I can't sleep.
I tried. Or have been trying for the past hour and a half, but I'm just laying there staring up at the ceiling. I once read that if you're not asleep within a half an hour of trying to go to sleep that you shouldn't stay in bed; I usually give myself a little longer.
Usually I am a very good sleeper, but sometimes I just can't drift off -- no reason, just don't feel sleepy when I should feel sleepy. Sometimes these spells last a week, other times just one night, or every once in awhile, months. There's no real cause, except perhaps an excess of caffeine on some days, and nothing in particular cures it either; it just passes.
When I was a kid and couldn't sleep, my dad would tell me to picture my fort. I had to think about every last detail in my fort: Where would it be? What would it look like? Who would I allow in it? The idea, of course, was that once I focused on every detail, I would eventually relax and fall asleep. Which was mostly true, but sometimes the exercise kept me awake; I'd become so enamoured with my imagined fort that I'd be making actual plans for its consturction, and I'd get caught up in those thoughts and they would keep me awake.
So that's when I would read. My parents were very flexible when it came to my late night reading. Their rule: My brother or I could stay up as late as we wanted as long as we were reading. I paid the price on some school mornings when I was forced to get up to catch the bus after I'd been reading until the early morning (you know, when you just have to finish a book). But overall, I would read for an hour or so and then I'd be out. However, sometimes, when the fort business overtook my consentration, I would turn my bedside lamp back on and pick up whatever I was reading.
As long as the light didn't bother my brother (we had to share a room for much of my childhood), and as long as I didn't bother my parents, I could read until the eyeballs popped out of my head.
My favorite book as a kid was Bridge to Teribithia -- awesome story -- about this girl and boy who meet and become best friends and they build this fort together across a small stream and call it Teribithia. It's their escape from an imperfect world and the problems both kids have at home and at school. But one day, when they have planned to meet at Teribithia, the girl can't make it, but the boy goes alone and while crossing the stream, he falls in and drowns. It's a very sad story, and I don't know what kind of kid it makes me that it was my favorite book; I guess I was attracted to tragedy.
Anyway, aside from the dead friend, Teribithia was exactly the kind of fort I wanted: something secluded, something special. That's why it was so hard trying to think about my fort in detail and why the exercise never really put me to sleep. As an adult, I sometimes built my dream house as an exercise for falling asleep, but once again I would get caught up in the details and end up wide awake trying to decide what color I would paint my perfect kitchen. That's why I try to just read a book to get to sleep.
The reading habit has carried into adulthood, and I usually read every night before I go to bed, as I did this evening. But tonight I can't get comfortable and my brain won't stop working, so I suppose I'll settle into the couch with my new book and read until I feel truly tired. I had planned on getting so much accomplished tomorrow, and now I see that that may not be possible.