I know so many people, including myself, who suffer from insomnia, that horrific state of being totally exhausted but unable to find a state of blissful relaxation and rest. Insomnia rears its ugly head in many forms. For some it is a matter of not being able to fall asleep at all. For others in involves waking after only a few hours and then staring at the ceiling for the remainder of the night. Mine is a combination of the two. I often take well over an hour to finally fall into a state of slumber and then wake up after about four hours and proceed to toss and turn until around four thirty in the morning when I finally find the deepest sleep of the night. I haven’t enjoyed the recommended seven to eight hours of uninterrupted slumber for ages.
My own journey as a night owl began during one of my mother’s manic phases. I was already worried enough about her that I had trouble stilling my mind but then she added to the situation when she began calling me at all hours of the night. Of course she had no idea that her behavior was somehow out of whack. Whenever a random thought occurred she felt compelled to ring up me or one of my brothers or even a neighbor. Sometimes the phone would startle us over and over again all night long, making it impossible for me to ever reach a state of REM. I eventually began taking the phone off of the hook from the time that I went to bed until the morning, but I was so worried that something might happen to my mother while I was offline that sleep eluded me anyway. The situation continued long enough that somehow my internal clock adjusted itself to less of a need for complete rest. Eventually I simply accepted a shortened sleep cycle.
Phase two of my long night’s journey into day came when my middle age hormonal changes began to include hot flashes. Every few hours I was awakened from my sleep with the feeling that my entire body was on fire. I heated up the bed like a furnace. My sleeping became so fitful that I sometimes awoke six to eight times each and every night. I was like the walking dead, exhausted most of the time. That’s when I began strolling through the sleep aid section of the drug store. For a time those over the counter concoctions worked quite well when paired with a prescription from my doctor to control those raging hormones. I said goodbye to restless nights and once again enjoyed the splendor of a good night’s sleep.
Eventually my doctor decided that it was unwise for me to indefinitely take the artificial chemicals that had tamed my night sweats. Without the aid of medication my internal oven once again began firing up all night long. Not even double the amount of sleep aid was able to overcome the urge to awaken and I once again found myself lying in the dark anxiously attempting to slow down the racing motor in my brain. It was all to no avail. My doctor assured me that the heat filled nights would one day go away but it has now been well over ten years and there is still no sign that I will ever find relief. I have simply learned to live with my condition. Besides, the arthritis in my aching knees have added to the nighttime fun.
I am now one of those people who awakes long before the sun rises. My sleep comes to me in fits and spurts. Retirement has been a boon to me because I no longer have to fret over working long days in a state of exhaustion. I simply let my body go wherever it wishes to go. Sometimes a thirty minute power nap in the middle of the day refreshes me enough to keep my energy level as high as it ever was. I’ve learned to listen to my heart and my brain telling me when I will get the most bang for my buck in the sleep department.
I wish that I had found some miracle cure for insomnia that I might pass along to my friends who often complain of suffering from lack of rest. I find that making the house extra cold is one of the best antidotes. Refraining from food and drink after a certain hour of the evening is another easy trick for insuring a bit more relaxation. Of course being as active as possible during the day helps as well. I’ve purchased a comfortable mattress and I attempt to make our bedroom extra dark before I retire. On really good nights I manage to sleep without awaking for as many as five hours. I so love those times!
A new study purports to show that our hunter gatherer ancestors probably slept about six and a half hours each night. They tended to arise from their slumbers based not on natural light but at the moment that the temperature of the air reached its lowest point. Researchers noted the habits of two different tribes of primitive people in different parts of the world and found this trend to be the same for both groups. They found no indications that any of the subjects suffered from insomnia, nor did they feel inclined to take naps during the day. In short, the scientists now wonder if modern man generally sleeps more than needed.
I’ve heard that many highly successful individuals manage to adjust to as little as four hours of sleep each night. I suspect that they have given in to the internal clocks that determine how much uninterrupted rest they will have. Instead of fighting the urge to wake up they take advantage of the extra time. They insist that their bodies and minds adapt over time. Doctors, on the other hand, note that those who don’t get an optimum amount of sleep suffer from illnesses and often die earlier than their more relaxed peers.
I sometimes wish that I might be able to return to the teenage years when I would fall asleep as soon as I placed my head on my pillow and not awaken for nine or even ten hours. I recall Saturdays when I was able to slumber until after noon. I was relaxed and happy and energetic. It never occurred to me that I might one day be a creature of the night, wandering through my home in search of something that might lull me back to sleep.
Each time I hear of someone who is fighting the battle of insomnia I feel their pain. I often suspect that our modern ways are part of our problem. Even in the middle of the night there will be noises from passing cars, trains rumbling across distant tracks, dogs barking in neighborhood yards. It’s almost impossible to block out the artificial light from street fixtures, signs, and security systems. We no longer enjoy the quiet and solitude that mankind once did.
Whenever we visit my brothers’ cabin in Colorado I find myself feeling very refreshed. We sleep with the windows open. The only sounds that I hear come from the coyotes who sing to one another with their haunting howls. The only light is from twinkling stars. Much as with the hunter gatherers of old I awaken when the rooster crows and the cool morning air falls to the lowest temperature of the day. I feel rested and ready to push myself on the steep trails in the mountainous area. Somehow the Sandman finds me when I am in such places. He sprinkles his dream dust on me and I fall under its spell. Perhaps the reason that so many of us suffer from insomnia is that the world really is too much with us or maybe I’m just growing old. We don’t place much value on sleep until we can’t find it, then we realize what a wonderful gift it really is.