Wednesday, March 23, 2011


When I fell fast asleep amidst the raucous roar of Godzilla with tiny screaming humans at its feet a few years ago I realised that I was heading towards serious trouble.

Fast forward. 

Tonight a few years later. It’s two in the morning, almost three, and I’m still up. I reflect and realise, at the ripe age of fifty three (or whatever), that life can be categorized into two main phases. The deep-sleep phase and the no-sleep phase. I have come to be aware, literally, that keeping awake at night is no longer a struggle or an option. It is a fact of life. Middle aged life. I cringe at the word middle age but use it I must. For in denial I live not.

Gone are the days of those deep, sonorous sleep sessions. When an earthquake would have failed to rattle me awake or the screeching wail of a baby would have whizzed past my ears and make me snuggle even deeper into my pillow. 

Today, I’m in the no-sleep phase of life and I can now empathize with older folks who fall seriously asleep in the middle of an animated conversation. Without warning. Or when their heads tilt back as they sit on a couch. Not with dignity but with sleep, their mouths gaping as if in awe. I feel for them. Sleep becomes elusive but at the same time creeps up on you without warning, usually in public and in embarrassing places, in a middle of a noisy conversation or even while clucking playfully at a grandchild. I’m no longer the giggling youngster entertained by an old man comically dodging sleep during the day and willing it to come in the middle of the night. I no longer find it amusing or worse laughable. I repent. For I might just get there.

Six hours, claim my middle aged friends, is the maximum stretch of time that they can sustain sleep. The clock inside of you sets for six hours of sleep but you’re up before it goes off and beat it at its own game. You win every time and yet you’re still a loser.

The click of a switch or the rustle of clothing as someone walks past, the faint padded footsteps and the sigh of your partner all become unwelcome companions as you struggle in your bid for sleep. You wonder if you should have separate beds or separate rooms or separate lives. So you can court sleep again without struggle and without pain. 

Now I know why my father was up at a ghostly five in the morning, every morning while I slumbered on to ten or eleven. Ten hours of sleep when I was young was a luxury that I took for granted then. Ten hours of uninterrupted sleep now would only mean one thing. A coma.

As my husband and I drive past mamak shops during sleepless nights I marvel at those young men and women who deliberately take the option of keeping awake to sip, nibble, drink and eat their sleep away into the small hours of the morning. Unaware that one very old day they would wish they could have it all back. The sleep I mean. I feel anxious for them.

Past fifty sleep becomes a word that smatters conversations with your friends during your eternal waking hours. It becomes foreign and distant and desirable like some knight in shining armour or a desirable damsel in distress for aging males. It becomes simply a word, a desire, a wish, a hope, a yearning, an obsession, that keeps you awake.

How I envy those who sleep like dolls, like dead men, like trunks of trees. How I resent those who find comfort in their pillows and in the crevices of their bed. But I tell myself that there is another phase yet to come when I would most probably wish that I could live on even if it means a lack of sleep. So I thank God that He keeps me awake. Still. After all there is more in life than there is in sleep. 

Image taken from here.


  1. What can I say! I relate. Although I've noticed my energy levels have changed. I feel more zapped these days. More easily. I often wonder if it's because Im not getting enough sleep. I need to find a balance. I feel out of whack. In a way its reassuring to hear you're out of whack with sleep. Not at all comforting. Just reassurring. Thanks for sharing your issues with sleep. Mariana.

  2. Hi Mariana, It looks like its an age thing isnt it? lets hope its a phase we're going thru :) its good to know Im not the only one!

  3. Hi Zurin and Selamat Hari Raya! I haven't visited for a very long time and suddenly I discover your other blog and your wonderful writings. You are a natural Zurin and write in this smooth, easy style. I will definitely drop by more often - Halimah

  4. Hi Halimah,,,,I just saw your comment! I havent come here for a long long time. How lovely to hear from you....hope to met up again one day :)