Herr Doktor, seit einem Monat schlafe ich nicht. Eine schlaflose Nacht is für mich ein Qual. Welches Schlafmittel soll ich nehmen?
I always chuckle a little when this dialog comes up in my German lessons. For me, it's self-referential. The lady is asking her doctor what to take for insomnia. I say take some German lessons. Seriously.
Here's why learning a foreign language is the best cure for insomnia:
When you learn a foreign language as an adult, you have to learn the grammar rules. But, you don't become fluent by working out a little grammar algorithm in your head to compose each sentence before you speak. It has to become automatic. And that comes from (rather mindless) drills and memorization. You can train your brain by listening to your recorded dialogs so many times that you can recite them.
Insomnia, for me, is almost always a question of having some idea or problem stuck in my mind that I just can't stop obsessing about. Then, as the hours tick by, the thought that I'll be too tired to work the next day just compounds the problem with further stress and worry.
Language recordings to the rescue! As I focus on the dialogs in the recording, it pushes the other thoughts and obsessions out of my mind. Since I've heard these dialogs already (no surprises!) it's easy for my conscious mind to wander off to dreamland. And best of all, when it doesn't work, there's no compounding stress/worry about having wasted so many precious hours just lying there. No time was wasted at all -- I was improving my German, which I'm supposed to set aside time to do anyway!
I used this trick when learning French, and later Italian. I stopped doing it when my babies were born, though, because I didn't want any danger from the ear-bud cords where my babies and I were sleeping. Now that they're six and eight years old (and have been in their own big-boy beds for a number of years) I have no further excuses. Well, no good ones anyway.
I've only got a handful of lessons left in Allemand Pratique de Base, and if I finish them up by the end of the year, I'll have succeeded in one of my (very modest) goals. With interruptions, this beginner German course has taken me approximately two years. That's not so impressive when you consider that twelve years ago I completed the comparable course "Teach Yourself French" in the space of two weeks.
Of course things were a little different back when I decided to learn French. For one thing, it was Summer, and I had two weeks by myself. I had no kids to take care of. The only task on my agenda was procrastinating my PhD research, so I had 24 hours a day to devote to teaching myself to speak French. (Now, if you're thinking "Chanson, don't you have a Java book that you're procrastinating right now?" -- keep in mind that today, we have more advanced technology for procrastination: the Internet.)
Note that my motivation back then was a little different: there was a certain highly desirable Frenchman I wanted to impress. Motivation is the other reason the bedroom is the best place to learn a new language. Usually it's an annoyance for native speakers to help you practice while you blunder your way through their language. But the magic of romance turns it cute. Plus it makes you want to figure out how to say all sorts of different things to your foreign sweetheart. The trouble with this trick is that -- when successful -- it works only once. Now that I'm happily married to an adorable Frenchman, well, let's just say it limits the possibility of learning German in the same way.
And -- bringing this discussion full circle -- some of you may be noting that sex is also a good cure for insomnia. It is, but it's not as effective as listening to language lessons. Insomnia, language, and romance: three bedroom activities that go great together! ;^)