To sleep, perchance to dream…

Posted: July 23, 2012 in aging, health, mental health

We tried out a new mattress last night, a ten inch-thick memory foam that came in an impossibly small box but that filled the king-size bedstead quite nicely. The Spouse loves his memory foam pillows, but I always found them creepy, sort of human flesh-textured. (Ewww.) Fortunately the new mattress has a quilted cotton cover and a mattress pad, so it just seems soft. It sits a couple of inches lower than our traditional mattress, which had a pillow top on both sides.

The verdict? It was a little warm at times (one of the major complaints with memory foam) but I slept, sort of. We’ll likely keep the mattress, but it won’t solve my problem: For the past several years, I find that I’m just sort of sleeping, about five or so hours a night. It isn’t enough.

During the last few years before his death, my father couldn’t sleep. He’d either listen to all-night AM talk radio in the spare bedroom, all by himself, or lie there and ruminate over the mistakes and disappointments of his life. I was in the next room, and I would hear him muttering to himself, tapping his knuckles on the wall for emphasis. I don’t think it helped his deteriorating heart, and I worry about becoming like him.

I figured my snoozelessness was just another bonus that comes with aging, but according to the NYTimes, it ain’t necessarily so:

[F]or years, sleep scientists thought they knew what was going on: sleep starts to deteriorate in late middle age and steadily erodes from then on. It seemed so obvious that few thought to question the prevailing wisdom.

Now, though, new research is leading many to change their minds. To researchers’ great surprise, it turns out that sleep does not change much from age 60 on. And poor sleep, it turns out, is not because of aging itself, but mostly because of illnesses or the medications used to treat them.

“The more disorders older adults have, the worse they sleep,” said Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a professor of psychiatry and a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “If you look at older adults who are very healthy, they rarely have sleep problems.”

Hmmmm. I have friends and family who have their sleep interrupted by things like restless legs, sleep apnea, and overactive bladders. I know from personal experience that chronic pain can be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. Mother, who was as healthy as a horse until her 90s and kept to a pretty predictably schedule in most aspects of her life, slept soundly.

So now what? Sleeping pills? I think not. I don’t want to become dependent on anything, and I take enough pills already. I’m inventorying my meds to see if they are contributing to the problem, and I’m working on some suggestions that my counselor at our employee wellness program gave me:

1. Get the television set out of the bedroom. (We already did that during our recent move.) Your bed needs to be reserved for sleeping, otherwise your body seems to think it’s just another piece of furniture and your mind just goes on merrily grinding away.

2. Set a regular sleep pattern, i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same times. Since I’m still working fulltime, I keep to a fairly regular bedtime and wake up schedule, but I can see how it could go all to heck at retirement, sort of like being on vacation, where you’re up sometimes until the wee hours and then crawl out of bed at noon (like being a teenager again, only you now have to “wee” at 3 a.m. or so).

3. Try melatonin, a hormone that is part of the human sleep-wake cycle. This is new to me, but the Spouse has long used it to get over jetlag. He takes it at bedtime and then makes sure he gets some direct sunlight the next morning. It apparently helps reset your internal clock. The National Sleep Foundation and other sites have some good points on the benefits — and limitations — of melatonin.

4. “Practice good sleep hygiene,” said the counselor. Huh? Google to the rescue: The Daily Glow has a fine list, like avoiding caffeine and alcohol after six, creating bedtime rituals, exercising earlier in the day, limiting naps, etc. (Oh, but I do loves me a good nap…)

I’ve used melatonin the past several nights, and I’ve slept a bit better. (Might be just a placebo effect.) But I know it won’t work as a nighttime sleep aid, so I’ll go without it tonight.

Are you getting enough sleep? What works for you?

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Comments
  1. I’m with your Dad. I have a really, really bad habit of keeping the BBC World Service on the radio all night long. My discipline is not allowing myself to fall asleep to it (that’s hard) and never to turn it back on before 5 AM. On the plus side, when I do have it on all night, I am very well informed… I’m amazed at the international stories that the World Service covers and are ignored by the mainstream radio.

    Meanwhile, I have been (hypocritically) commanding my children to practice “good sleep hygiene” for years…

    • msmeta says:

      I wish I could something so educational instead of not sleeping, but I’m only interested in Bejeweled on my iPad at that hour. (Which could be part of my problem….) Glad you made it home safely!

  2. Barbara Younger says:

    I’ve struggled with sleep stuff for years. A while ago I read an article that mentioned a lot of people wake up from dehydration. I’ve been drinking a few glasses of water at bedtime, and although it doesn’t always work, I am definitely sleeping better.

    BTW, if you have the time to write a guest post for Friend for the Ride, I’d love one. I was especially thinking fashion/beauty.

    • msmeta says:

      What a great suggestion! I definitely don’t drink enough water. And I’d love to do a guest post. Let me fiddle around and I’ll send you something in a few days.

      • Barbara Younger says:

        Thanks. No rush! I’ve got a few in the lineup, but I look forward to yours!

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