiting the character of an axe-wielding maniac snowed in at a Colorado resort hotel. Hillary Mantel bringing Renaissance English politician and royal fixer Thomas Cromwell not only to life, but convincingly and sympathetically so.

Now, I believe it is the obligation of the fiction writer to do right by their characters, and I'm hardly saying that I have spent my writing career writing only those experiences I have had myself, but the more extreme stuff I have hesitated to capture in the written word. Extrapolating my own experiences out into others where a bit of research and a fair amount of imagination can bridge the gap? Sure. And I'm always looking to challenge myself, so there's that, too.

But every once in a while life steps up and hands you a new experience, one so alien to your regular way of being that it can stand in stark contrast to your usual day-to-day existence. For my money, to go through something this unique and memorable and not to put it to use in my fiction? That would be nuts.

And my first step toward incorporating something new into my fiction is usually to write about it in my writing journal. I'm going to make use of my notes from this experience in laying out what it was like to be an out-and-out insomniac for two weeks.

The short answer?


Let me start at the beginning.

And it begins in Las Vegas. 

With Sting.

Recently my wonderful wife took me on a vacation culminating with a celebration of my birthday by going to see Sting in concert at Caesar's Palace during the final week of his residency. My parents and brother also went. Great trip. Great time. We were scheduled for an early Sunday flight out on the morning after the concert.

The Sting in Yellow (GREAT concert!)

We got up and out that morning, only to arrive at McCarran Airport and discover that mechanical difficulties had delayed our flight. As it was we waited seven hours hovering around the gate, waiting to board.

And when we made the mad dash to board, I somehow left behind one of my carry-on bags. The one with my CPAP machine. For those of you not aware of the significance of this, let me put it this way: I have severe sleep apnea. Without a CPAP I snore very loudly and have trouble getting into REM sleep (to say nothing of driving to distraction anyone unlucky enough to be caught within earshot while I'm trying to sleep). I have used a CPAP for the better part of a decade. I had an idea how reliant I had become on my CPAP since adopting it (MUCH better and deeper sleep for me as a result), but I was about to find out just exactly how much.

I only realized I'd misplaced my CPAP once we'd landed, gotten home and begun to unpack. Once I realized I'd lost it, I got my original CPAP machine out of storage. I tried using it that first night.

It did not go well.

I kept drifting off and then jerking awake once I began to snore. This must have happened fifty or sixty
times that night. The older CPAP didn't work as well as my current state-of-the-art one, and halfway through the night I gave up even trying to use it.

And my poor wife eventually gave up and spent the wee hours of the night/morning in the guest room.

That next morning and all of the following day I was a zombie. Falling asleep in mid-conversation with my wife (both working from home that day), losing track of what I was I thinking/talking about in mid-sentence. A below the surface widespread itchiness across the breadth of my skin and behind my eyes and in the center of my head. And as long-time readers of this blog (BOTH of you! *rimshot*) will recall, I have tinnitus in my left ear. The lack of REM sleep that first morning turned that ringing up into something very like a roar.

Me getting out of bed in the morning. Would you believe I'm usually a morning person?

All that first day – a Monday – I spent trying to track down the bag which contained my CPAP. I called the airline. I called the airport. McCarran airport in Las Vegas is world renowned for its terrific customer service. It did not disappoint this time either.

The airline was a total bust. At the airport came through and found my CPAP and sent it to me. It would only take three days to get to me which meant by the time they had tracked it down, on Tuesday, I would receive it by Friday. So in the meantime, I was in the position of needing to find a way to compensate for my CPAP. 

My old CPAP was out of the question. It just didn’t push air at a high enough rate to keep me from snoring. That left supplements.

As almost anyone in their 50s, will tell you, to turn 50 it’s to say goodbye, or if you prefer good night, to a straight eight hours of sleep. I do better than most, I’m up, maybe once a night. And I sleep very well.

But as with everyone else my age, I have felt the need to supplement in order to try to get to sleep sometimes. This supplementation has usually taken the form of use of Melatonin.

So… not THESE types of Pink Floyd dreams

But I don’t really like melatonin, in part, because when I take it, I am usually guaranteed to have dreams the likes of which drove Syd Barrett out of Pink Floyd. And they are frequently obstacles to getting a good nights sleep.

However, I was desperate, feeling off after my first day of not really sleeping, so I tried some melatonin.

It did not help.

Imagine the same dreams, the same, psychedelic quality to them, undergirded, and intensified by a whole new color, palette, most of which I would be hard-pressed to describe during my waking hours. On top of that because I didn’t have my CPAP I would drift in and out of sleep, and a sort of Wakeful sleep? Or a sleepy wakefulness? Tomato, tomato I suppose. 

The end result is that I am pretty sure I didn’t get more than two or three hours total sleep that night. And I also didn’t get into rem sleep at all.

The next morning, everything was gray. Color had leaked out of my world. My eyes ached. So did every muscle in my body. My hair follicles. My teeth. My fingers felt like 10 worms attached to my palms, which also ached.

And did I mention that everything was gray? Complete gray scale. I had very little idea what I was doing. I fell asleep multiple times, only to be awakened by my own snoring. 


And over.

And over.

By Thursday the panic attacks began to set in. I would go from a fugue state to a waking state to a dream state. I would try to catch up with naps during the day, only the jerk awake moments after falling asleep with my heart racing, and no idea where I was.

On the supplement side of things I graduated from melatonin to THC laced gummies. I live in Washington state and weed is legal here, but to be honest, it’s never really been my thing.

But I was desperately in need of an extended period of sleep, and I wasn’t yet ready to try Ambien. So THC gummies it was.

The end result? Now I was not only sleep deprived.

The opposite of "enjoyably high."

I was also stoned. 

I did not enjoy it.

Thankfully, my CPAP arrived on Friday. And yet even death, my regular sleep patterns did not immediately return to me. I still woke up several times a night, usually panicked, had a hard time getting comfortable in any bed, or on a couch the Sunday night after I got my CPAP back I slept in a chair.

That was the beginning of the return for me though. I slept a solid five hours straight that night. I have rarely had as much energy on a Monday as I did that Monday. Over the next several days, in conjunction with several daytime naps, I manage to put my regular sleep schedule back together.

The grayscale receded. I was no longer stoned because I took no more gummies. I skipped the melatonin (except for one night mid week. It help me sleep 10 hours.). The fugue state receded. The waking dream ended. I felt like Edgar, Allan Poe, coming out on the other end of a bender.

The color leeching back into my nights.

And now, on my regular sleep schedule again, I am ready to use this experience in my fiction. I have always had a rational understanding of the effectiveness of sleep deprivation as a torture method. But now I can attest to how devastating a too tired mind can truly be.

In fact, one of my favorite rock bands (Rush) put it best:  “A tired mind become a Shapeshifter.”

Truer words have really been spoken.

How about you? Have you had an experience with this kind of sleep deprivation? Had another experience that was so alien to your normal way of being that you felt the need to memorialize it in your fiction? Tell us all about your experiences in the comment section below.

And on that note:

See you in two weeks!


  1. Brian, as a fellow sleep apnea sufferer I feel your pain. I’ve used a CPAP for 25 years and still have frequent insomnia, the garden variety. I wrote a ghost story involving sleep apnea and a CPAP which has appeared in two anthologies. Not much to show for 25 years.
    Edward Lodi

    1. Edward- at least you've got SOMETHING to show for the experience!

  2. I don't have sleep apnea, but as a child and teenager, I commonly woke up in the middle of the night with sleep paralysis. This scared the living crap out of me, but I didn't dare tell anyone (long story behind that one). I would lie there, feeling my consciousness (barely) attached to my body by some sort of weird umbilical cord, but could not get my body to move (and I was terrified of not be able to breathe), until I would slide back down into sleep and then wake up just fine. I have a plan to use this in a story, just haven't figured out certain details.

    1. Eve- I had never heard of sleep paralysis. The portrait you paint is truly terrifying. And I would a story with this as part of the plot as written by you!

  3. Elizabeth Dearborn27 April, 2023 14:24

    The husband has sleep apnea. He tried CPAP but said it made him feel like the creature from the movie "Alien" (which I have never seen & will not) was going down his throat. Is there any way you could be less reliant on a machine to help you sleep? What if the power conks out in the middle of the night?

    1. Elizabeth- Once they come up with something better I'll use it. The current model I have comes with a battery and is in fact, portable. I have awoken in the morning after a power failure to clocks with flashing lights and no break in my sleeping.

  4. At the moment, the CPAP is all that keeps me sleeping through the night. I've been losing weight (the biggest contributor to my snoring) but I dread if/when I no longer need to have my throat inflated as I sleep.

    Because the CPAP is the trigger my brain uses to go to sleep.

  5. Wow, what a long, strange trip it’s been… and not a good one, even with early Floyd and Sting. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

    To answer your question in two parts, girlfriends have told me I stop breathing at night. After a bit I gasp and start breathing again. I haven’t managed to bring myself to trying CPAP yet, fearful the machine will keep me awake.

    I wrote about blacking out in a restroom 13 years ago, definitely not on my bucket list. That is not an experience I’d care to repeat.


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