First thing every morning my wife and I either celebrate or commiserate with each other, based on the answer to this question: “How’d you sleep last night?”
This is a question we never had to ask each other in the past. Up until recently, for our entire marriage we already knew the answer to that question each morning. If we went to bed at a decent hour the previous evening, then we knew that we each had a good night’s sleep. If one or both of us stayed up too late — usually me, watching some Bataan death march of an extra inning Red Sox game — then we knew the answer would be: “Nah, didn’t sleep enough. I’m gonna be dragging at work today.”
Nowadays, however, even if we go to bed at a decent hour (the definition of which keeps drifting earlier and earlier), it’s not guaranteed that a good night’s sleep will be experienced. During the past couple of years, for no apparent reason, one or both of us have been finding ourselves wide awake at 2 a.m., staring at the ceiling.
All kinds of random thoughts and worries will race through our brains, and we simply cannot fall back to sleep. No, that’s not correct. We usually fall into a deep slumber about five minutes before the alarm clock is set to buzz. In the meantime, we enjoy hours of these kind of thoughts: “Do we have enough money to retire soon?” “Is that pain in my rib cage a pulled muscle or a tumor?” “Is Odell Beckham Jr. really worth all the aggravation?” (I’m pretty sure my wife doesn’t worry about this one), and “What should I wear to work tomorrow?”
As you can see, some of these thoughts/worries are legitimate concerns, while others are ridiculous — especially the “can we retire soon?” question. We already know the answer to that one, a resounding NO. But no matter how serious or silly, these are the kind of thoughts that keep us up half the night.
Earlier I said our sleep woes are occurring “for no apparent reason.” That’s not exactly true. I know the reason. It’s because we are transitioning from middle-agers into “junior seniors.” (Let me explain that term. I can’t quite admit that I’m a senior citizen — although I don’t hesitate to demand the senior discount at Dunkin Donuts — so for now I prefer to describe myself as a rookie in the AARP world, that is, a “junior senior.”)
If you surf the Internet, you can find dozens of articles that explain in scientific terms why older folks have trouble sleeping. Some of these articles discuss changes in the complex brain chemistry of seniors. It’s all rather technical, so as a public service I’ve taken it upon myself to summarize the scientific findings of multiple research projects: “Tough luck, Gramps!”
While online, the one thing you don’t want to do is Google this question: “How can seniors sleep better?” You’ll get 37 million search results, 36.99 million of which are trying to sell you “sure fire” remedies for senior insomnia. Some of these “100% guaranteed” remedies are priced so that one of the thoughts/worries you’ll soon ponder at 2 a.m. is, “How am I going to pay for my ElderDoze pills, along with this new SlumberFine diesel-powered mattress pad?”
You can try some of these wild remedies, if you choose. But I prefer to take the natural approach to this problem: lose sleep at night and nap the next day at work.
If you, too, doze at your desk, here’s a helpful hint: put in ear plugs so the sarcastic “Hey sleeping beauty!” comments from younger coworkers don’t wake you up.