Knitting Up That Ravelled Sleeve

By Kit Hayden | Sep 04, 2014
Photo by: Better nights

Newcastle — I wake up too early, usually 3 or 4 AM.  I have been laboring to understand this relatively recent and undesired phenomenon.  It’s not a dysfunctional bladder. It doesn’t appear to be stress.  Sometimes I awaken in a cold sweat of anxiety, but not always.  I have bad dreams but usually indifferent dreams (alas, never pleasant dreams).  I will doze for the three hours until I roll out, without notable dissatisfaction, but neither do I greet the day with optimism and enthusiasm; I would as soon not wake up.  This is not a happy situation.

As usual, I have turned to the great wide world of web for elucidation.  Old people wake up early. Right!  A part may be chemical.  The body produces less growth hormone and melatonin that, supposedly, help us sleep better.  But then why the sudden onset of this insomnia?  Shouldn’t it creep up gradually like the inability to remember anything?  I can’t buy the chemical argument.

After reading myriad reports on old age and sleeplessness I become increasingly convinced that nobody knows nothing (the usual situation).  The gurus can’t even agree on whether the need for sleep is age related.  Nonetheless, they certainly proffer a plethora of advice, most of it totally obvious—establish a routine, get exercise, enjoy sunlight, have a comfortable mattress etc.  One thing I disagree with: use your bedroom only for sleeping.  Isn’t there sometimes another thing we like to do in the bedroom, even at my age?

Alcohol is a point of contention.  Experts propound that booze may be conducive to going to sleep more easily, but it may also lead to waking up early.  I choose to dismiss this argument.  I drink too much, but in short periods of sobriety I’m still alert long before I’d like.  Furthermore, as I’ve noted before, I never went to bed sober when I was a youngster in the army, but I don’t remember waking up early, ever.

Well, not never.  There was one incident when I awoke in the wee hours to find a trooper relieving himself on my wall locker.  I slept in the 2nd floor squad room directly over the first floor latrine.  My locker occupied the same relative horizontal position as the downstairs’ urinal.  The chap was apparently, at this point, vertically challenged.  I guess you could say that my early reveille was alcohol related, but in a peripheral way.  He wasn’t entirely gassed; he stopped when I yelled at him.

One pundit brought up the association of sleep habits with Alzheimer’s disease, the barely secret dread of all old fahrts.   “Alzheimer’s disease often changes a person’s sleeping habits. For example, some people with Alzheimer’s disease sleep too much; others don’t sleep enough. Some people wake up many times during the night; others wander or yell at night.”  This doesn’t help, except to reassure me that I don’t necessarily suffer the big A.  I don‘t wander and yell at night, though sometimes I wish I would.

Enough speculation by the professionals; I think I know why we sleep more fitfully, wake up earlier as we age.  One cause is solitude.  We are social animals.  I  slept better when there was a warm, comforting body beside me.  Lately I have had no one to provide this solace.  Another reason, I suspect, is death, or a fear of it.  Deep within the occult subconscious of the increasingly senescent lies the thought that if he doesn’t prod himself awake fairly regularly he may descend into never-never land.  This, of course, does not occur with immortal youth!  However, this second explanation assumes that one is unwilling to die.  In my case that’s not true; I will “go gentle into that great night.”  I’m guessing my affliction is simple loneliness.

“And the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing.”  Sleep well.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Stanley A Stalla | Sep 15, 2014 10:53

Congratulations on a nicely-written article.  I do think that you may be on to something, when you wonder if loneliness is a cause of your unwanted sleep routine.  My wife and I are separated geographically for long stretches of time, and we both agree that -- once re-united -- we sleep much better.  I also think that rest, as well as sleep, is good for us.  Therefore, if you can use those semi-wakeful hours at night to rest (not for thinking or activity), then maybe you'll feel relatively fine by morning.  That seems to work for me.  Bon sommeil !!!  :)

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