10/25/2013 04:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How My Kid's Camp Counselor Got Me Into Bed (Finally!)

It's time for bed. But I'm not tired.

Sure, I was tired at 6:45 a.m., when my alarm went off. I was tired at 1:00 p.m., after three hours of writing. And I was tired at 6:00 p.m. when I still had hours to push through before my teenage boys would be done with homework and off to bed. Still, I found myself fantasizing about climbing into my own bed and falling fast asleep.

Notice my use of the word "fantasizing" -- because that's exactly what it is for me. At night -- when it's actually reasonable to be asleep, I'm wide awake. Although I know how exhausted I'll feel when my alarm goes off at 6:45 a.m., I don't want to go to bed. Although I can distinctly remember fantasizing about falling into bed, the actual desire to do so has disappeared.

Like petulant toddler, I'm not tired. I don't wanna close my eyes, I just wanna glass of water, just one more story, please?

My name is Lauren, and I am a wakeaholic. I am addicted to staying up.

It used to be that I could handle it. But now it's starting to wear on me. Look, I'm well aware that staying up is a choice I make. But like an alcoholic who can't keep from wandering into the pub, I can't seem to keep myself from staying up. Truth is... I don't desire to quit staying up. If only the desire to stay up would quit me. After all, I can quit staying up any time I want -- it's just that I don't want to. But I want to want to.

In an effort to want to want to, I've searched the web for photos of comfy cozy beds for inspiration. But my own bed's really nice -- it's not the problem. I checked out some ASMR videos. But I was weirded out. I tried yoga for sleep, unsuccessfully. But how could I expect it to work when I'm the only person I know who has never fallen asleep in Savasana?

Melatonin? Sure, it makes me drowsy, but seriously? Ambien, you say? Ha. My brain is where Ambien goes to die.

Since everyone knows that teenagers are sleeping experts (except for me as a teenager), I asked my own teenage boys for advice. Snarky boys that they are, they both said the same thing: "Just go to bed, Mom!" Overtired mom that I am, I reminded them that there was a time when that wouldn't have worked on them either. But they pointed out that they were both younger than two at the time. Now that gave me an idea.

I thought back to those days when my boys would let me read to them before bed. We didn't read just any books. Ours were carefully curated based on the following two vital parameters:

1. Soothing rhythm

To make it into my bedtime book pile, a children's book had to employ a rhythmic, quiet rhyme, and preferably an uncomplicated plot.

Thus, as much as my kids and I liked reading Richard Scarry's Sergeant Murphy's Busy Day during the day for its onomatopoeia ("RRINNNG!!!" goes the telephone), it's alliterative playfulness ("Humperdink just left and he took your whistle with him") and its numerous teaching moments (policemen are super busy AND can MacGyver their way out of any problem), we did not read it at night: its hyperactive pace and even it's design (paragraphs scattered all over the page) tended to stimulate rather than soothe.

By contrast, P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother was in constant bedtime rotation because of its hypnotic repetition of its eponymous question and it's perfect-arch plot that culminates in the little baby bird getting whisked into the air by a "snort" (a bucket truck) and then gently being placed down by mommy bird's side for some quiet reflection. Speaking of "quiet reflection," I'm reminded of my second vital parameter:

2. Sleep-motivating message

When it comes to bedtime books, if we aren't reminded why sleep is so compelling, then, really, what's the point?

Thus, The Napping House by Audrey Wood never qualified, notwithstanding its beautiful rhythm, it's tranquil illustrations and its (deceptively) sleep-friendly title. The trouble is, at the end of The Napping House, there's a giant bed-centric ruckus, and as the book says in its final line: "no one now is sleeping".

I preferred Snoozers by Sandra Boynton -- a collection of sleep-friendly rhythmic rhyming stories. My favorite involved a bear who kept saying "I'm not tired" right up until he was all snuggled up in bed. Of course, nighttime reading inevitably involved Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, which teaches that a ritual and a sense of calm do wonders for restless minds.

Alas, my bloodshot eyes remind me that not everyone is teachable. I've long since figured out a way to game the system -- and stay up notwithstanding the siren call of "goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere."

Recently, I found myself imagining what it would be like to live in a place that observes a designated "lights out". But where? Prison? The military? Then I remembered -- summer camp has a "lights out". At least Camp Lenox does -- that's the camp at which my kids have spent their past seven summers. I was seconds away from asking my kids if they'd mind if I joined them next summer at camp, when fate intervened.

Justin Drazin, a Camp Lenox counselor whom we remembered back from the summer of 2007 -- having recently published his first children's book --
Albert and the Amazing Pillow Monsters -- and having learned through the tight-knit Camp Lenox community that I am interested in children's books, wanted me to have a copy of Albert. Justin had no idea that I was desperate to want to want to go to bed. Yet he suggested that I read Albert and the Amazing Pillow Monsters before bed. What I discovered was that Albert is a beautifully illustrated rhyming book that just happens to have a compelling sleep-friendly message.


It begins with Albert -- a little red-haired boy who looks amazingly like my older son did at around the same age -- lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep. His eyes are closed, and he's counting sheep, and though it's never explicitly stated, it's obvious that Albert does not like the dark.


That's where the playful, "puffy fluffy" pillow monsters come in - they teach Albert that while you sleep, "you can imagine and create a new world in your head".


Aha, I thought! Now, that's something I can work with! For Albert, that means pandas and monkeys and sleeping on a bed of balloons. But for me, it means cool stuff I'm old enough to know better than to share.

That first night, I closed the book on Albert, who was by the end, newly emboldened to open his eyes in the dark, and I clicked off the light on my bed and relaxed into my pillow, waiting for my dreams to start. When I woke up the next morning -- before the alarm -- I realized I had the best night of sleep I could remember in decades.

Albert and the Amazing Pillow Monsters bears the gold Mom's Choice Awards Honoring Excellence seal. It also received an award from the prestigious Gelette Burgess Foundation (which also honored Jim Carrey's book How Roland Rolls), whose stated purpose is to seek "books that entertain and teach with an energetic and creative approach.

Apparently, the "Mommy Bloggers" have been catching on. They're singing the praises of Albert. And they're lucky to have it -- good bedtime books for kids are hard to come by.

But for me, and for any other wakeaholics, author Justin Drazin has done what no one else could do: he's gotten me willingly into bed. I recommend Albert and the Amazing Pillow Monsters for kids and insomniacs everywhere.