According to the established norm for most mammals — except perhaps for college students cramming for finals, bats and Amy Winehouse — my ultimate nighttime destination is the land of Nod.

I hear it’s a peaceful place, full of fancy, adventure, perils, triumphs and sometimes moments in which to stand on a stage in front of thousands of people with no clothes on. But I can’t speak from experience. I hardly ever go there because I lack the proper conveyance for my journey — a tender transport, a charitable chariot — and instead I linger in the mattress-shopping version of the “Twilight Zone” where the search for sleep is truly a nightmare.

As I write this, I am groggy beyond belief, my back is sore, there’s a twitch at the corner of my eyelid and my right hip throbs with pain like a toothache. For the past year and a half, we have had a fine mattress. Not a cheap one, but a good Sealy Posturepedic pillow-top that seemed comfy in the 10 minutes I reclined on the store sample with the clerk’s anxious face hovering over me like those scenes in movies when someone wakes up after fainting.

But in just weeks, I started to hurt. Unable to return it, I opted to modify it. On top of the mattress, I placed sections of one of those egg-crate pads I got at Wal-Mart, sliced into sections so that I could put two or three layers under my hip and only one under my back. I also started sleeping with a small pillow cushioning my legs. It’s one of those neck rolls that frequent fliers and world travelers use to get some rest on a jetliner, speeding across the globe to exotic locales. It’s not so glamorous when squashed between your knees.

Still, Z’s remain elusive, logs go unsawn, the only REM I get is on my friend’s iPod, and I wake up numerous times in discomfort. When I hit the sack, it hits back. I figure I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since “… let’s see, when did “Star Wars” come out? The first one. Yeah, it’d be about 10 years before that.

Oh, “Get a new mattress,” you say? To which I respond with a weak, “Hah!” I’ve had new mattresses, my friends. I go through mattresses like most people go through toasters. And that’s why it’s all so painful. A mattress is a huge purchase that you can’t just toss, but you can’t always tell right away if it will work. With a toaster, it’s pretty obvious that it’s setting your bagel on fire. But a mattress may hold off. Bide its time. Then try to kill you a few months down the road when you least expect it, and long after any possible hope of exchange or refund has expired.

I’ve tried traditional mattresses. I’ve tried new-fangled mattresses. I tried European Sleep Works, but could only afford the cheapest one and, it turns out, it doesn’t work if you’re a really small person. (You’re supposed to sink into it, but I was like a piece of paper on top.) You can’t return those, so we sold it on Craigslist.

We tried the Sleep Number Bed. You know, the air mattress Lindsay Wagner advertises because of the special care her bionic joints require. I thought that would be the answer, because you can adjust the firmness with individual air chambers. But when it was soft enough for my hip, it became a hammock and killed my back. Those are pricey, but you can test them for 30 days, which they extended to 60 days, and then return it for a full refund. Which we did.

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