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Monday, December 12, 2016

Catching zzzs

Bedtime is great. I adore the whole ritual of getting into bed fresh from the shower, and turning on my bedside lamp. The temperature in the room is cool so I can snuggle under the covers, open up my kindle and read for awhile till I nod off. I really love my sleep too, falling into deep slumber and waking with hopefully some pleasant dreams and fresh to greet the new day. As I grow older, however, the notion of sleep becomes more complicated, and it can turn into a real nightmare. Literally.

I’ve never had problems sleeping. I used to be able to read and just be conscious enough to turn off the light before falling asleep. Lately, though, it seems that sleep can be elusive. It sometimes bugs the hell out of me that I can’t fall asleep, or that I wake up a few hours later and can’t fall back asleep. The result is I wake up far later than I intend to, and that in turn screws up the rest of the day’s schedule.

I find out that many of my friends are in the same boat. As advancing age creeps up, bedtime poses all kinds of problems. The inability to fall asleep. Fitful sleep, or the need to get up and go to the bathroom. Waking up too early and not being able to fall back to sleep again.

Some follow a complicated ritual to make sure that the environment is as conducive as possible for sleep, placing lavender drops all over the bedlinen, turning on the white noise machine, placing blackout curtains, making sure the room temperature is just right. And when all else fails, resorting to sleep aids like Melatonin or Ambien, or the hard stuff like Prozac.

When my aged mother used to complain that she couldn't sleep at night, I was generally unsympathetic. I told her that she was consuming too much caffeine, or taking catnaps in front of the TV. Now, looking back, I realize that perhaps she was tired during the day from lack of sleep and dozing off or drinking tea perhaps because of that. Now that I and those around are wrestling with sleep issues, I very much regret that I didn't understand her dilemma.

In my own bed, in my own bedroom and in my own house, I can usually fall asleep. That is, if I’m careful not to drink anything with caffeine after 4pm, or certain wines that keep me up all night. But when I’m traveling, and trying to get used to strange beds, it’s almost impossible for me to fall asleep. Knowing that I'm expected to get up and start the day early, I have to resort to a sleep aid as well, and usually take something like Lorazepam or its equivalent. Rather than a sleeping pill per se, it relaxes me and I can generally get 7-8 hours worth of sleep on it.

Air travel poses yet another problem for me when it comes to sleep. While I can catch some zzzs in a moving car or train, I am totally unable to fall asleep on a plane. When the shades some down and the lights go off in the cabin, I see everyone sound asleep except me and a couple of other insomniacs. I made the mistake of taking a sleeping aid once - it just made me groggy but I couldn’t sleep and ended up being totally disoriented. Even when I’ve had the luxury (rare) of traveling in first or business class and can lie completely flat, I still can’t go to sleep.

I need my eight hours of sleep to function like a normal human being. If I don’t get them, I’m grouchy and unable to concentrate. So I try to do everything I can to prepare for a good night’s sleep. Vigorous exercise in the morning. A full lunch followed by a light dinner as early as possible in the evening. No caffeine after 3pm. And no alcohol at night either. I try to turn off all devices after 9 pm and resist the urge to check my phone. And then I read in bed until I nod off.

Most of all, I try not to place pressure on myself if I can’t fall asleep. I just tell myself that I don’t have a full-time job at the office that I have to wake up early for. If I can’t sleep, then so be it. I’ll just stay up until I can, and wake up late.

Truly, I envy those people who can fall asleep instantly no matter where they are, including some of my senior friends who don’t understand why others have such a problem with sleep. Even now, while I’m sipping my one and only cup of coffee in the afternoon, I’m wondering if it’ll affect my sleeping pattern tonight. Because sleep is great, I love it, have always done so until it has become a favorite family pastime!

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