June 14, 2022

Sleep Thoughts

I believe the cruelest and yet, kindest aspect of being human is the unavoidable need for sleep. We have to sleep a certain amount to survive and stay healthy mentally and physically. It's also good to be able to pull the blinds down on a day and start fresh in the morning, but I wish, sometimes, we didn't have to. There is so much pressure to get a good night's sleep.

I once read that Martha Stewart thrives on four hours of sleep per night. There was someone else - a news anchor, I believe - who also made that claim. I honestly do not know how they survive, let alone thrive. My own mother did not sleep a great deal if I remember correctly. She was one to read late into the night and pull all-nighters writing grant applications for the museum she directed. Even at my most intensely busy times as a student, I would go to bed by 11:00 the night before an exam, preferring to rise at 5:30 in the morning to cram. Sleep, to me, was as important as breathing. Sure, in my youth I could stay up really late on a Friday night, but I could catch up in the morning by sleeping until noon. Having children put an abrupt stop to that, and it is much harder to be a good parent when you're so sleep-deprived you can't see straight. I learned to go to bed an hour or two after the kids - boring but effective.

One would think that when the kids grow up the parents would finally get to have those long, luxurious sleeps without interruption. Ha! Our own minds wake us up in the night. Even if we have pretty much stopped drinking caffeinated beverages, get plenty of exercise, refrain from eating more than a small snack in the evenings, practice a calming pre-bedtime routine involving lavender and low lighting, and a calming/breathing/praying routine when we wake in the night, we still struggle, especially when we hit middle age. Menopause can be a sleep-wrecker for women, but men often have problems with sleep, too. My husband is often up at 4 or 5 a.m. making notes for work - not by choice I might add. I wonder, as we age, if we merely need less sleep, but the idea of getting up at 3:30 in the morning, which is when I often wake up, is not all that attractive to me. And is five hours of sleep really enough? Maybe that is why I see so many seniors up and about outside my windows when I am just opening the curtains on the day.

Most people seem to need at least six hours to function properly. Most professionals say eight is better. Ads for sleep medication and sleep enhancing products point to our society's struggle to get enough sleep. I have read about the effects of taking regular sleep meds and they aren't great. Apparently, long term use of prescription sleep medication can contribute to Alzheimer's and dementia later in life, but then, so can not getting enough sleep. Although I did have to take sleep meds after my head injury I have trained myself to do without them most of the time. Different people rave about the efficacy of CBD oil and melatonin, but neither work for me. Obsessing about getting enough sleep doesn't work either. Trust me on that one. I merely try to tick all the boxes each and every day to allow me the decent night's sleep I need to get me through the next day: enough exercise, a healthy diet, a good bedtime routine, etc., etc.. See what I mean about pressure? 

Maybe I should become a dairy farmer or work the early shift at Starbucks. At least there would be a reason to get up at 3:30 in the morning.