All the places I haven’t slept

I basically stopped sleeping through the night sometime in 2001. It has been 15 years or approximately 5,475 nights. I couldn’t say exactly but I would guess I have not slept through the night about 60% of them, which brings me to a total of 3,285 nights of some kind of sleep interruption. I am the type of insomniac who falls asleep easily but then awakens in the night, unable to fall back to sleep. A typical night for me is: go to sleep at 10, awaken at 2 or 3, stay up until 5 or 6, back to sleep until 7 or 8. That would be a total of 5-6 hours. Hardcore insomniacs say that is plenty of sleep and they would feel fine with that. I do not. I feel groggy and crabby. When I miraculously get 8 hours of consecutive sleep, I feel like a Princess in the one of the Disney movies, maybe Snow White, when she sings with all the birds and creatures. That’s how good I feel.

Here are some of the places I have not slept.

Buenos Aires, where it all began. Oakland, California as well as our current home of Lafayette, California. But there are some really much more exotic places I have not slept.

Costa Rica  My retreat partner Carrie and I went to the Guaria de Osa Retreat Center on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica in 2007 for my first Nia retreat as a facilitator.  map

This was no easy journey and in order to get there, we had to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles and then take an overnight flight to San Jose. We took a taxi to the domestic airport and flew in two hops to the ocean in an airplane from the 50s, which I believe was from the Canadian Air Force (what Air Force?) where we had to get weighed and our luggage had to get weighed before we could board. The planes resembled a tin can with wings, I am not kidding you. The students loved that! We took a taxi to the river, a boat to the beach that had no dock, where we jumped off the side and our suitcases were handed over. I am not kidding, next we were taken on horseback to the retreat center. The bugs and howler monkeys were so loud at night we might as well have been in the middle of a busy train station. The mosquitoes were as large as birds and the poison they left in the bloodstream screamed to be scratched. At one point, some horses got loose and walked through the thick jungle to our tent cabin, crashing through sticks and trees on the way. And the majority of the group, including me, got a stomach bug of the tropical variety. It was pretty tough to get some shut-eye there while running to the toilet.

Auroville: 2009, 2010 & 2011

I recall trying to sleep in Auroville, India. Auroville is a conscious community of foreigners who built their small city to live in peace together near Pondicherry in the state of Tamil Nadu, in South India in the 60s.

Map of Auroville, India

It was founded by the devotees of the guru Aurobindo and his wife, who was called Mother. Auroville is still going strong with at least 20 unique communities who live together and offer something to the Auroville Community. Most communities have guest houses and kitchens to offer food. Auroville boasts a giant orb called the Matrimandir which droves of people visit daily in order to go within and meditate under the light of a crystal. I LOVE Auroville and the Matrimandir. I joined my good friends Philippe and Sabine three times with retreat participants who I brought from the US and the folks they brought from Europe.

It was nearly impossible to sleep there. The rooms had open screened windows and no fans. The house in which I stayed the first year was lovely and actually in a banyan tree. It was not a tree house but the tree had grown completely around the house. The birds living in this tree were deafening! There was also a flock of peacocks which flew on top of my roof while performing mating rituals! That is really loud! Another noisy creature was called the Brainfever bird which made a sound like this:

I used to count how many times the bird called plaintively and how many seconds were between the calls. CRAZY making.

In addition to the loud wildlife like cicadas and other birds, the other very loud factor was temple music. The folks in Tamil Nadu play loud music in their temples during times when no one is attending them, and they don’t play something soothing and devotional, but Bollywood music, actual soundtracks from some of the thousands of films produced each year. Sometimes the music began at 4am. Nearby us was a community that had large dances at night. This dance music wafted through the forest very clearly to us and I found myself struggling not to get out of bed and just dance to Kool and the Gang and Stevie Wonder.

Mar de Jade, Mexico. map

I also didn’t sleep many of the nights on our retreats that Monica and I held in Chacala Beach, Mexico in 2008 – 2011. I loved it there and so did my students. It was a supportive place to hold a retreat with beautiful rooms and comfortable beds, the soothing sound of the ocean waves and I would say overall the nature was fairly quiet. Didn’t sleep a wink. The last year I moved into a triple with 2 students in order to accommodate other people on the retreat. One of them had just lost her husband and she talked in her sleep. Scared the living crap out of me and spent each night staring at the ceiling.

Guatemala: map

Didn’t sleep for beans there either. I loved that trip to Lake Atitlan in the heart of the country to a retreat center called Villa Sumaya. Courtney and I led a terrific retreat with amazing people. The center also had very nice food and comfortable beds and pillows. I had come from China with only a two-day stop in California and the jet lag was worse than ever. I was up most of the time I was supposed to be sleeping! It sucked.

Here I am present day at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Big Sur is about a 4-hour drive south of San Francisco on Highway 1, the most scenic road in the world. This place is legendary. It has fantastic hot spring baths, natural and nesting high above the coastline with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and a rocking celestial show of stars far from a city. It boasts a program of cutting-edge consciousness classes and workshops. It has a kitchen that serves such fantastic natural foods, it keeps hundreds of people satisfied daily (the kale alone makes me long for it). The gardens are very beautiful, the butterflies abound, and the light is divine. The beds are nice, the pillows are comfortable and the air is cool, moist and fresh. Let me be clear. I am not working. I am on a retreat, I adore the teachers and I’m in a program I find very interesting. I am surrounded by really loving people. The weather is unseasonably warm and is 88 degrees today on April 6th. I get exercise and I soak in the hot tubs up to 2 hours a day. I have been earthing daily, hugging trees and laying the grass in the sun. I have received a massage that felt like I was being held in the Hand of God. Sleep evades me.

Other fantastic locations in Asia I have not slept are Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Bali, Taipei, all over the Chinese interior and, you guessed it, Shanghai. Europe, too: Germany, Spain, UK, Portugal.

I am so bored writing and talking about how I can’t sleep, you would think it would put me to sleep. Yawn!

27 Responses

    1. I have not, and I likely will not as I have extreme drug sensitivity. Just doesn’t work and could make it worse or other side effects which will make me nutty.

  1. I so so feel your pain. As you know. But you still made me laugh because this is great, to own all the awesome places you dont sleep. I am a mess under 7 hours, I just am. I too feel like a princess if I get 8. I wish you sleep. And me too.

    1. I wish you sleep!! We will frolic like Cinderella soon when we are well-rested. Met a guy with a tiny puppy this morning and I asked him if he is sleeping. He said he has to sleep with the puppy or it cries all night. That’s it! That dog is in bed for life. Hope yours is sleeping.

  2. I enjoyed the description of the Costa Rica retreat. I was there! And Auroville! I have my own challenges with travel, however I am a great sleeper (mostly) and I need a lot. Wishing You better sleep.

  3. I so love your courage and commitment to your expression and sharing. Very profound and compelling to marry your amazing travel experiences with your very personal struggle. Truly feels like material for a great memoir ?.

  4. That was great! Not the chronic lack of sleep part, but the beautiful and funny way you wrote about it from your traveling point of view. Makes me appreciate my ability to sleep well for sure.

  5. I’ve made it clear to my primary care doc that I’d rather lose parts of my memory and start stumbling than give up the drug I’ve been on for 24 years to sleep. I keep telling her that if I discover I no longer need to sleep, I’ll wean myself from it.

    You’re such a marvelous person now, I can only imagine who you’d be fully rested on a regular basis! We all love you anyway.

  6. I love your essay, Danielle. It’s well researched and, in spite of having a similar problem (not funny), I identified with it, and laughed.

    Pollen season, here, so feeling a little woozy all the time. Made the decision not to jump out there (outside) at 5 a.m., but to make the tasks a pleasurable compilation–and walk somewhere. Oella Avenue or Lake Centennial Oella Avenue requires NO car.

    Take care, and please–get some sleep!

  7. Great writing. Sorry about your not being able to sleep. Some of your stories include – what I think of as – understandable reason for not being able to sleep, noise for one, but I can’t imagine that for 3,000+ nights it has been too noisy. What keeps you from sleeping?

    Sometimes when I have too much to do and can’t stop thinking I use Fear-less. Has that ever helped you? I love sleep.

    My mom thought sleeping was a waste of time. I think that kept her from being able to sleep. To me, sleep is heaven on earth, one of God’s gifts to us.


    1. Mental illness, in short. I don’t know but I can’t fall back to sleep which is why I am going to do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia starting in June. I do take FE for hyperactive mind but I don’t take it enough. Thanks for the reminder. Sleep is heaven on earth, I agree!! xo

  8. Oh, Danielle,
    Get piece. I am a fellow insomniac! Some times are worse than others, but I sympathize. Just spent over 26 hours awake on return trip from Morocco and am struggling to get back on PDT.

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