Ah sweet sleep! Where have you gone? For a woman my age, a full night's sleep is like gold – valuable, sought after, and extremely hard to find.
When I was young I thought sleep was a colossal waste of time. Apparently I stopped napping at the tender age of six months, to my mother's chagrin, and for which I apologize all these years later. I don't remember this, of course, but I'm sure it was because there were just too many wildly exciting things going on and I didn't want to miss them. But I slept a twelve hour night, which hopefully made up for my extreme daytime wakefulness.
I remained a napless child. I simply loved being awake. Until I had my own kids, I had no idea how a mother longs for her children to nap so she can have an hour or two of uninterrupted time, an opportunity to be somebody besides Mommy, or the option of taking her own nap.
Throughout my school years, I often had trouble falling asleep at bedtime. It seems I've been wired to stay up late, the quintessential night owl. In my world, going to bed at midnight and waking up at eight would have been perfect. Unfortunately that's not the actual world. In my college years, I could skimp on sleep during the week and make up for it on weekends, sleeping twelve hours at a time. It was a beautiful thing.
All that changed when I became a mother. How anybody survives being jolted out of dreamland every two hours to nurse a newborn is a miracle. But youth is meant to survive this, and I did. Even a nightmarish six months when my toddler woke up screaming in the middle of each and every night, inconsolably tugging on his ears. I got around six hours of sleep each night, in bits and pieces, and stumbled through each subsequent day caring for him and his four-year-old sister.
Numerous doctor's visits revealed nothing wrong with my son's ears. In exhausted desperation, I took him to an ENT, who theorized that fluid that was coming and going, pooling in his ears each night after several hours of being horizontal. Tubes were put in, and the ear pain and sleepless nights were over instantly. I was a new woman with a new son who slept through the night. Then followed about fifteen glorious years of great sleep, (with sleepless nights off and on, waiting for teenagers to make curfew), until I officially became old.
These days, sleep is a challenge, both falling asleep and staying asleep. For most of my life I was a stomach sleeper, but now it makes my back ache. And there's the danger of lying on my arm, and waking up with it completely numb, like a dead thing attached to me, which happens fairly regularly. Sleeping on my back makes me snore, or so I'm told (I won't mention snoring not done by me that also disturbs my sleep). Sleeping on my side makes my shoulder stiff. Maybe I should try standing up to sleep, like a horse.
Besides all the usual advice, like no caffeine, no daytime napping, peaceful bedtime rituals, turning off all screens an hour before bed, etc., I think I've figured out the trick to falling asleep, which is to read until the page starts getting fuzzy, anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. It works most nights, at least for the present.
Sadly, I haven't figured out the trick to staying asleep, and have developed the annoying habit of springing wide awake at 4 am. It may have something to do with the bedtime cup of tea (decaf), but not always. The dilemma is do I stop all liquids at 8 pm, and thus wake up in the dead of night with the Sahara Desert in my throat, or do I keep myself hydrated and pay the consequences, also in the dead of night? It's a hard decision. There's also the quandary of whether to keep the window open (cool, fresh air, the lullaby of chirping crickets) or closed, to avoid extremely raucous and relentless birdsong at sunrise.
I realize I'm not alone, and that I'm singing one of the Songs of the Elderly – a lamentation for the lost, sweet sleep of youth. I now deeply regret passing up all those naps I refused to take as a kid. How I'd love to recapture one each day, as a 4 am add-on.
Until then, I leave you with this sentiment from the internet: “Dear Sleep. I'm sorry I hated you when I was little, but now I can't get enough of you. Sincerely, Me.”
LINDA OPP is a freelance writer and a pianist/accompanist. She has published numerous stories for children, and recently finished writing a fiction series for Pockets Magazine. She has a husband, two married kids, three wonderful grandsons, and a cat. She loves reading, cooking, eating, watching movies, hanging out with her husband, going for walks, and being a grandma.