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Andrea Langworthy's column: The ABCs of sleep

Some years ago, during a lunch with friends, one woman shared her winning strategy for insomnia. I don’t remember if she, or someone else at the table, suffered from the problem. Perhaps, no one did and it was simply information for us to tuck away in case we should need it.

A couple of years later, I woke up in the middle of the night and was unable to fall back to sleep. For hours, I flipped from side to side so many times I felt like a fish flopping on the deck of a boat.

This had happened when I was a teenager, too. My mother advised me to count sheep. It never worked. So, when I woke up decades later in the same situation, I was about to give up hope when my friend’s remedy popped into my head. “Go through the alphabet and name either a fruit or vegetable for each letter,” she had instructed.

“A is for apple, B is for banana, C is for cantaloupe,” I began to chant in my best grade school voice. When I got to the letter Q, I was stumped. I reached into the farthest region of my brain trying to come up with something but had to give up. The mental strain wore me out and I started to drift off when “Q is for quince” popped into my head. I was asleep before I could follow with, “R is for radish.”

When I had trouble returning to the Land of Nod later that same week, I used the fruit and vegetable activity to lull me. This time, it was the X that had me baffled. “X-tra helpings of veggies” finally came to mind. My eyes shut and I dozed off.

This waking up thing happened quite often after that. I used my friend’s remedy and it shortened the eyes-wide-open situation until I got bored with produce. That’s when I made up a different version — alphabetically naming the products one might find on the shelves at Walgreen’s.

Aspirin, bandages, calamine lotion. The second time, the list may have been Acidophilus, beverages, card games. And the third, aloe vera lotion, baggies and cards. Each time, I tried to come up with items I hadn’t stipulated in previous sessions.

After a few weeks, I had done a complete inventory of the store. When I found myself staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night again, I moved on to girls’ names. Every so often after that, I began a new category. Boys’ names. Authors. Animals.

Countries came next. Then, cities in Minnesota: Annandale to Zimmerman. Now, I’m on American cities. Albuquerque, Boston, Camden — I treat it like a geography lesson, requiring each city to be followed by the correct state.

When my husband recently announced he’d had trouble following asleep the night before, I asked, “Did you go through the produce aisle alphabetically?” He had, with no luck. “Time to move on to products you find at Walgreen’s. That will do the trick for a while,” I promised.

I wondered if I should disclose the addictive power of the sleep-deprivation therapy. Share with him that some nights, as my eyes pop open, my heart starts to race in anticipation of playing a game of ABC.