Goodnight, sleep tight

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Feb 09, 2018

I remember my maternal grandfather napping in the big leather armchair in my parents' living room. He'd say he was just closing his eyes for a few minutes, and before long we'd hear him snoring away. When he awoke, he'd tell us he had been wading in this or that stream, fly rod in hand, and what a fine time he'd had.

On occasion, Grandpa would say he'd run into his friend Marcel, the French talking trout, while in his dream stream. My grandfather was a storyteller, and Marcel was the subject of many of the stories -- some quite involved -- that he made up to entertain his friends and family. There were other stories, too, created for his grandchildren. I remember the Boofus-Schooks, who grew vegetable gardens in their shoes, which were sewn on at birth, and the Wampus Cat, which had a zipper that ran the length of its belly.

I got started down this path because I was thinking about how, once we reach a certain age, sleep can become more elusive than when we were younger. It gives "sleeping like a baby" new meaning.

My mom took a leaf from Grandpa's book, only instead of wading in a trout stream, she would picture herself on one or another of the golf courses she enjoyed -- she took up the sport in her 50s and had fun at it for 25 years or so. She would picture the course and see herself taking each shot, watching the ball and so on.

Dad had a harder time falling asleep. He enjoyed both fly-fishing and golf, but doing them in his head wasn't for him. He often slept poorly, which may be why he would frequently remember vivid dreams he'd had in surprising detail. One of his techniques for combating insomnia was to invent word games. An example was making words using just the ZIP Code state abbreviations: ME + AL = meal; CA + LA + MA + RI = calamari.

And now I have gotten to the point where I can't take a good night's sleep for granted. I usually sleep pretty well, but it is not uncommon for me to have trouble falling asleep, or to wake up in the night and then take a long time to go back to sleep. Sometimes I try wandering around the aisles of Hannaford in my head; other times I make words from ZIP Code abbreviations. I like to think of sleeping like a dog -- just lying there, with no thoughts: not remembering, not solving problems, not worrying about anything, just being in my body and getting as inert as I can. Sometimes it works. So does listening to an app I have on my phone that allows me to choose relaxing sounds and set them to play for a certain amount of time when I'm going to sleep. So I have gentle music with a background of lapping waves, which is a pretty effective sedative.

I have learned that I have a "sleep window" -- a period of about an hour between 9 and 10 p.m. when I have the best chance of falling asleep. If I stay up past 10,  sometimes I fall asleep anyway, but I'm much more likely to have trouble than if I go to bed earlier. I have a soothing book that I read from while my go-to-sleep music plays, then I set the timer for the music, turn out the light and tell my dog, Rosie, goodnight. The last thing I do is talk to Spirit.

The advice not to go to bed angry at your partner (or anyone else) is a cliche for good reason: it's very hard to fall asleep when you're feeling angry, hurt, self-righteous, etc. Your mind churns, replaying the conversation, enumerating your grievances, and on and on. It's not pretty. So if we have an argument in the evening, I try to resolve it before I go to bed. Doesn't always happen, of course.

If I lie awake for an hour or so, I often get up for a bit so I don't stay in bed frustrated about not sleeping. It seems better to me to go downstairs, have a glass of milk and think about something else for a while, then try again. I also find that it helps to remind myself that I can still function if I miss a night's sleep. Even just lying in the dark with your eyes closed is some benefit, I think.

Sweet dreams.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Feb 09, 2018 15:35

Sarah, this is just an aging problem. Take a survey and those of us seniors who qualify will, hopefully in all honesty, tell of same such sleepless efforts. Me? At 83 I try for an hour and then give up and read until if doze off. It does work most of the time. Try it. If I get 6 hours it's a miracle.



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