Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sleep Interrupted - The Price of Catching Your Beauty Zz's

One of the most lavishly comfortable feelings in the world is settling into a cozy, inviting bed after a long day and slipping under a soft blanket over crisp sheets. We dream about this moment as we push through ghastly rush-hour traffic, when we arrive at work and attempt to awaken with tall cups of black coffee, and when we struggle to get our second wind in the mid-afternoon lull. Few people I've met in my lifetime prefer to bolt out of bed and tackle the day ahead. The vast majority of humans -- and for that matter, animals -- would like nothing more than to linger lazily in bed and have the day brought to them, preferaby on a platter with a fresh croissant and their morning coffee.

Whether your bed is an heirloom antique, minimalistically modern, fit for a queen, or a spare mattress on someone elses's living room floor, it harbors your most peaceful self along with your subconcious nocturnal thoughts (including the dirty ones). Therefore, it is always with the greatest hope that I settle into bed each night, determined to drift off to a peaceful rest unfettered by life's worries and completely unaware of my physical surroundings -- except of course for my Egyptian cotton sheets.

We all know how refreshing a good night's sleep is: it restores the body, mind, and spirit. Some say that life's problems are solved in one's dreams. When asked what is the secret of their youthfulness and longevity, countless people have credited abundant sleep. Did you know that, prior to the invention of the lightbulb, our ancestors averaged a lazy 9-plus hours of slumber? And yet, the majority of us today manage a meager 6 hours of precious, live-prolonging sleep, being forced out of their slumber by the jarring blare of an alarm or (in my case) a hungry crying cat. Dog owners everywhere can testify to the insistent panting and slobbery wake-up smooches of Fido when he needs his early-morning walk. My husband keeps reminding me that it's all good practice for having a baby. No, I tell him, that's what the nanny will be for.

Regardless of the human and animal population of your household though, you're going to have to get up sooner or later if you hope to maintain a productive paying job. I grudgingly accepted that when I turned a mature 30. But I never agreed to give up a good night's sleep entirely, which is why I'm positively furious at all the external forces that are determined to whittle away at my God-given right to sleep, hour by hour, week by week.

Truth be told, I'm not a very sound sleeper. Between the perpetual snoring of my irritatingly unaware bedmate, the nocturnal pouncing and scuffing of sharp cat claws against my impressively accoustic wood floors, the erratic chirping of the obnoxious crickets and who knows what other wild creatures, the maddeningly constant ticking of the sole non-digital clock in the house, the military aircraft that conduct mysterious nightly flights overhead, and a plethora of other assorted nighttime distractions -- it's a wonder I sleep at all. Mind you, I sleep muffled by thick earplugs. In a quiet neighborhood. On a wooded cul-de-sac. Shielded by heavy wood window treatments and a black satin blind over my eyes. Despite this, I accumulate a weak 5 to 7 hours per night, much of it devoted to tossing and turning every twenty minutes.

Yes, I've tried taking a hot shower before bedtime. Unwinding with a cup of chamomile tea. Spraying lavender on my pillow. Sleeping in the nude. Canoodling in the nude. Swallowing a spoonful of NyQuil. Counting sheep. Visualizing myself floating along a river in a canoe (my husband's suggestion -- which baffles me, because I've never known him to actually commune with nature, let alone leave the comforts of urban living long enough to master the navigation of so much as a paddle boat. But that's another story). Sleeping on a firm mattress. Sleeping high up. Sleeping low to the ground. Sleeping with music. Sleeping with "white noise" in the background. Short of the success of NyQuil and the occasional blissful slumber that follows a wild drunken night of debauchery, none of the conventional cures offer long-term relief. Surely there is something else out there waiting to be discovered. And when it is, I'm willing to bet a hefty sum that people around the world will pay just about anything for it.

Rest is just not in the cards for me, I'm afraid. It seems no matter how many hours I try to doze, I never quite feel (or look) well rested. I still yawn in mid-conversation, leading many to believe that I'm bored (which is usually not the case, except with a few ill-fated people). There are actual reported cases of my having left the house without certain undergarments or with mismatched shoes. I mean, they all look dark to me in the dim light of early morning. Watching long movies on the couch usually makes me nod-off, forcing my husband to poke me repeatedly until I wake up and pay attention. This leads to frequent future conversations that go something like this: Me: "I don't think we've seen this episode/movie yet. Shouldn't we watch it first before we get the new one?" Him: "Yes, we have. Or to be exact, I have. You fell asleep shortly after the beginning again." I'm sure there are countless other ill effects that the prolonged lack of sleep has caused which remain to be found.

Hence every single hour -- natch, every single second -- of potential sleep is worth gold to me. Can you really blame me, then, for trying to squeeze every last second from my scarce sleeping opportunities? I get positively hostile when people suggest that we meet before 9:00 am -- and that's weekdays! After just barely dragging myself in by 9:15, huffing and puffing with inflated bags under my eyes and a complete inability to remember my name, people usually get the idea and wise up to my schedule. I don't know what scares them more: my pre-caffienated bloodshot eyes paired with perma-creased cheeks staring blankly at them, or, my preponderance for wiping the drool from the side of my mouth with the back of my hand before shaking theirs. Whatever it is, it usually has the desired effect, because most of my meetings end up being moved closer to the ripe hour of 11:00 am. Score one for me and my rumpled morning self.

Even on those rare days when I am allowed to sleep relatively undisturbed for a whopping 7.5 to 8 hours, I still feel violated when friends or family have the nerve to expect me to meet them for a weekend morning social function. For God's sake, it's the only day of the week when I can sleep in. C'mon people, is it really necessary to schedule brunch at 10:00? There's a reason it runs till 2:00 or 3:00, geniuses. Do you actually expect me to get up at 8:30 on a Sunday -- especially after having stayed up till 3:00 in the morning the night before because it's the one night of the week I can -- then take an hour to get ready, and make it on time? I was tickled pink when a friend recently invited me to the White House garden tour -- until I found out I'd have to get up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. It's just not gonna happen, people.

It astounds me that entirely too much of the world's population can get through life on a mere 4 hours of sleep. Even more impressive is that people can actually accomplish physical activities that require hand-eye coordination. Me, I can barely stand up straight in the shower, not to mention drive in a straight line, after tumbling out of bed in the morning. Usually, I can't even get out of bed unassisted. My husband, who also enlists the help of the aforementioned cat, has to literally peel me upright limb by limb, while my cat proceeds to nip at my neck and circle my ankles like a shark to prevent me from falling back in bed. Woe to me when my husband has an especially early day... I am liable to sleep right through the alarm. Funny, it takes a Herculean effort for me to drift off to sleep, but once I finally do -- around 4:00 am -- I can sleep with direct sunlight pouring into every window and a fully open bathroom door emiting sounds of crashing water.

Then there are the truly strong among us -- those who sacrifice sleep in order to maintain a stringent exercise regime. They're the crazy fools you see jogging at ungodly hours of the morning (well, I personally don't see them since I'm not up at those hours), even on weekends after they're been out drinking the previous night. In fact, they feel better after running 5 miles than sleeping an extra 3 hours. You've seen them: the arrogant jocks who don't bother to wear a shirt as they sprint through their daily 10 miles. The power moms who march to the gym and yoga studio for a little morning muscle building. They're the ones who get to the coffeeshop nice and early before all the good bagels run out, leaving you with a paltry choice of onion, Everything, or the occasional flattened honey wheat bagel. They snatch up all the good muffins too, those greedy wenches.

How about the high strung folks who can party all night then work all day? Yes, Europe, I'm talking to you. They lead a very active life of holding down plum office jobs, taking 2-hour wine-filled lunches, indulging in daily after-work cocktails, lingering for a late dinner at 9:00 or 10:00 pm and culminating with an energetic night of dancing. Then, they spring right back up like wind-up dolls and go to work, humming along in cheerful productivity while sipping their cappucinos and taking lengthy drags of their Parliament Lights. Unless you take speed or have a healthy supply of cocaine, my logic tells me it's physically impossible to maintain a schedule like that for long.

On the other end of that extreme are the over-achiever moms, my cousin being one of them. These drill seargents are shameless: they not only bravely give up hours of precious sleep on Saturday and Sunday mornings, they force their helpless children to do the same. After rousing their bleary-eyed offspring at the crack of dawn, they fully expect them to perform like champions at early morning swim practice, mid-morning soccer games, lunchtime gymnastics, and afternoon piano lessons. This breed of supermom subsists on Campbell's portable soup cups and large thermoses of coffee, while they sustain their children with sugar-saturated sports drinks, cereal bars, and go-gurt tubes. When the above activities have been successfully accomplished, they bring their exhausted children home, only to pump them full of more saccharine snacks so the poor fellows can stay up long enough to finish their schoolwork and maybe have time for an educational game or two. It breaks my heart to see this.

Thankfully, there are the poor, the tired, the weary among us -- and I count myself in this last group -- who cannot bear the thought of arising bright and early on a weekend morning, even if it is for a good cause. For us, Sunday brunch has been generously extended till 3:00 pm. I just heard from my friend Anna that one of our favorite German bakeries/delis also serves breakfast -- or so I thought. Turns out it's been going on for quite a while and it's actually called lunch, only my friend wisely sold it to me as "breakfast" knowing that I can't resist sausage products when I wake up.

I was filled with joy when I read that the annual Race for the Cure had the good sense to dream up a "Sleep In for the Cure." The truth is, Anna has been pleading with me to run with her team for the last 10 years. Yet somehow, I just couldn't bring myself to join her. Before you brand me as a heartless grinch, consider this: I'm obviously not alone in my hesitation to wake up at 6:00 or 7:00 am on a Saturday morning and sprint under the hot sun through the hazy polluted air of the swampland that is D.C. Sleeping in for the Cure is much simpler, and I would argue just as charitable as running. You buy the shirt, support the cause, then sleep in the shirt to be a part of the cause. Plus, you give yourself 3-4 healthy hours of sleep, thereby contributing to a healthier day around the world. What could be better? There are plenty of others 'fessing up to sleeping in for the cure (or whatever they're sleeping in for). In fact, when I told Anna that I planned to Sleep In for the Cure this year, she responded that her folks were doing exactly the same. See, I told you so!

If we're aware that we desperately need sleep, yet we just can't get enough, then what's the answer to the six million-dollar question? Well, you can either get the best 5-6 hours imaginable, or, you can pay to get away somewhere where you might actually be allowed (even encouraged) to sleep lazily through the day. Indeed, sleep has become the ultimate luxury.

Hotels have capitalized on our dire lack of rest by offering "in-town retreats," specially designed for those who simply can't get enough snooze time (or just alone time). My colleague just celebrated her 1st wedding anniversary at the Courtyard Marriott near her home. She used to live with her in-laws, but even now, in a private condo, private time is still scarce. Apparently, the Courtyard Marriott was one of the few hotels that boasted a whirlpool tub plus a king-sized bed inside the suite. Why not a trip to Paris or an extravagent moonlight cruise? Well, who knows what kind of accommodations those less-than-hygienic little inns offer -- certainly not luxurious down comforters and hypo-allergenic pillows in air-purified rooms.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest," they beckon with their silk duvets and delicately scented lavender sachets. Removed from the sounds of nagging kids, slobbering pets, ambitious neighbors' early morning hedge trimming, towering piles of unfolded laundry next to the bed, the persistent leaky faucet, and a slew of other potential sleep hazards -- you will find rest for your soul. What, you may wonder, will the luxury of a refreshed spirit cost you, in earthly value?

The Hilton offers a Romance Package which includes sparkling wine (or cider) upon your arrival, breakfast in bed, and access to all the hotel's amenities such as the health club and sauna (where available). The ever-posh Ritz-Carlton invites Northen Virginia's well-heeled suburbanites to enjoy a "Reconnect Package - Luxury in your Backyard." For a surprisingly low starting price of $239 per night, you and your guest can savor a Friday night wine-and-cheese reception, breakfast for two at the in-house restaurant, a complimentary bottle of champagne with the purchase of dinner for two at said in-house restaurant, 10% off spa treatments, and ample nearby shopping at one of the nation's most opulent retail galleries.

Looking for a truly spa-like experience that will leave you pampered, rested, and refreshed -- and maybe tanned and de-wrinkled to boot? Try The Greenbrier, a 5-diamond resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, recommended by the nation's creme-de-la-creme since 1798. Nestled in the breathtaking Allegheny Mountains and just over an hour's drive from the Washington D.C. suburbs, the scenery alone is sure to restore your inner peace. If that's not enough, the resort (which includes a stellar golf course and to-die-for spa) can spoil you with countless amenities and special packages. The Anniversary/Honeymoon package starts at $405 (that's for a one-night stay!) but thoughtfully includes fresh flowers, Greenbrier chocolates, a lovely keepsake photograph, and a room upgrade. Want to escape during the holiday hustle? The Christmas Comes Early package is a better deal, in my opinion. Starting at $329 for a one-night stay, it comes with a $100 gift certificate which can be used for retail or resort activities.

The Baby Me Babymoon is probably the best deal around, but there's one catch: it's for couples expecting a (you guessed it) baby. Go in April through October and it's a hefty $600 per room, but book in November or December and enjoy deluxe accomodations for just $300 per room. Mom gets a 50-minute pregnany massage, dad gets a 50-minute sports massage (both include taxes and gratuities), and both get one-hour of couples' fitness training with a personal instructor. On top of that, you get chocolates, sparkling cider, and rose petal turndown service on the first night.

Come for the sleep, stay for the legendary spa services. There's nothing like a good massage to kick off your weekend of relaxation. But why settle for an ordinary Swedish massage? Be a trend setter with the Traditional Thai Massage, an ancient form of therapeutic healing brought to Thailand from India over 2000 years ago. Combining acupressure, energy balancing, stretching and applies yoga exercises, as well as improving flexibility, relation and energy levels, it's quite an 80-minute experience for $275 ($370 for 110 minutes). And since you're here to sleep better, why not indulge in an Aromatherapy Rose Petal Wrap for $150? Your skin is first buffed with ground olive stones, then wrapped to seal in the essential oils of rose and jojoba. After topping off with a scalp massage, you're sure to sleep like a baby.

Got a few days to spare? Break the bank in style with the Greenbrier Signature Package. A starting price of $1520 will get you two nights’ room accommodations, the Greenbrier Signature Treatment (a soak in the White Sulphur Springs’ healing waters, steam or sauna, Swiss shower or Scotch spray, and full body massage), mineral body mask, mineral body polish, mineral manicure and pedicure, Swedish massage, daily hike, and unlimited fitness. Other packages offered are the Lap of Luxury and the Mother/Daughter Package, and all include spa gratuities and taxes. Each package does comes with a small "resort fee" of $25 per night, but what's that when you're spending $1500 or more for a luxury getaway?

And if money is really no object, book a jet to Fiji and rent an uber-exclusive Vale O ("House in the Clouds") villa from Melissa McCoy Fiji Escapes Travel. Heck, it's not even a villa -- it's a "12,000 square foot villa on a 16-acre hilltop estate with stunning panoramic ocean views." Claiming to be "the finest in the South Pacific," it offers complete privacy, king sized beds, plus your own swimming pool, jacuzzi, tennis and boules courts. Not only will a personal butler attend to your every need, you'll also receive a personal chef, daily laundry service, unlimited use of the fully stocked minibar, and your very own on-call driver (should you actually choose to leave the island paradise).

But why leave when you've got your fill of activities to choose from, including scuba diving, snorkeling, golf, wimbledon-tex tennis court, glass-bottom reef boat, archeological hikes, nature walks, fitness center, croquet, deep sea fishing and sport fishing. Rest assured that your $7600 per night (plus a 15% Fijan government tax) will get you the ultimate in private relaxation, not to mention out-of-this-world luxury.

Alas, if you just can't get away -- and even if you can, you're still bound to return eventually --take heart: there are plenty of people willing to sell you every product under the sun to help you maximize your few sleepable hours. And that's where the sleep industry really starts to cash in.

Starting with the mattresses themselves, you've got everything from your standard stuffed metal springs to fancy individually-wound polymer coils encased in multiple layers of resilient foam with hypo-allergenic featherbed pillowtops. And absolutely everything in between. The prices range from a fresh-out-of-college $199 at Ikea to over $2000 at your local mattress or department store.

Ye Olde Mattress not customized enough for your needs? Consider an adjustable Select Comfort Sleep Number bed. The "unique air chamber design allows each sleeper to adjust the mattress to the firmness or softness they prefer." So if you're a back sleeper, you can revel in firmness while your stomach-snoozing spouse can snooze peacefully on a softer mattress. You can even adjust the position of your head or feet. The Sleep Number(R) 3000 twin mattress, the bottom of the barrel, starts at a comfortable $449.99, while the literal top of the heap -- a Precision Comfort(R) Adjustable Foundation mattress, complete with massage and wave features -- runs $1899 for a queen and a whopping $3098 for a king.

Got back problems or a turbulent bed partner? Invest in a NASA-certified memory-foam Tempur-Pedic. Much more than a mere mattress, it claims to be an entire "sleep system." With 8 systems to choose from, they undoubtedly have to answer to all your problems. The trouble is, you've got to first figure out which problems are bothering you. If you just need "Healing support, timeless comfort" you're in luck: the ClassicBed system will provide this for a small financial sacrifice of $1699 for a basic queen and up to $2598 for a dual-part split king. Need your "unforgettable comfort" with "sophisticated style"? You'll have to opt for a PrimaBed system, which starts at $2099 for a queen but caps off at $2399 for a regular king.

If you're a celebrity (if only in your own mind), nothing less than "indulgent, pillow-top comfort" will do. Enter the CelebrityBed system, which boasts a 5-inch taller mattress and pampers your delicate skin with a cashmere-blended cover. Surprisingly affordable (for a celebrity) at only $3499 for a queen and 3799 for a basic king (though you'll have to cough up $5398 for a split king), it's really the basic level of comfort required for a hard-working, hard-partying celebrity these days.

Will the RhapsodyBed system sing you lullabies and play the harp as your drift off to a peaceful slumber? Not quite, but for $2699-2999 for a basic queen/king, it will provide "soothing comfort, unrivaled support." Hey, it's not balcony seats, but it's a start. How about the SymphonyBed system? No private performance here either, but with a much more soothing price tag of $1399-1699 for a basic queen/king, you will enjoy "confort and support in complete harmony." And, with the money you save, you can easily afford a season's subscription to the opera. Plus, if you purchase a Tempur-Pedic pillow, you will receive a gift of Bedtime Beats, a 2-disc CD that is designed to help you fall asleep while listening to soothing, tranquil, and beautiful music. (It reminds me a lot of the Victoria's Secret Angels CD that my husband purchased for me several years ago, probably to glimpse the wholly angelic models enticing him to bed with feathery wings and not much else.)

Will the DeluxeBed rouse you in the wee hours of the morning with the heavenly aroma of bacon and eggs? Probably not -- you'll have to make do with "therapy and comfort, perfectly balanced." No thanks then, I'll take the bacon, and extra cream with my coffee, please. Look, I'm not denying that some people have cured their insomnia with these magical sleep systems, it's just that $2000-4000 is an awful lot of money to shell out for fancy foam, even if it is developed for astronauts. So here's my recommendation: order the 3 month in-home tryout for a minimal financial outlay of $175 for shipping. If your life is truly transformed and you start to hear angels sing, then you can decide whether you're prepared to part with your left arm (and your spouse's right leg, depending on which system you keep) for unparalleled sleep comfort.

Personally, I'm much more interested in the trappings of a royal den than with space-age mattress technology. That makes me a sucker for luxury bedding, particularly varieties manufactured at Italian mills and woven with exceptional skill out of the finest materials grown. I'm not the least bit high maintenance or anything....

If your price range is under $200, then Macy's Hotel Collection is your dream come true. This upscale house brand contains some of the closest bedding I've touched to real luxury hotel bedding -- for the money, of course. Smart Bargains and Amazon are also great sources of discounted luxury bedding, with thread counts ranging from 200 to over 1000. But before you scramble to scoop up all the high thread count sheets you can find for under $150, be forewarned: thread count is not the holy grail of bed textiles that the marketing gods would have you believe. Furthermore, all sheets are definitely not created equal.

First and foremost, know your fabrics. Egyptian cotton is world-renowned for its softness, so if you need to be caressed nightly by your sheets, this is your cup of tea. Egyptian cotton contains long fibers and can be made into stronger, finer yarns. Turkish cotton is a worthy substitute that is also known for its sheen, so if you can't afford Egyptian, this may be the way to go.

Secondly, know your finishes. If you like your linens crisp, substantial, and shiny, opt for a sateen finish. A lot of hotels use sateen sheets. Be forewarned, however, that since sateen sheets are woven with a denser thread concentration on the top layer, they can wear down more quickly and lose some of their sheen -- particularly those of inferior quality. Also, a lot of hotels actually iron their sheets, which I doubt the average American (without the convenience of a live-in housekeeper) has time to do. If you're willing to commit the time to care properly for your sheets, then they'll return the favor by maintaining their thickness, luster, and shade longer.

Likewise, if you literally run your linens through the ringer on a regular basis, you definitely need percale. Before you scoff at the horror of buying percale sheets, hear this. Contrary to popular belief, percale does not refer to a blend of cotton and polyester, nor is it synonymous with bad quality. Percale is nothing more than a tighter, closely woven of fabric which can be made of cotton or a blend of other materials. It's a firm, medium weight and offers a smooth but not glossy finish. It's designed to be highly resistent to warping, fading, and shrinking. When a piece of fabric (usually cotton or polyester) reaches a thread count of over 200, it is technically named percale and is very commonly used in higher quality, more expensive bed sheets.

So then, what is the significance of thread count, exactly? Thread count refers to the number of threads packed into a square inch of fabric. Another term you'll come across is "construction," which refers to how the threads are woven. Yarn size is also important; namely, finer yarns produce lighter fabrics. Higher thread counts are often made of finer yarns, since more of them can be woven into a square inch. Super-fine yarns can be twisted together, creating 2 ply yarns that can then be woven into sheeting. However, in the highly enlightening explanation of the sheet weaving process from Linen Place, we learn that "weaving with 2 ply yarns that do not have a high enough yarn size so the end product feels heavy and blanket-like." For this reason, some retailers have put the emphasis on marketing single-ply sheets by insisting that these contain the only "true" high-thread counts. However, single-ply yarns don't necessarily make for comfortable weaves, either.

When you're choosing the best for your bed, choose quality over thread count. Yes, princess brides, you heard me. A cheap manufacturer will not turn out heavenly bed linens just by increasing the thread count. By the same token, a highly reputable house can produce excellent lower-thread-count sheets that are extremely durable. I mean, if you don't start with good cotton, you're not going to end up with a good sheet. And if you don't have a good weaver, you're going to end up with a poorly-made, overpriced product. I guarantee that 200-thread count Egyptian cotton percale woven by a high-end manufacturer will wrap your skin in sumptuous softness for years, while even 1000-thread count sheets of poor quality rushed through an inferior operation will only disappoint in the long run.

Still not convinced? According to Linen Place, "In a quality product, the incremental comfort value of increasing thread count over 300 is very little. A 300 thread count can feel far superior to a 1000 thread count." Finally, remember the golden rule of shopping: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So when in doubt, go with a good maker.

Besides the prolific sheet options available to the average consumer, there's no shortage of other bedding categories to choose from. From pillows, to mattress pads, to comforters, to duvet covers, there is an endless online marketplace devoted to helping you create the boudoir of your dreams.

Nowadays, it's common to find thick down comforters in most bedding departments to warm your tootsies on a frosty night. Fortunately for us allergy sufferers, it's also now possible to enjoy all that downy softness without the sneeze-inducing duck or goose feathers. Pillows too are available in all types of hypoallergenic varieties. Even better, pillows cater to just about anyone's sleeping styles. My husband, a stomach sleeper, needs a softer filling and prefers large body pillows. I tend to snooze on my side and occasionally on my back, so I need a slightly firmer pillow. However, I also require either silk or tightly woven sateen cotton cases so as not to perspire excessively or impress too many wrinkles into my delicate face. That's after I spritz the entire bed (cat and husband included) with a lavender blend I purchased from the Bed and Body Works Aromatherapy line some years ago. Does it help me relax and whisk me away to a field in Provence? No, not really. But it does smell better than the cat's dander and the dirty socks that inevitably pile up over the side of the laundry bin.

If you really want to indulge your fantasies, investigate a canopy. From sheer round tendrils of mosquito netting descending from the ceiling to to ornate velvet draping a four poster bed, you've got your pick of materials and shades. I favor the tropical ivory cotton and contemporary Asian-inspired box canopies for that private vacation feel without feeling like the bed is trying to swallow you whole. You can even pack a travel mosquito net if you suddenly find yourself with a strong desire to take up shelter under the stars.

Besides the sights, and smells, and touches, my husband can only drift into slumber against the symphony of his favorite classical music (which goes against everything you would expect him to like if you actually saw him in person). I, on the other hand, pray for complete and utter silence, which of course never comes. It's one of the reasons I actually sleep better in the mountains or in a remote country cabin, where airplanes don't fly and trucks don't careen loudly along the high-speed roads nightly. Can't agree on the background ambience in your bedroom? Try one of the many CDs that are allegedly designed to "hypnotize" your brain into a state of slumber.

Some people swear that white noise does the trick. If nature is your thing, you'll love Pure White Noise's sounds of "Restful Rain", a "Babbling Brook", or a "Sea of Serenity." I'm a little skeptical of "Baby's Vacuum Cleaner," "Calming Electric Fan," and "Smooth Radio Static" though. Maybe it's just me, but those are generally the things that keep me up in the first place. New Age or Meditation music is another option. Think Enya, only more calming and specially manipulated to trigger brainwave patterns. Choose from such synthesized zen-inducing pleasures as as Serenity Suite, Sleep Soundly, or Inner Peace. With titles like that, how can you achieve anything less than pure nirvana?

There you go, insomniacs of the world. It's a (yawn) modest start. Next time, I'll devote time to exploring the mechanics of sleep, how to feng shui your surroundings to invite the forces of sleep into your bedroom, and maybe test some chemical sleep remedies. But now, since I've managed to accrue just 5 hours of rest in the past 2 nights, it's time for me to go catch up on some. Good night, and sleep tight!