Is There a Cure for Sleeplessness?
- Saturday, 13 October 2012
I haven’t been sleeping well lately. And I know if I worry about it, my sleeplessness will only get worse.
Getting a long night’s sleep has escaped me since the time I was a teenager. So many times my mother came into my room and to tell me to turn off the light. In those days when I couldn’t sleep I’d read – sometimes all night. Nowadays, if I sleep up to six in the morning after turning off my bedside light around midnight, I’m lucky.
And I’m not alone.
Many women I know complain that they can’t sleep. They wake up several times a night – to throw back the covers because they are hot and sweating or to close the window because they are too cold. They also have to make several trips to the bathroom. Now that I’m into my seventies and still taking a light dosage of hormones to help keep the sleep effects of menopause at bay, I have to adjust the covers several times a night.
My husband is the same way, but he refreshes with several ten or fifteen minute naps during the day. I sometimes will take a thirty-minute nap late in the day, and that seems to be enough to keep me going.
In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal,” David K. Randall says much of our sleep problems come from the invention of the light bulb. Our ancient ancestors, he said, “Slept in two distinct chunks each night. The so-called first sleep took place not long after the sun went down and lasted until a little after midnight. A person would then wake up for an hour or so before heading back to the so-called second sleep.” Randall cites the research of a Virginia Tech history professor, A. Roger Ekrich, for investigating and finding the data on these two-chunk or segmented sleep patterns.
Perhaps that’s why naps help my husband and me stay alert. However, sleeplessness does interfere in major ways – especially as we get older: airline pilot error, traffic accidents, and poor physical and mental health. The National Sleep Foundation warns that short sleep duration is linked with:
- Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
- Increase in body mass index – a greater likelihood of obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation
- Increased risk of diabetes and heart problems
- Increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse
- Decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals, or remember new information.
And according to Randall’s Wall Street Journal article, no amount of caffeine will alleviate the need for sleep, probably why prescription sleep aids are such a big business.
I think I took a sleeping pill once, but didn’t like feeling groggy in the morning. I also don’t drink coffee or energy drinks. Caffeine gives me the jitters. So I try to follow some of the many suggestions on getting a good night’s sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests these sleep-remedy tips:
- Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends
- Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music – begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep
- Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex (keep "sleep stealers" out of the bedroom – avoid watching TV, using a computer or reading in bed)
- Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime
- Exercise regularly during the day or at least a few hours before bedtime
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime and give up smoking
Even my gym sent out a list:
- Create a sleep routine – similar to the foundation’s first suggestion. And before going to bed do something relaxing like listening to music, meditating, or trying a yoga pose
- Try some aromatherapy – I like this one. I always have aromatherapy on my bedside table. A little dab of lavender inside each nostril and on your upper chest is very relaxing.
- Make herbs like valerian root and chamomile a habit either taken as a capsule and bedtime tea.
- Do a yoga pose called “Legs up the wall” to promote relaxation. Get your hips right up against the wall with your legs straight up the wall while you lie on your back. Ten or fifteen minutes should do the trick.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark. I sure know how important it is to be cool at night – otherwise, I like many other post-menopausal women, will wake up in a sweat.
Hope you all will join me in trying some of these remedies – unless you prefer the two-chunk sleep method. Please let me know either way.
Madeline Sharples is Naturally Savvy's Over 60 Expert. An author, poet and self-confessed exercise junkie, her stories and articles have appeared online and in print. She recently published her memoir, Leaving The Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living With Her Son’s Bipolar and Surviving His Suicide (Lucky Press LLC 2011). To contact Madeline, e-mail her at email@example.com.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal, "Decoding the Science of Sleep" David K. Randall, August 3, 2012.
Photo credit: _Jer_