“Middle-of-the-Night Insomnia Blues,” by Andrea Petersen. The Wall Street Journal, 6/28/1026.
When my grandfather was 80, he told me he had trouble sleeping. I often saw him dozing off throughout the day. “What time do you go to bed?” I asked him.
“About 9 o’clock.”
“I think I see your problem.”
We all know we need less sleep as we age. I only need 5 hours a night now. More precisely, I can only tolerate 5 hours a night. But I still get sleepy at 11:00, and still go to bed at that time. (I never got into the late-night shows, and have no idea who the hosts are. If they’re not Johnny or Jack, I don’t care, I kid you not.) Then I wake up after only about an hour, all fidgety, and wander around the house until about 3:00. By then, I am sleepy enough to go back to bed, and sleep until 7:00. I now accept that as normal, am thankful for the extra hours of conscious life, and try to plan something to do during that time, like editing old photos or writing a blog posting. When morning arrives, I do not feel I wasted the entire night tossing and turning.
This summer, I have sat on my front yard bench in my underwear. At 3 AM, no one sees me, and wouldn’t believe it if they did. The only possibility would be a neighbor my age walking their dog in their underwear. I only do this occasionally.
This Wall Street Journal article points out difficulty in staying asleep is more common than difficulty in falling asleep. If you still see this as a problem, here are their suggestions:
- Keep the bedroom dark with blackout curtains. If you wake up, stay in the dark as much as possible. Move around the house by only a night light.
- Don’t watch the clock. Anxiety over loss of sleep will only make the insomnia worse.
- If you are awake, get up. Do not stay in bed tossing and turning. Avoid the TV and computer (Oops).
- If you must use the TV or computer, wear sunglasses to cut back on the blue light that can mess up your circadian rhythm (which is already in shambles).
- Don’t eat. This quickly becomes a habit and will wake you in future nights. None of us needs M&Ms at two in the morning.
- Don’t sleep late in the morning and don’t nap during the day. (I love dozing off during the day. Staying awake longer at night is a small price to pay. Sleeping in late is a luxury that no longer applies.)
- (My own suggestions.) Don’t worry about your insomnia. Accept it as nature’s plan, and enjoy the waking time as a gift. If you need to do something, phone your younger friends while you’re up. Pretend you’re Hillary. Do not bother with melatonin tablets. If you want to try them, I’ll send you my leftovers from the dollar store.