“The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.” – W. C. Fields
As I remember it, taking naps as a kid was about the most boring thing imaginable, and I would do just about anything to get out of them. However, once I started babysitting as a teenager, I had a good idea of why those darned naps were always being pushed on me. And by the time I had my own children, I was convinced of what a grand idea they were.
For kids, not for me.
Boy have times changed. These days I generally fall asleep five minutes into a good novel. It seems so easy to fall sleep. Except when it’s not—like when I wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep. And I still end up wide awake early in the morning.
Early to bed, early to rise
I am learning this is common for us Boomers these days.
Honestly, though, I’ve always been an early riser. Family legend has it that when I was a toddler, I stacked books up to reach and unlatch the door chain. Then I headed out the door and began an early morning check of the neighborhood, completely unbeknownst to my sleeping parents. Until they received a knock on the door from a strange man, holding me, and asking my parents “Does this belong to you?” These days he would probably be locked up, but back then, he was just considered a good Samaritan rounding up a runaway child.
But I digress. The point is, as long as I can remember, I’ve been an early to bed early to rise kind of gal. In school, I got up early to do homework and write papers. Later I pounded out copy about computer hard drives, travel and cosmetic dentistry for my job.
Anything that took brain power, I did early in the morning, and always got a good’s sleep the night before. Or at least I tried. Of course, with life comes worries, and that can take a toll on a person’s sleep.
All of this seems to fit into the category of normal. But what is new to me is how suddenly fatigue seems to come on these days, and when it does, there seems to be no fighting it. I just fall asleep. And I seem to want to sleep more now, even though my days are quieter and call for less energy. What’s up with that?
Changing sleep patterns
One hypothesis is that aging disrupts sleep rhythms with something called circadian changes that push the clock forward. These shifts cause us to fall asleep and wake earlier than we did when we were younger.
I remember my grandparents doing this, and later my parents. I always thought it was sort of lame and definitely preventable. Like laziness. But now I find out getting drowsy at 9 p.m. is biological rather than a lack of discipline. Whew!
Apparently, these rhythm disturbances affect not only timing but the quality of our sleep. We spend less time in deep sleep — the type we need to replenish energy. The lack of deep sleep is what wakes us in the middle of the night, and makes it harder to fall back asleep. The end result is we feel less rested when get up to start our day.
Weight and sleep
All of these sleep issues make it even harder for us Boomers to lose weight because adequate sleep has been linked to weight loss success.
When you don’t get enough sleep, the leptin levels in your body dip, which signal your brain that you need to eat. Sleep deprivation also causes a spike in cortisol, which again prompts you to want more food.
Plus, when your energy is low, you are more prone to reaching for food that will keep you going; generally nothing too healthy. You crave something to make you feel better, and that will serve as a reward for hanging in there when you really just want to crawl back into bed and get some sleep. You know, something junky, caffeinated, greasy and loaded with sugar and flour.
What’s a Boomer to do?
Of course, if you have sleep apnea or other serious sleeping issues, you should be under a doctor’s care. But if you just have some trouble getting a good night’s rest once in awhile, there are things you might try, like keeping a consistent bedtime and rising hour; avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine; and relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.
All too often, life becomes more sedentary as we grow older. While exercising too close to your bedtime might make sleep more difficult to come by, getting some in during the day ought to help. A simple walk may work wonders.
You also might just try resting when you need it, rather than revving yourself up with food and drinks that will only make you feel more depleted in the end. Just think back to your younger self, burning the candle at both ends most of the time. Wouldn’t you have relished the time and freedom to curl up with a good book, listen to some relaxing music, or take a nap and catch a few of those zzzzs? Now’s your chance to go for it.